frequently asked questions

What is paragliding?

Paragliding is often described as the simplest, purest form of human flight available today.

A paraglider (or paragliding wing) takes shape by inflating as air enters the openings on its leading edge and pressurizes the wing. The pilot first clips into a harness and foot-launches the glider by lifting the wing, running down a gentle slope, and gliding away from the mountain. Paragliding is as close to soaring like a bird as we've ever come!

In flight, the pilot sits in a very comfortable reclined position suspended by extremely strong lines. Steering the glider is easy with simple left and right hand controls. Like launching, landing is inherently slow and gentle. The wing can be quickly folded, transported, and stored in a specialized backpack. It's essentially an aircraft in a bag!

How do I get started?

The best way to get started is by taking our two-day Introductory Course at our training site on the shore of Emigrant Lake. This is a great opportunity to become familiar with the equipment, meet the instructors, and get a great taste of flying.

Whether or not you take up paragliding is a very personal choice, and many soon-to-be pilots have found this course to be the perfect introduction in helping them make that decision.

In these two days, the basics of paragliding will be covered, including launching, steering, and landing. Using radio supervision, you will start the day practicing on flat ground, developing launching and landing skills. We will continue to reinforce these techniques as we progress towards the top of the training hill, experiencing higher and longer flights. Most students fly solo from the top of the training hill on their first day!

If, after completing the Introductory Course, you choose to continue towards earning your novice rating, you can enroll in the Novice (P2) Certification Course, where we explore more advanced ground-handling techniques, continued safety, micro-meteorology, and novice flying skills.

School equipment is provided throughout the duration of our novice courses, with plenty of opportunity to fly different glider types and try out our full range of gear.

How long does it take to learn to fly?

Most students complete the Novice (P2) course within 10-14 days. The frequency of lessons, and conditions such as weather greatly influence the time needed to complete the course.

The duration of the course is flexible in order to provide a comfortable and unhurried environment, teaching each student at a pace that best accommodates their individual learning style. In completing all required tasks, our commitment is to support each student in achieving a level of proficiency that leaves them comfortable flying in novice conditions unsupervised.

All of our students achieve their ratings with actual flying experience and skills far exceeding USHPA requirements.

What kind of flying can I expect to do while paragliding?

Like birds, paragliders seek and harness the power of rising columns of air called thermals. It's not uncommon for pilots to stay aloft, soaring for hours, while climbing to elevations of 10,000 feet and beyond if they choose.

Distances of over 100 miles are flown routinely by experienced competition pilots. Pilots in the local Rogue Valley area have flown over 95 miles and reached altitudes of over 14,000 feet–all without any other forms of power.

The lightweight and compact nature of paragliding equipment makes it perfect for hiking and flying from many mountain locations. The harness, wing and backpack can weigh less than five pounds.

Ridge soaring is another popular form of flight. Ridge lift is generated when wind blows over a ridge or hill which directs the flow upward. When the wind is steady and strong enough, it provides enough lift to stay airborne indefinitely.

Paragliders can also be flown with motored propellers.

The kinds of flying you do essentially come down to choosing a style that matches your personal preferences and abilities. As a paraglider pilot, you can enjoy many different types of flying.

Do pilots need to be a certain age, gender, or weight?

Paragliding is enjoyed by people of all walks of life, women and men, young and old. We've worked with pilots as old as 11 and as young as 70, but have heard of pilots under the age of ten and over the age of 80.

The actual paragliding wings are sized to suit each pilot's weight range. Paragliding does not require a lot of strength or endurance, but being in good physical health is important.

How much will a paraglider cost and how long will it last?

The primary set of equipment (which includes the wing, harness, reserve, and helmet) costs roughly 2500–5500 USD depending on whether buying new or used, etc.

We encourage students to buy equipment in-house by offering long-term support and significant discounts on lessons and equipment packages. Used equipment costs roughly half the price of new, and is always inspected and checked before we sell it. It should be noted that used paragliding wings may have lower performance and different flying characteristics than newer generation gliders. Most of the equipment we sell, new or used, includes warranties.

Paragliding wings generally last for 200–300 hours or 3+ years, and if the equipment is properly cared for, you can expect it to last even longer. One aspect of proper maintenance includes annual inspections by qualified service centers.

Is paragliding safe?

Paragliding is safer than most people think. In any case, aviation demands respect and attention.

Pursuing a complete training program with certified instructors, keeping your skill set current, using proper equipment, and above all, keeping a cautious attitude are fundamental to safe flying.

Entry level gliders are inherently stable and self correcting. Harnesses are equipped with a reserve parachute to add extra confidence and security, though most pilots have never deployed them in their entire flying careers.

