Summary: A tongue-in-cheek look at building paragliders at home. Who hasn't thought about that, a new paraglider costs a fortune. A nice read for all those para-waiting enthusiasts out there, or anyone really. Don't come crying to me if you can't find the mentioned websites. Who knows, they mightn't be online any more...
Well, it's possible to build your own paraglider. But it's been pretty hard in the past to find a paraglider kit or a set of decent paraglider plans.
So you have to admire the small number of enterprising companies on the web that have now made it possible to build your own paraglider, and dirt cheap at that.
Let's look at a few now...
I found this paragliding website about knitted paragliders quite useful, but only with a lot of help from my sister. Mum pitched in too. Thanks Mum! And it was good to know that those hours spent learning to knit as a 6 year-old weren't entirely wasted too.
The site offers the following information, materials and services so you can knit up your very own knitted paragliders. It's a total package, even the lines and harness are knitted from the supplied massive skein of wool. Ordering online is straight-forward, with the usual secure credit card facilities available on the order page.
The beauty of knitted paragliders is that when you are confident in the air, you can unravel your DHV-1 design, download a DHV-2 pattern, and knit up your first cross-country wing! Fantastic! Yes, there are patterns for some of the higher-rated wings, but naturally the prices are a little higher. Because many pilots choose to unravel/re-knit, the knitting patterns are available separately. Good to know.
Whatever you do, stick to the manufacturer's recommendations for the ratio of Pearl stitches to Plain stitches over the upper surface of the wing. Failure to do so adversely affects the low-speed performance of knitted paragliders, since it thickens the boundary-layer airflow.
Here's something else to be careful about. If you fly through some rain showers, the wool will shrink badly. But only in the fore-and-aft direction. So your wing area will go way down, and at the same time the aspect ratio goes up. So when you reach the Landing Zone, you will discover you are flying one hot racing wing buddy.. Don't say I didn't warn you. I've still got grazes on my knees. Honest.
Another paragliding website you can try, this one offering oragami paragliders. This site has a secure order page through which you can order their CD. It costs $120, which I thought was a bit steep, but anyway.. The CD features a polite Japanese gentleman with a faint French accent who takes you step by step through the process of folding your paraglider.
The design is AFNOR Standard rated, and requires just a single sheet of glossy paper! A fairly heavy grade mind you.
Why glossy paper, you ask? Turns out it's quite important for reducing the depth of the boundary layer airflow over the upper surface of paper-based paragliders.
Bottom line is you get an extra 2 points of L/D. If you don't know what L/D is, you need to explore my website a bit more. :-)
I must admit I had some trouble locating a stationery outlet that could source sheets of paper the size of my house roof. But really, despite this hassle, what a great idea. A shorter materials list than even the knitted paraglider, beats trying to work with dozens of fiddly bits and pieces that can roll off under the sofa and so on. Viva oragami paragliders!
A warning. Quite a serious one actually. I was doing some coastal soaring, and didn't take much notice of the rain squall approaching. I should have. The handling became, you know, sort of soggy as the rain drops starting spattering my face. Next thing I knew, I was in the drink, with the sodden remains of my wing plopping down all around me. Splooosh. Plip-plup... Plop, Plip. Pip-pip-pup.
Back to the living-room table, another sheet of paper. Man, folding oragami paragliders takes forever. Not to mention the paper cuts. I'd really hate to have to re-do a tandem design, with all that wing area.
Well, trust the French to come up with wearable paragliders! In a surprise fashion hit, an almost unknown French fashion house, Para-parel, has successfully blended the long French tradition of fine fashion with the more recent French obsession with paragliding. So this paragliding website also doubles as a fashion website.
Yes, a whole line of para-apparel is available for sale after the success of Para-parel's first airing (no pun intended) of their colorful togas, sarongs and shawls. Naturally, some compromises are evident in the resulting line of clothing. The main compromise is that when used as paragliders, these creations have a rather small wing area.
Chief designer, Claude S'ucke, has considerable experience in Alpine paragliding, but deliberately chose to go with very small wing areas for these wearable paragliders. In fact, half the clothing range is designed to be used as training wings only. You know, for practicing 'kiting' of a paraglider canopy.
The other half are the winter collection which are more heavily constructed. Hence they have the structural strength to be used as special heavy-weather paragliders. It was not unusual last summer to spot slope-soaring pilots braving 35 or even 45 knot breezes on the western French coast, in their colorful Para-parel wings. Everyone else was on the ground of course. Heck, even some airliners were grounded on those days.
Sorry, I've ignored those of you who are much more interested in the clothes. Ok, where do I start. Let's start with the shawls. These are really stuff bags for wearable paragliders. But with carefully chosen textures and shaping, Para-parel has done a lot to revitalize the popularity of this traditional concept in clothing.
In a clever move, Claude managed to use a variety of special clasps to transform most of the detachable paraglider lines into underwear. Very daring underwear, even by French standards. Ooh la la. Similarly, clasps and brooches are used to transform the canopies of wearable paragliders into loose-fitting togas for men and flowing sarongs for women. For the wearer's convenience, thin colored strips are sown into the fabric which highlight the most important fold lines to get the wearable paraglider look 'right'.
As a final touch, some of the shorter detachable lines are brightly colored and double as headbands, belts and even shoelaces. Shoelaces with outrageously large and floppy bows mind you. Wearable paragliders! What a concept. Viva le para-clothing!
Finally, let's check out the Silken Paragliders crowd from Shenyang Province in China that exclusively uses low-quality silk. Yup, a visit to this paragliding website will get you a package delivered to your door with canopy, lines, harness, everything in one lovely soft bundle. The only reason it's 'build own paraglider' is because you do have to attach the lines, risers etc yourself.
Takes nearly three hours to put together, it's quite fiddly. The instructions are terrible, they should fire their translator. On the other hand, some parts are hilarious. Found myself searching the Silken Paragliders Instruction Book for the funniest bits actually!
The whole package is only US$99. How is that possible, considering the entire paraglider + harness is pure silk? Well, remember I said it was low-quality silk they use. I emailed the webmaster and he says that only rejected skeins of silk from some of the major silk factories in China are used.
Sometimes silk-worms have 'off days'. Funnily enough, if one starts going off they all do. And for people who know their silk, it's just so obvious in the finished product. So the factories can't afford to include any below-par stuff in their output of raw silk. They have to practically give it away. So it ends up in the mail-order paragliders from the sweatshops of this remote Chinese province.
If I were you, I'd order one of these beautiful hand-woven paragliders today. With the incredible growth which is occurring in the sport of paragliding, the limited supply of rejected silk is sure to prove insufficient before long. Prices will soar as the Silken Paragliders company struggles to keep up with demand.
So there you have it. All you need to know to get out there and build your own paraglider. Fly these contraptions at your own risk. Maybe strap yourself into some nice big fluffy pillows before you take off. Or flap your arms hard. Good luck. You'll need it. ;-)
If you decide to publish the above article online, please do the right thing by including my bio. Just cut-and-paste the text below, placing it immediately after the article text. The bio contains a link back to this website. Thanks!
Word count: 1494
First Published: 28 Mar 2007
Copyright © Tim Parish, all rights reserved.