launch at Valle de Bravo, Mexico powered paraglider launching from Evergreen Turf farms

SOUTHWEST AIRSPORTS

paragliding training center

Paragliding (PG) equipment - typical setup

Introduction

We at Southwest Airsports provide valuable and custom information to student pilots concerning what equipment is best for them.  They can only get this information at a school like ours.  The Internet can be helpful but no one coming to us for training has the experience and skill necessary to make the best decisions concerning such things as gliders, helmets, and harnesses.  Mistakes here can result in accidents and injuries or, at the least, be a waste of money.  Nor is it particularly ethical to ask us for information on what is the best wing, for example, and then go buy it elsewhere.

Registered flight schools in the U.S. will not sell gliders except to their own students.  We do not consider it a good safety measure to show up for training with equipment purchased elsewhere.  Student pilots often buy used equipment and later discover defects or problems.  For example, a student will buy a glider rated for "intermediate" pilots and then discovers that he is unable to handle it at his level of skill.  He is not happy and we must waste our time doing a repeat training on our school gliders.  Your purchase of gear from us helps us offset the real cost of providing you the best training available.  We sell everything a pilot needs to fly a paraglider safely.

You should invest in top quality equipment not just because it works better and lasts longer but because it is increases your margin of safety.

Total cost for a typical PG setup is about $7,000 (2017).

The wing

Gliders are rated for their ability to recover from collapses while flying.  Gliders that have an LTF "A" rating generally recover spontaneously from collapses.  Gliders with higher LTF letter ratings require more pilot input to recover.  Collapses often happen when flying in air that has turbulence caused by thermals.  In the photo below, each cloud is the top of a thermal – this was an outstanding day for paragliding.  The pilot here, Lee Baker, was the first ever to tow up at the sod farm and thermal away to cloud base.  He loved it!   Flying early or late in the day minimizes turbulence but flights will be short – what is known as a sled-ride.  Why do pilots choose wings that require more input to fix problems?  It is because these wings have generally higher performance.  As mountain pilots here in El Paso, we tend to be very conservative when flying among the rocks and like the more stable wings.  In contests, skill usually trumps glider design in all but extreme cases so high performance gliders generally make little difference.  $2,500 - $4,300.  Cost is based on performance and quality.

We are an Ozone dealer, you can go to their site for extensive information on the gliders, harnesses, and the accessories they offer.

paraglider landing near Santa Teresa, NM 

What class or wing should I fly?  It depends on where you fly most of the time.  Pilots who only fly on the coasts will rarely experience turbulent air.  On the other hand, pilots who fly in the mountainous desert, like the southwest U.S., can experience  the most turbulent air in the world.  Training is the most critical for the latter type of pilot, especially having the skills to "read" flying conditions.  As a result, we recommend that newer pilots who fly in our region fly only LTF A or DHV 1 gliders.  Events can happen so quickly that most average pilots will not have time to respond quickly enough.  The lower performing gliders have a much better chance of spontaneous recovery from collapses with minimal pilot input.  Our experience has shown that pilots who fly more advanced gliders wish they had not flown them here in the southwest.  When our pilots go to the coasts or the eastern (and humid) U.S., they find the air relatively benign in comparison – and easy to fly in.

The harness

It is much like sitting in an easy chair.  The small red handle in the lower right is used to deploy the reserve parachute stored under the seat of the harness.  The paraglider is attached to the two karabiners in the upper center.  The back of the harness contains stiff foam used to protect the back of the pilot in case of a fall.  There is also a large zippered storage area along the back of the harness for stowing gear, like the glider packing bag and anything else.  The pilot is securely strapped into the harness – he cannot fall out!  When on the ground, the pilot is able to stand up easily though it is somewhat difficult to run with a harness attached.  Once in the air, many harnesses have a foot strap attached so that the pilot can easily place himself firmly in the harness without letting go of the controls of the glider.  Some harnesses have the pilot almost in a reclining position while some are very upright.  Some are shaped like a pod.  These harness are the most comfortable and allow the pilot to be less exposed to the colder air of high altitudes – they are also the most expensive and used mostly by serious cross country pilots.  Cost: $450 - $1,500.  Most pilots spend about $850 on a harness.)

