Tell me about paragliding

Hello Everyone,

Years ago I had my private pilots license. Unfortunately a few months after I received my certificate I was injured in a workplace accident. Because of this I am unable to pass the medical certification and will never be able to fly general aviation aircraft again. (for some reason, the FAA doesn’t like you flying on morphine and oxycodone. Personally I think I fly better on it, but whatever.)

I still haven’t lost my love for flying and today three paragliders flew over our acreage and I watched them with jealousy. It got me thinking, as far as I know I don’t have to have a license to pilot one so maybe that’s my ticket back into the air. (No, the drugs don’t impair me. Other than take the pain away and make me tired, there really isn’t much as far as affect) So:

  1. Can you pilot one of these without a license?

  2. How much does a decent one cost? Are they home built or do you but them assembled?

  3. Are they relatively safe?

  4. Can these things carry more than one person? Is it possible to get a introduction flight with an instructor?

  5. Do you know of any good online resources for the sport? (yeah, I could google it, but I figure one of you might have a favorite site.)

  6. I live on five acres and I have about 600’ of unobstructed land with no trees, fences etc. Can I take off and land on my own property?

Thanks for any information you can supply. Any general thoughts on the subject are welcome.

If it meets the requirements of Part 103 unquestionably yes. If you still have a valid drivers’ license and you never actually failed an FAA medical (you just didn’t renew your last one) sort of maybe yes under Sport Pilot BUT see below…

Not sure how much they go for today but both options are available.

IF they are properly maintained and IF they are flown within their limitations and IF the pilot is competent and sensible… yes, compared to some things. Never quite as safe as certified GA aircraft. It’s sort of like motorcycles - there is always some inherent risk but there’s a lot you can do to minimize the potential problems.

Part 103/ultralights are strictly single-seaters. Sport Pilot does allow for two-seaters and yes, there are instructors out there who would be happy to take you up for a small fee.

Look, I’m all for encouraging folks to get involved in flying, but if you’re on chronic painkillers I’m wondering if you’re actually safe to fly. You haven’t shared the nature of your injury, but opiates can cause impairment as, as I’m sure you’re aware, impairments and aviation aren’t a good mix. How sure are you that you’d be safe in the air? Even if you’re in a single-seater, you could potentially fall on someone and that wouldn’t be fair to whomever you might fall on.

  1. Can you pilot one of these without a license? - Yes, single person paragliders are generally ultralights. There is no licence or training requirement in the U.S. although good training is strongly recommended.

  2. How much does a decent one cost? Are they home built or do you but them assembled? - They vary widely. Figure on a few thousand dollars for an older working model to about 10K - 15K or a little more for a nice new one.

  3. Are they relatively safe? - You can certainly hurt or kill yourself in a paraglider by flying into a tree or power line but they are generally slow and as safe as the decisions you choose. The whole thing is built around a parachute which is a piece of safety equipment for other aircraft.

  4. Can these things carry more than one person? Is it possible to get a introduction flight with an instructor? - No, not for the ultralight models. The ones that can carry more than one person are generally classified as light sport aircraft. More on that at the end.

  5. Do you know of any good online resources for the sport? (yeah, I could google it, but I figure one of you might have a favorite site.) - Get Plane and Pilot magazine. It only costs about $10 per year through online specials and they cover topics like these in every issue.

  6. I live on five acres and I have about 600’ of unobstructed land with no trees, fences etc. Can I take off and land on my own property? Yes, probably but the winds and treelines or other obstacles at the edges are a consideration.

Please note. I have never flown a paraglider. I am just a general aviation buff that reads the regs for fun and I fly small planes. I have talked to people that have their own paragliders and it seems like a good way to enjoy the simplest form of aviation in one of the cheapest ways possible. I would fly one in an instant.

There has been a major regulation change in the general aviation world in the past few years if you aren’t aware. There is a newer Light Sport Pilot license available that requires no medical exam (***there is a catch here because you are disqualified if you failed a medical exam but there is no requirement to take one in the first place under these rules). Many new Light Sport models have been developed and a handful of older planes also qualify. They are limited to two seats and a limited gross takeoff weight but models have been developed that qualify ranging from Cub knockoffs to fancy amphibious planes and everything in between.

