Your instructor might have told you to find a DHV 1 paraglider to finish off your flying course. A paraglider with this rating will feel very solid and secure in flight, and launching it will be relatively easy too. These days, the gliding performance of a DHV 1 paraglider might not be far behind many others with a higher certification.
DHV is not the only rating system, there are others.
While surfing the Net or chatting to flying buddies, you might come across the terms CEN, AFNOR, ACPUL, FFVL and SHV as well. It appears that AFNOR and ACPUL are now officially superseded by CEN, with some significant developments happening recently.
While it took a long time to come together, CEN is now poised to become a major paraglider rating system. More details below!
Note: As of 2008, you will see the term LTF more and more, instead of DHV. This simply refers to the airworthiness standards that DHV is testing for. However, in future, other organizations may be authorized to conduct the same tests and publish the results. Hence it makes sense now to refer to the standard itself, rather than the testing organization! For example, the entry-level wing will be an LTF 1 paraglider instead of a DHV 1 paraglider.
Firstly DHV, which stands for Deutscher Hangegleiter Verband, based in Germany. You will see or hear references to this system everywhere, it has been the dominant system to date. A wing tested by DHV test pilots may be designated a DHV 1 paraglider (easy to fly, but without maximum performance), DHV 1-2, DHV 2, DHV 2-3 or DHV 3 (highest performing, but for experienced and current pilots only).
Of course, anything of inferior safety or design won't get rated at all! These classifications exist to ensure known levels of safety, handling and performance. As mentioned elsewhere on this site, a final selection of a paraglider should be done in consultation with the person or people who taught you to fly.
To determine whether a wing will be a DHV 1 paraglider or some higher rating, DHV pilots do a series of tests which put the canopy in unusual situations in the air. The paraglider's recovery is monitored closely, and anything deemed 'interesting' by the pilots is investigated even further before a full report is made.
It's not all about flying characteristics, load tests are also conducted. For example, how much strain can the lines handle when the canopy suddenly re-inflates after a collapse? And what condition is the cloth and its stitching likely to be in after prolonged use?
The DHV system is considered to be the most stringent, but at the same time a little more dependant on the opinions of the test pilots.
CEN stands for Comité Européen de Normalisation, or in English, the European Committee for Standardization. The ratings themselves just use the letters EN, as in EN A or EN C.
This relatively new rating system is an attempt to pull together the best aspects of the German DHV system and it's French counterpart, AFNOR. It has been some time coming. Mmm German and French... it was never going to get stitched up over the weekend was it... ;-) Actually, it involved a massive amount of 'red tape', with input from several European Hang Gliding and Paragliding Federations. In particular, France (FFVL), Italy (FIVL), Great Britain (BHPA), Germany (DHV) and Switzerland (SHV).
The CEN standard is more stringent than AFNOR in some respects, and a number of completely new tests have also been added. For example, some AFNOR Competition wings flying today would not pass CEN certification.
With the AFNOR tests there was an emphasis on the time taken for recovery from various situations in the air. In CEN, these measurements have been combined with DHV-like measures of the amount of surge or turn induced by those same situations. Another aspect of the DHV tests now included in the CEN tests is the amount of brake travel expected just before the paraglider stalls or spins.
The CEN system divides paragliders into 4 categories, A, B, C and D. So an EN A paraglider is roughly equivalent to a DHV 1 paraglider. At the other end of the scale, EN D class paragliders would only be flown by competition pilots, or pilots with equivalent flying currency and hours. 'Potentially violent reactions to turbulence and pilot errors' and other scary stuff! Interestingly, the 'B' category is defined as suitable for initial instruction, just like 'A'.
A couple of key dates. On 3 Feb 2005, the CEN committee finally agreed to the new test standard. And then... (trumpet flourish here, or maybe a drum roll) Alain Zoller of Air Turquoise decided to start using the new testing method, officially known as EN-926-2, in April 2006. Air Turquoise has previously done certification work for both DHV and SHV, hence was a suitably neutral body for doing EN tests.
The AFNOR system was run by the French Standards Institute, and divided paragliders into Standard, Performance and Competition categories. Standard was the rough equivalent of a DHV 1 paraglider. However, Standard is a fairly wide category, and not all paragliders with this rating are suitable for learners.
There was a standard series of tests through which the paraglider under review was taken. Only tests relevant to the intended category were used, the final scores then determining whether the wing got certified. As with DHV, there were both static load tests and in-flight tests. In fact AFNOR used 17 flying tests in total. The AFNOR process was considered to be a less subjective one than the DHV system, since the tests were either passed or failed.
Knowing about AFNOR ratings is now only of interest to buyers of second-hand paragliders that have no other rating certification.
ACPUL stands for Association des Constructeurs de Parapente Ultra Legers. This system was around for a long time, starting before there was any such thing as a DHV 1 paraglider. It is a manufacturers' association based in Europe which ran its own certification system before the AFNOR tests became widely used. That's all the info you will find about it on this page!
This is the French Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, and I believe some paragliders are certified under this name.
The Swiss Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, sometimes referred to as the FSVL. I understand some paragliders have certification under this name, but it's not a large proportion.