paragliding harness

The helmet

Most pilots prefer helmets with a faceguard as we tend to hit the ground at many different angles, especially when launching.  Who likes to eat dirt and grass or have one's nose rearranged?  The Charly Insider (photo here) is made of Kevlar and is specifically designed and certified to meet the strict standards of the European Union for air sports.  How much is your head worth if you go bonk?  This should not be a difficult question but it is for too many pilots....  Helmets without faceguards should only be used by experienced pilots.  Accidents at launch by new pilots tend to involve face plants which is why the faceguard is highly recommended.  Cost: $225 - $350

paragliding helmet

The reserve

Most pilots fly with a reserve just for the mental comfort it brings as we all know that they are only to be used as a last resort.  This is because deploying a reserve when things go awry with your main glider is always dicey.  (Here is a video of the unexpected results that can happen during a deployment.)  It is best to never be in a situation where reserve deployment might be necessary!

Do NOT fly in air that requires a greater level of skill than what you have.

Steerable reserves are still in the experimental stages.  The demonstrations are always under controlled conditions with a pilot flying a fully inflated and stable glider.  If a steerable reserve AND the glider begin to candlestick around each other, it will be much worse than just the glider doing it (a pilot can disable the glider but not the reserve).  Therefore, it is always wiser to fly with plenty of altitude and do everything possible to fix the problem with your glider before reaching for the reserve.  Once under a reserve, you have no control over where you will land and no guarantee how the reserve will deploy.  This is why it is a last resort.

If you fly with a reserve, purchase the biggest one you can carry.  High Energy Sports makes a reserve that has unique aerodynamic properties which slow down the pilot's descent through the air.  Sup'Air also makes reserves that are very light (we love them).  Below is the May Day reserve by APCO Aviation.  Here is some more info on reserve systems.  Cost of reserves:  $650 - $1,100 (based on size and type.

paragliding reserve parachute

Footwear

The most common injury in paragliding is to the ankles.  It is important to protect them which is why high top boots are recommended.  Boots must never have lacing clips attached as they can snag the lines in and around the harness.  You will probably never have a problem if you fly with boots that have open lacing clips.  But why complicate a series of cascading events with lines snagged to your boots?  A student who knew better got his feet tangled together while trying to land – he was lucky he didn't get hurt.

The boots below are made by CRISPI – the finest on the market.  They have sturdy vertical inserts which help prevent ankle injuries and are light and comfortable.  Ordinary hiking boots will also do but if you have weak ankles or want maximum protection for your feet, these boots are worth the investment.  They are very durable and will give many years of service, even while hiking.  Cost:  $330.

Crispi paragliding boots

The radio

The radio is far more than a convenience when flying.  It is your connection with other pilots and the ground for weather information, pilots in distress, and emergencies.  It must be simple and easy to operate.  All USHPA pilots have the privilege of their own set of radio frequencies in the 150 MHz range.  Inexpensive 2 meter Amateur Radio service transceivers can be modified (we can do this) to work on these frequencies.  It is technically against the rules (FCC) to use these modified radios but the authorities have been looking the other way for at least a decade.  If the FCC wanted to, they could immediately require that these radios (which are all imported) have a non-modifiable chipset.  The "legal" radios are expensive and do not easily work with accessories necessary for flying.

Below is a typical 2 meter modifiable radio, the Yaesu.  We sell them ready to go for USHPA registered pilots.  Cost: around $ 190.  There is a newer and much cheaper radio made in China called the Bao Feng which costs less than $40 on the Internet.  It does not need modification and is ready to go.  However, the receiver has poor selectivity and sensitivity.  Translated: nearby and powerful radio transmitters can interfere with its operation and it does not work well beyond a few hundred yards unless high power is used.  This quickly drains the battery.  It is also not particularly reliable and can be buggy to operate.  On the good side: it is really inexpensive to buy.  As a matter of safety, it is better in the long run to go with the more expensive YAESU radio.

YAESU FT-250R 2 meter radio

You must also have a speaker and mic that work inside your helmet as it impossible to hear a radio unless it is a few inches from your ear because of wind noise.  The best value on the market is the Thermal Tracker.  Cost is about $130. It should be used with the push button on the helmet.  The wrist-button setup works fine but it is a nuisance to hook up and can get tangled in equipment and clothing.  If you are too busy to reach over to your helmet and push the talk button, you may be too busy to talk.

