NOT The Same As Paragliding!

There is actually a historical connection between parachuting and paragliding. However, today they are totally different and separate sports. What do I mean by a 'connection'?

Well, sports parachutes and paragliders share a common ancestor, the parafoil kite. These 3 flying things have one big common feature, that is, a thick flexible wing which stays pressurized due to forward motion through the air.

The wing, which has an upper and a lower surface, is composed of many side-by-side cells which are open at the front.

Parachutists ride to high altitude in a light aircraft, are flown over a 'drop zone' and then exit the aircraft. In the case of military parachuting, the aircraft might not be so small! Ever had those dreams where you just drop like a stone? Must be a bit like that for a few seconds, anyway...

The parachutist falls free until reaching a pre-determined safe altitude. Then the parachute is deployed for a much slower final descent to the ground. During this last phase of flight, the parachutist is able to steer the canopy left or right.

In simulated sky diving, you can float on a cushion of air over the 4 meter (12 feet) opening of a powerful windtunnel! There are a few of these around now. They are used for entertainment purposes as well as serious sky diving or military training programs.

Paraglider pilots most often launch from a slope in hills, mountains or coastal cliffs. Firstly, the paraglider canopy is inflated and flown like a kite over the head of the pilot.

Then the pilot simply runs into the breeze until the canopy takes his weight, the ground drops away and the paraglider glides slowly off. The pilot is then in charge of a true glider, being able to slow down, speed up and turn in either direction.

Unlike the parachutist, this person often has the option of gaining height by finding and flying through rising air. Soaring in other words.

Paragliders are more lightly built than parachutes because they don't have to withstand the shock of suddenly opening at high speed. Yeah, I know about that scene in one of the Jurassic Park movies. Mere Hollywood nonsense. ;-) Also, the design of paragliders is more aerodynamically sophisticated since they are designed for maximum soaring performance.

Let me rephrase that last paragraph. Paragliders are as light as a feather, can 'turn on a dime' and can be climbed away over a mouse fart in the grass below. ;-) Warm air rises, you know...

And with that colorful description, I'll end this little comparison of parachuting versus paragliding!


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