glider rating systems

A simple FAQ for Paraglider Certifications
by Matt Gerdes

The conflict and debate concerning paragliding certification is as old as the sport of paragliding. Which is to say, not very old, but it has gone on long enough to confuse even those of us who are supposedly helping to make the decisions in the industry. We'd like to try and answer some of the most frequently asked questions and lay out the current facts in as concise a manner possible.

What is the DHV?

The DHV is the German equivalent of the American USHGA, the British BHPA, or the French FFVL, it is the national organization that represents the free flying community. The DHV has a technical department whose role is to certify paragliding and hang gliding equipment as required by the LBA (German CAA equivalent).

This certification procedure has for a long time been known as the 'DHV tests' and have been carried out by the technical department of the DHV themselves or by other professional testing bodies such as Aire Turquoise. Although originally created specifically for the German market, the 'DHV' tests gained acceptance around the world. The flight tests became known as DHV certification because the DHV did most of the testing and everyone talked about and understood the terms DHV1, DHV2 etc.

In fact, the flight test procedures themselves were ultimately controlled by the LBA and the official name for the certification has always been LTF. In reality, all gliders certified over the years were given LTF ratings such as LTF1, LTF2 etc, but erroneously called DHV1, 2 etc.

The DHV was the sole advisor to the LBA on the LTF tests and actually shaped the certification procedure into what it is today. However, in 2008 the situation changed and other bodies, including the PMA (Paragliding Manufacturers Association) were able to advise the LBA on the tests.

The role of the DHV technical department has receded to that of a testing company rather than the sole standard. Basically, the DHV is a private organization that tests to the German national standard (LTF) and will soon test to the EN standard as well. For years, the DHV was the main standard in paraglider testing, and remains popular, but is now basically an agent that provides a service to certify Paragliders with LTF certificates.

What is the LTF?

The LTF is the name given to a set of test procedures designed to measure and asses a paraglider’s behavior and airworthiness. The tests are set by the LBA.

Several test centers are now accredited by the LBA and can test to the LTF norm; DHV (Germany) Para Academy (Germany) and Aire Turquoise (Switzerland) are now all able to issue LTF certification.

To avoid future unnecessary confusion, the LBA has stated that they will in the future change their rating system to be in line with the EN and use a scale of letters, A-D, instead of the number scale.

What is the EN?

The EN (European Norm) is the name given to the certification standard of a wide range of products such as protective equipment, children's toys and adult toys such as paragliders. The EN standard is approved by the CEN, an organization of national representatives of member European countries.

The EN for paragliders is ‘EN 926’ and acts as a certification guideline by which test centers can test the safety of paragliders. It was formulated with input from most of the main European paraglider associations such as the FFVL, BHPA, SHV, and DHV.

The EN standard has now been accepted in every major European country, including Germany, and is probably destined to become the universal standard for paraglider Certification.

Are the tests the same?

They are very similar, however there are minor differences in the terminology used and tolerances allowed. Both EN and LTF test procedures follow a similar strict format with defined tests and objective results to determine the final grade of a wing. EN tests tend on the side of absolute objectivity whereas the LTF tests allow for slightly more subjectivity on the part of the test pilots to assess the nature of a wing.

Are the ratings the same?

Not quite. At the moment LTF is rated on a number scale and the EN on a letter scale. The scale below is an adequate guide, but there are a few anomalies. For example, it is harder to get EN A than it is LTF 1, but some LTF 2-3 gliders can pass EN C. This is where the subjectivity of the test pilots comes in.

How exact are the tests? How much do they prove?

The tests are independently and professionally conducted, however they only give a snapshot of how the wing behaved on that particular day, in those particular conditions and with that particular test pilot. The certification is to mainly measure the reactions of the wing during provoked incidents such as asymmetric collapse and not the wing’s propensity to collapse in the first place. As such, the results should not be overly relied upon for an accurate representation of the behavior of a wing in all conditions and under all circumstances. It should be used as a general, basic guideline to indicate the passive safety of a wing, and for the matching of pilot suitability.

More important than the certification results is the recommendations of the manufacturer. At Ozone, the design and test team spend countless hours (well into the thousands for each wing) test flying prototypes, performing the certification tests over and over again to form a true assessment of the nature of a wing in all conditions. Not until all the test pilots are completely happy that the wing conforms to the norm and that it achieves the design brief, will a glider be sent for independent verification. We know exactly for who and for what the wing is aimed at and how it behaves in the air. In this case, we think it is better to trust the recommendations of the manufacturer than to add up certification results.

What is the scale?

A 1 A/B
B 1-2 B
C 2 C
D 2-3 D

What does it all mean, to me (the pilot)?

A certification helps ensure that a wing is what the manufacturer says it is and it helps pilots to categorize their wings on a graded scale, perhaps in some cases to comfort their safety concerns, and in other cases to gratify their egos. Whether the wing is certified EN or LTF is not important as both test procedures are very similar, and both ensure that a basic level of safety is complied with. Ultimately, safety is up to the pilot. Choosing a level of wing that is indicated for their skill/experience and not their aspirations, along with choosing safe flying conditions, is the best way to ensure an acceptable level of safety.

The main purpose of the information above is to help you understand that although the names of the organizations are different and the grading scale is changing from numbers to letters, the basic definition of each category remains the same. It must be said, however, that no matter how professional and exacting a test pilot may be, in many cases his short time with the wing will never uncover all of its traits, and you should only purchase a wing from a company with a long and well proven track record of producing safe, durable wings. You should take your decision seriously and base it on concern for your safety, above all else.