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The Appropriate Paraglider

Pilot and Paragliding Classes

The sport's continuous development has resulted in both performance and safety improvements which sometimes do not come in the same design. Thus there is a need to split pilots and wings into classes. A student wing is more tolerant of errors and delays than a high-level, high-performance wing.
Unfortunately, some pilots do not respect the divisions of glider design, but sooner or later they run into trouble. There are currently two popular rating systems: the French AFNOR and the German DHV.

A performance wing and a beginner's wing

Let's take a look at the classes:
• A Student should be able to fly an AFNOR standard or DHV 1 wing.
• A Beginning pilot should fly an AFNOR standard or DHV 1-2 wing.
• A Club pilot should fly an AFNOR performance or DHV 2 wing or lower.
• A Pilot should fly an AFNOR performance or DHV 2-3 wing or lower.
• An Advanced pilot should fly an AFNOR competition or DHV 3 wing or lower.

While an advanced pilot can and should use a low category paraglider, a student cannot use a high performance one. Unfortunately the latter sometimes happens, because there are no hard and fast rules or clear boundaries between pilots. As if that wasn't enough, manufacturers have to consider their profit margin and market their products within the most commercially viable categories, often neglecting others.

Every pilot can and wants to believe that he is better than he really is with the result that many paragliders are bought for performance beyond our skill potential. Remember you will be flying a lifetime, not just one flight. We've all seen pilots with six months experience, who have 50 flights under their belt flying competition wings, as well as beginners with performance ones. I know of a pilot who has, in 10 flights, landed twice in trees, impacted the ground in a B-line stall and spun, because he had not received proper training and was using a paraglider unsuitable for him. Luckily he received only minor injuries in each case. Take great care fellow pilots! What will happen in strong conditions? Will they bring about traumas or accidents?

In any case, when chasing your dreams, the `'best'' paraglider will lead to nothing if the pilot is not good enough. Simply consider that a competition in the world cup has been won with an intermediate device (J. Packer on a Nova Phocus). Prior to making any decision, gather enough information. Rely on other pilots or magazines but think what is best for you. Consult your instructor. The following table in English, as well as in French and German, aims to give a better grasp of features and specifications outlined by makers and magazines. It cites as an example a hypothetical high performance canopy.

Technical Specifications Table

Technical specifications (English)

Specifications Techniques (French)

Technische Daten (German)




Hersteller (Marke)










Wing Line/ diameter



Kevlar cousin 1,1/2,2mm




Carrington 42g m2




4 (A4-B5 – C4 – D3)

Speed bar







Yes 4cm

Wing area real

Surface à plat

Fluche ausgelegt


Wing area projected

Surface projetée

Fluche projiziert


Wing span real

Envergure à plat

Spannweite ausgelegt


Wing span projected

Envergure projetée

Spannweite projiziert


Wing charge max/min

Indice de charge alaire



Aspect ratio real

Allongement à plat



Numbers of cells

Nombre de cellules

Anzahl Zellen


Average line length

Longeur de suspendage

Mittlere Leinenlunge


Total of lines

Total suspentage

Anzahl der Leinen


Wing weight

Poids de l’aile



Pilot weight

Poids du pilote



Total flight weight

Poids total en vol



Glide ratio




Minimum sink

Taux de chute mini (T/C)

Sinken min


Max/min speed

Vitesse Max/Min



Trim speed

Vitesse de vol



Suggested harness

Sellette recommandée

Empfohlener Sitz






All manufacturers publish the minimum and maximum weight at which a glider can fly ideally. Three sizes usually exist: small, medium and large. Glide ratio is always the same regardless of the weight of the pilot if he flies within the wing's limits. The variable is in the sink rate and speed potential, and this determines the wing's behavior.
The total flight weight (pilots apparatus and equipment) divided by the wing area is called wing loading and is used as a point of comparison for performance purposes. The ideal wing loading is considered to be approximately 3.1 kg/m2 (.63 lbs/ft2). A greater wing loading makes the glider fly faster and less loading slows down the controls.
Let's take a closer look at what happens when we fly with a small paraglider at its upper weight limit compared to a bigger one of the same type. To begin with, we transport a paraglider of slightly less weight in construction material. On launching, in the absence of wind, we will have to run faster to achieve launch airspeed. Once in the air, flying speed will be roughly another 3km/h (1.8 mph) and 0.1 m/s (20 FPM) worse in sink rate. The wing will be more brake responsive and turn faster with a steeper bank at a given radius of turn. The harness will give clearer feedback, stalls will be more rare but stronger and recovery will be quicker. Flying time in light conditions will be less but wing penetration greater, especially in a strong wind. The results will be the opposite if we fly with a larger wing.
Adjusting weight by adding a waterbag seems to be a popular method of dealing with the dilemma of size. Nowadays competition pilots have to think about speed all the time. So using small gliders or big ones with additional weight is increasingly popular. At world championship events it is common to fly heavy, often exceeding the normal load limit by 10 to 20 kg (22 to 44 lbs) in order to achieve an additional 5 km/h (3 mph) or so. This practice puts a lot of pressure on the wing.
In terms of aerodynamics, the larger wings fly better, though not much importance has been given to this lately. The reason is largely due to changes in manufacturing techniques. Everything is made to scale unlike in the past when designers would simply remove panels from the center of a large glider to make medium and small sizes.
Choosing size is a serious decision. Consider the type of wing, regional conditions and the time of day you will be flying at, as well as your level of competence. Personally, I feel with a student pilot glider it is better to go light, because the pilot will be flying in mild conditions. Flying heavy in a performance canopy is for competition pilots. When reading test reports it is important to critically observe the wing loading or flight weight of the test pilot as well as the altitude and conditions in which the measurements took place. A paraglider flying at 2000 m goes faster than at 500 m since the air is less dense at a higher altitude. The sink rate changes accordingly too.

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