launch at Valle de Bravo, Mexico powered paraglider launch at Gardiner Turf Grass farms

SOUTHWEST AIRSPORTS

paragliding training center

Powered paragliding (PPG) equipment - typical setup

by Had Robinson

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 which interfere with their learning to fly safely.  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.

A complete PPG setup costs $7,500-$12,000 (2014) depending on the paramotor type, foot-launched or trike/quad, and how many accessories desired.  Most PPG pilots do not have a vario, GPS unit, reserve, and other flight accessories which helps reduce the cost.

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.  Flying early or late in the day minimizes turbulence.  Why do pilots choose wings that require more input to fix problems?  It is because these wings have generally higher performance.  $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 they offer.  Contact us for prices and availability.

paragliding Miniplane paramotor and paraglider

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 paramotor

The paramotor below is the Miniplane Top 80.  These paramotors are good for pilots whose base weight is less 200 lb.  These are the lightest and most agile paramotors available in the world and are our top seller.  Bigger pilots can purchase the Miniplane Polini or Minari.  The Polini Thor 130 engine weighs almost the same as the Minari 180.  The latter has a 40% larger engine but is not as quiet as the former.

I like the Miniplane low hang-point models (ABM) because I am primarily a PG (free flying) pilot and, more importantly, we train pilots on the standard PG harnesses which have low hang-points.  Low hang-points give pilots more input from the glider than high hang-points which is why PG pilots always prefer low hang-points.  After pilots learn to fly a paraglider without a motor on a low hang-point harness, it is much easier for them to transition to a paramotor with low hang-points because the handling and feeling will be similar.  The downside of the low hang-point paramotor is that there is more motion of the entire paramotor which, for some, can be objectionable.

Go to Miniplane-USA for the description and prices of the Miniplane paramotors.  Orders for paramotors are placed with Southwest Airsports.

Trike paramotor

Below is a typical trike with the Fresh Breeze Simonini 122 paramotor called the TrikeBuggy.  Most paramotors can be worn on the back for foot-launched PPG or mounted, as here, on a trike or quad.  This PPG setup has a reserve parachute mounted.  Most PPG pilots do not have reserves as they only fly in calm conditions.  The trike is able to travel great speeds when on the ground and is more stable than quads.  Trikes are very comfortable to fly and easy to launch and land.  The frame is also very tough – a heavy pilot can land hard with these frames and not damage them.  Our repeated testing has proven this.  The tougher the frame, the less chance of injury.  Pilots who cannot run or having any impairment in the feet, legs, or back are good candidates for a trike.

TrikeBuggy ultralight

The helmet

PPG helmets must have communications equipment built in that allows the pilot to easily communicate with others in a high noise environment.  The helmet below (an ICARO 2000 Skyrider) costs around $385. 

ICARO 2000 Skyrider TZ PPG helmet 

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 other emergencies.  It must be inexpensive, simple, reliable, and easy to operate.  2 meter FM handheld radios meet these requirements, especially ones like the YAESU FT-60R.  Pilots, however, must have an Amateur Radio License from the FCC to legally use them on the amateur bands.  For this reason, I recommend that all pilots get an amateur radio license.  It's easier than ever.  Most bigger cities have radio clubs and the people who can quickly train you and administer the test.  USHPA has a permit to use 2 meter FM radios on the business bands.  Most quality radios must be modified for use on these frequencies.  Such modifications can be done by Southwest Airsports.

However, if you use only the USHPA radio frequencies, you do not need a license because the station license is held by USHPA.  For the details of these frequencies go to our radio setup page, 2nd paragraph down.

All radios must be used with a helmet designed for high noise environments as it is impossible to hear the radio without ear protection and a special noise canceling microphone.

Contact us for more information on these radios.  We sell the modified versions.

The GPS

How fast am I moving over the ground?  What is the wind direction on the ground? How high am I?  Where did I go today?  What does my track look like on Google Earth?  All of these questions can be answered with a GPS.  While it is optional for PPG, we highly recommend its use.  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 we have plenty of money, we 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 pictured below is also excellent and can be had for a good price on the used market and is still available new from suppliers like Amazon.  Cost: $150 - $400

Garmin 60CSX GPS

The variometer

If you want to thermal in your paramotor, 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 there is too much of a delay in the display of the information to be useful for thermalling.  A recording variometer records all of the above for your whole flight.  You can download it to your computer and analyze your flight carefully.  How well did I thermal today?  Here is a photo of the Flytec 6010.  Cost is around $700.

FLYTEC 6010 variometer

Other equipment

Things like a flight suit, gloves, catheters, or a hook knife can be useful, depending on conditions and where/when you are flying.  Most PPG pilots do not carry a reserve but go to the rescue systems site and page down to the "Reserve" section.  Carrying the paramotor from place to place is much easier if you have a rack like this one that is sold by Harbor Freight.

Gear size and weight

Some foot launched PPG equipment can fit in two suitcases.  Many wheeled PPG setups can easily fit in a pickup truck bed or in the trunk of a small car.

A Top 80 foot launched paramotor weights under 50 lb with fuel.  Trikes and quads can weight up 125 lb.

vulture