At Thermal Tracker Paragliding, you'll receive instruction from USHPA-certified instructors. An important focus is encouraging our students in developing sound personal judgment and attitude. Like many outdoor sports, paragliding involves a direct relationship with weather and the elements for which there is no substitute for good personal judgment and a safe attitude. Our goal is to support students in this development, graduating smart pilots that fully enjoy the sport, safely!

Do I need a license to fly?

Yes and no.

The Federal Aviation Administration does not require a license for the Ultralight Aircraft classification, which includes paragliding wings. Paragliding is, however, a self-regulated sport. To retain this unlicensed freedom, the United States Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association has developed a complete program for issuing pilot ratings, maintaining instructor certification, as well as providing Third Party Liability Insurance to its members.

The land owners of flying sites usually require pilots to have USHPA ratings and liability insurance to gain access to their land. In the U.S., most pilots and instructors benefit greatly from the experience and site security that USHPA brings to paragliding.

What should I know before buying my first paraglider?

Paragliding wings are tested in flight and LTF/EN-certified to accommodate three different skill levels. Entry level, novice/advanced, and competition style gliders respond to flying conditions differently, and require different skill levels to understand and master. For instance, advanced gliders have better performance than entry level gliders, yet they can be very difficult to learn with, challenging even the best of experienced pilots. And on the same note, older gliders may use outdated technology, and may not have the same built-in safety and ease of use as new gliders do.

All of our lessons include use of certified school gliders at no charge during your novice training. After we assess your flying style, we can recommend the glider best suited to you. Trying out new and used equipment is a great way to develop a better understanding of the varied equipment choices you have.

A good instructor who is passionate about the sport and your safety will make sure you fly a variety of wings and match you to the glider best suited to your flying style, your experience level, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. Most schools rely on your satisfaction and repeat business, so they are naturally determined to help you make the right decisions.

Beware of "bargain deals" which usually result in increased expense, frustration, and potentially jeopardize your safety. Most reputable schools value your safety first and won't teach on non-certified gliders, or gliders certified and designed for use outside your skill level.

Why should I choose Thermal Tracker?

Thermal Tracker is committed to safety and honesty, but you don't need to take our word for it; our previous students speak for themselves.

Is paragliding the same as parasailing, parachuting, or BASE-jumping?

A simple no to all three.

A parasail is essentially a round parachute towed over water by a boat. The passenger has very little, if any, control. Parasailing is popular in tropical tourist destinations.

Both the sports of skydiving and BASE jumping use parachutes designed to open while the pilot is in a free-fall, and then descend to the ground very quickly.

In sharp contrast, paragliders are designed to be much more aerodynamic and efficient, hence their capacity to gain altitude (go up!) and glide greater distances. In addition, paraglider pilots inflate their gliders before actually launching, allowing time to inspect the wing, then either choose to launch or pull the wing down if the conditions are not favorable. Launching a paragliding wing is a fluid, gentle motion; we don't like to jump off of, or out of anything. No free-fall is involved.

How is paragliding different from hang gliding?

The major difference between the two is in the wing shape and design. Paragliders are soft wing structures (no internal frame) that once inflated have an elliptical shape. Hang gliders utilize an aluminum frame to create a rigid wing structure.

A paraglider is controlled through weight shift and the application of brakes which deform the back edge of the glider. Paraglider pilots fly in a supine or seated position, inherently launching, flying, and landing at speeds slower then a hang glider. Preparing your wing for flight takes under 10 minutes, with the packing up process even quicker. All gear fits into a backpack, weighs 30 lbs, and is easily transported in the trunk of a car or stored in a closet. The slower speeds and lighter weight of paragliding gear generally lends itself to a faster progression through lessons (quicker learning curve?). A paragliders small pack size makes hiking and flying, as well as travel planning especially easy.

Hang gliders are similarly controlled through the use of weight shift, with the pilot flying in a prone position (laying down). Hang gliders are higher performance aircraft, flying faster and often greater distances, (and?) but often requiring more skill during launches and landings. A Hang glider weighs 50-70 lbs and is transported on a vehicle roof rack, requiring 30 minutes or more to prepare for flight. At a packed length of 15 feet, hang gliders can present challenges when no roads lead to launch, or when traveling.

With stellar/A-1 instruction and practice, both paragliding and hang gliding can be enjoyed equally. Statistically, both have similar safety records

What is motorized paragliding or powered paragliding?

Powered paragliding is a form of paragliding that incorporates a motor and propeller mounted behind the pilot, making it a form of motorized aviation as opposed to non-powered aviation. Also known as paramotoring, the motor unit provides enough thrust to take off from level ground. The motor typically weighs from 45 to 80 pounds and is supported by the glider during flight.