Dual seat paragliders fall under that category as well. There is a licensing requirement but anyone with a Private Pilot’s license shouldn’t have any problem switching to it. It just takes some money and lesson hours. Do not take a medical exam though because that will disqualify you possibly for good.

That’s a fair concern, however I’ve been on these painkillers for about ten years and like anyone who uses these as “Maintenance” drugs they don’t effect me the way they would affect someone taking them for an acute condition. My body had become so tolerant of them that I don’t think there is anyone who could tell that I have the drug in my system. I of course can drive without an issue and receive no high from the medication. Generally speaking the medication is only taken in the evening when the pain is at its worst.

I’m all for safety and even more do for my safety. I wouldn’t consider undertaking any activity if I thought I would be doing so in an unsafe manner.

As far as the FAA medical, I never failed it, I just never tried to renew my license knowing that the medications I was on would automatically fail me.

By the way, I hope that I have used the correct term for the type of aircraft I mean. The ones I am referring to are the ones that look like hang gliders with an engine, not the ones that are parachutes with an engine. Forgive my ignorance if I got the wrong terminology.

Paragliders = parachutes with a pilot cage and engine.

I thing you mean an ultralight trike but there are many configurations of ultralights available including some that look like small planes.

They are all considered ultralights and you do not need a license at all to fly the ones that meet the criteria. The cost range for those is the same as I gave above (a few thousand for an older but working model and from about 15K - 20K) for a new model.

The type you are describing is more dangerous than a simple paraglider but they aren’t death traps either as long as you use due discretion.

The Light Sport Category is completely different. They are very real planes (or other types of aircraft) albeit with strict weight, setting and performance limits placed on them. They can look like anything and they are not cheap to buy. New ones generally start over the 100K mark although there are a few ways to buy one that are cheaper (a handful of very old airplanes happen to qualify and they only cost tens of dollars on the used market). As noted, you don’t need a medical exam to fly a Light Sport Aircraft but you do need a Light Sport license which will take some instructor time and $$$$.

There are lots of things to take into consideration. There is nothing that prohibits you legally from flying in some capacity but you have to decide what type you want to do. You will be limited to the ultralight and Light Sport categories but even that isn’t all that limiting for recreational flying. If you want to fly out of your own yard however, you are going to need an ultralight. I am not sure if an inexperienced ultralight pilot should be flying into 600’ (max strip). That is possible but still way too low for my preferred safety level.

Not really - that’s a paramotor, sometimes known as a powered paraglider.

A paraglider (as the name suggests) is a glider (i.e. unpowered) in the form of a parachute. To do a decent job of gliding, the parachute has the form of a wing.

If you already have a private pilot license then it’s considerably less time and money to add Sport than if you had nothing at all. If you’re interested in a trike then you need a SP weight shift add on to your current license. It’s very important to get type-specific training if your experience up to now is solely fixed wing as there are some significant differences between the two types.

There are SP two-seat trikes.

SP requires you to self-certify you are safe to fly prior to take-off, much like a glider pilot, with the additional requirement that you have a valid drivers’ license in lieu of FAA medical.

As to whether or not 600 feet is safe for trike operations… well, not sure about that myself but it’s at least possible particularly if there are minimal or (ideally) no obstacles at the ends of the runway. It would be best to ask an experienced trike pilot.

Not true of all GA aircraft. If you are able to self-certify that you have no medical defect that would prevent safe operation, you can fly sailplanes - including motorized variants - without a medical certificate.

This. A paraglider is just a hang glider with a parachute-style wing instead of a rigid wing. No power, hence the glider designation. I used to do a bit of it, and unless the rules have changed, there was no license required but there was a certification card you had to have if you wanted to join a club or purchase a glider from a reputable dealer. Also, you generally need a hill of some kind to jump off from. It’s hard to get up any sprint speed on foot when you’re dragging the wing behind.

I suggest you talk things over with a medical professional before you ever take to the air again.

I really think you should find out why some people object to your flying on those medications.

You wouldn’t want to endanger your life or the lives of others. Would you?

It’s the same concern that would come up for either driving or operating heavy machinery while taking a medication. It’s also something that can’t be determined over a message board.

Another difference is how they are controlled: hang glider by weight shift, paraglider by steering lines that alter characteristics of the (typically ram-air-inflated) fabric wing.