A paraglider is a light wind aircraft, they have quite a small performance envelope in comparison to other aircraft, but they have some advantages as well, the slow flight capability makes small or weak areas of lift useable, and a paraglider can easily be landed in a small field, even if is sloping or has a rough surface.
This means that paraglider pilots can launch from all sorts of places, can use small or localised patches of lift, and can keep searching for lift far below the altitude where a conventional glider (sailplane) has had to give up and head for a friendly runway.
Pilots can soar lines of 10m high sand dunes or fly from the world’s biggest mountains. They can float for hours in the lift from a modest hillside, or use thermal convection lift to climb thousands of feet. Pilots regularly reach the base of the clouds, and have flown many thousands of kilometres in cross country flights – the world open distance record in 2020 stands at 588km. All this from an aircraft that fits in a rucksack.
Paragliders are also very versatile. Some pilots choose to float around on their local coastal sites, some choose lightweight kit and take part in hike and fly expeditions, climbing and flying from remote or peaks. Many choose to fly cross-country, using their skills at finding and using thermal lift to travel many kilometres using the clouds as stepping stones.
There are aerobatic pilots, who have honed their skills to produce amazing displays of control. Pilots who live in the flatter areas of the UK and elsewhere can also be tow launched removing the need for hills to get airborne.
Acro pilots practising their routines in Austria.
Paragliders can also be powered, either with back-pack paramotors, which can be foot launched from small fields, or by adding a lightweight wheeled undercarriage. Powered paragliding is one of the fastest growing areas of the sport.
There are competitions of several varieties, from small inter-club gatherings to world championships, and the unique X-Alps challenge, where top pilots compete to fly the length of the Alps, by either walking or flying.
Paragliders weigh just a few kilos and can be packed into a rucksack, and this makes them very portable. Many pilots take their glider on trips or holidays and enjoy flying them in a wide range of places, from snowy mountains to deserts.