Thermal Tracker push to talk headset

Pilots will need to order the correct connection for their particular radio.  Contact us if you would like to order a radio or a Thermal. Tracker.  We are dealers for both.         

GPS

This device is essential if you fly in the mountains as you must always know your speed and direction over the ground.  I.e., "Am I drifting backwards over the top of the mountain and into danger?"  It is very difficult to tell your speed and direction over the ground if we are a mile or two over it.  With a GPS we can tell whether we are starting to slow down and in what direction we are going.

If we ever get in trouble with authorities per "you were flying over X" but we were not, the GPS log can prove our innocence (but only if our GPS can log our tracks and we have set it up properly).  If a pilot has plenty of money, he can buy a variometer that also has a GPS but those of us who really know and use these devices generally prefer a separate unit which can double for hiking and driving as well.  The most common, rugged, and easy to use GPS is the GARMIN top-of-the-line models for hiking, like the Garmin 62s.  The older Garmin 60csx is also excellent and can be had for a good price on the used market and is still available (as of 2014) new from suppliers on Amazon.  Cost: $150 - $350.

Garmin 60CSX GPS

Compass

In case we fly into a cloud by accident, a compass can greatly help because it instantly tells us our heading unlike a GPS.  That is, we can head to the edge of the cloud and out rather than fly deeper into it.  Those who have sailed a yacht in fog know what this means.  A GPS is next to useless unless a course is held steady for 5 or 10 seconds.  Do NOT use a cheap bubble compass as they go everywhere if you are in turbulence.  Do NOT mount the compass next to a GPS as the magnetic field in the GPS will effect the compass and vice versa.  The photo here is an inexpensive Brunton compass.  Cost $15 - $30

  Brunton compass

The variometer

If you want to thermal well, you must have one of these, preferably one that also has a recorder.  The variometer (or vario) measures your vertical speed through the air instantaneously.  It gives an easy visual indication as well as a varying tone, if the pilots wants.  It can even give an audio tone indicating when the pilot is in sink.  The vario also can tell you your relative altitude, your actual altitude, air temperature, and (optional) airspeed.  A GPS can give vertical speed but only for descending.  A recording variometer records everything from your flight.  You can then download the data to your computer and analyze your flight carefully.  How well did I thermal today?  Only a recording variometer can give you the details.  Here is a photo of the Flytec 6010.  Please contact us for pricing and more information.  Cost:  $285 - $1,400 (Cost is based on functions desired.  A recording variometer that is easy to read costs about $ 450.)

Flytec paragliding variometer

Flight deck

It is difficult to mount a GPS, a Vario, a compass, and a camera somewhere on your legs with straps.  Instead, use a flight deck.  It has various compartments for things like a camera, snacks, weapons, matches, first aid, etc.  It mounts with straps to the webbing next to the karabiners on the harness.  It is easy to take it on and off.  Below is a photo of the Sol flight deck.  Cost: $99

SOL paragliding flight deck

Radio harness

This is optional but has the advantage of securely attaching your radio to your person and protecting it.  It also has a convenient pouch that can be used for storing extra batteries.  You can use a flight deck to store batteries but you have to fuss with a zipper in flight which can take two hands.  The radio pouch has a Velcro flap which is easy to open.  Another advantage of the radio harness is that you will often find yourself on the ground without your harness and flight deck on and in need of radio communications.  The radio harness makes it easy to safely and securely carry your radio at all times. Cost: about $50

paraglidiing radio harness

Other equipment

Things like a two-step speed bar, flight suit, gloves, catheters, etc. can be useful, depending on conditions and where/when you are flying.

Used gear

Used wings can offer a significant savings but will not have the life of new as fabric and lines decay with age and exposure to the sun.  If you plan to fly more than 30 hours a year, new gear is a better value as you will not have to replace it before its useful life is up.

It is important to remember that your life depends on the safety and condition of the gear you fly with.  Used gear (other than from reputable dealers and schools) has unknown origin and usage.  How much is your life and safety worth?  Do not buy used wings or reserves without having them inspected by factory authorized inspection centers.  Sellers of such equipment should be happy to share the cost of an official inspection.

Gear size & weight

PG gear is so lightweight and compact that it can go as regular baggage on commercial jets.  With some models, your entire aircraft with instruments and safety equipment can fit in a small back pack that will fit in the overhead bin on a small plane.  The average weight of a complete paragliding setup is about 45 lb.

vulture