How Paragliding Works

Parts of the Paraglider


The main components of a paraglider are:

  • Wing (also called the canopy or sail)
  • Lines and risers
  • Harness
  • Speed bar
  • Reserve parachute
  • Helmet

In simplest terms, a paraglider is an inflatable wing. It resembles a parachute, but its shape is elliptical rather than round. Wings are usually made of rip-stop nylon, which is a tear-proof and tough synthetic fabric. It's actually two layers of material sewn together with a gap between the two. Vertical fabric ribs support the gap, and in between each rib are cells. These dozens of cells work to trap air and inflate the canopy for gliding. The wing has a leading edge, which allows air to enter the cells. Experts agree that most wings are good for about 300 hours of paragliding (about four years) before they begin to stretch or weaken [source: Discovery].

Lines are the rigging cords attached to different areas of the underside of the wing. There are usually about four or five rows of lines. The last row of lines make up the brakes, or control lines, attached to the wing's trailing edge. These cords all stream down and are secured in a bunch on both sides of the pilot. The bunches of grouped lines are called risers and they suspend the pilot below the canopy. The pilot can use the lines to control the glider. Manipulating the lines changes the direction or speed of the glider as it flies. Lines are made of synthetic materials like Kevlar (aramid) or Dyneema (polyethylene). These types of materials won't stretch or shrink, which would cause the glider to become unbalanced. Nylon is a popular choice for risers because of its strength and durability.

Risers affix to carabiners, which in turn lock into the pilot's harness. A paragliding harness is the soft chair that suspends the pilot below the wing. It features multiple straps that keep the pilot safe in the harness as well as provide lumbar support.

Some pilots like to utilize a speed bar, which is a foot control. It attaches to the harness and connects to the canopy via pulleys. By pushing on the speed bar with his foot, a pilot can increase the paraglider's speed by changing the angle of the wing.

The reserve parachute is for the unlikely (but possible) event that the wing begins to irreversibly deflate. The reserve attaches to the harness in a spot that prevents accidental deployment. Reserve parachutes are specially made so that they can open quickly.

And of course, a pilot never flies without a helmet.

Next, we'll talk about how a paraglider gets off the ground.