Are paragliders mad? No, says the Chairman of the Hong Kong Paragliding Association, Vince “Birdman” Christian. “Free-flyers just want to play at being a bird, see the world from on high,” Vince says.
A well-trained pilot with good gear and attitude will be safe. But they have had accidents and two fatalities. Usually, it’s pilot error. Like anything else in aviation, training is rigorous and you won’t get through the examinations without serious study.
The HKPA regulates itself but is overseen by the Civil Aviation Department. The wing,
harness and instruments will cost you close to $30,000. Initial training involves gentle wing handling in little wind on a flat paddock. As you progress the instructor will assign you more tasks, but he won’t allow you to fly off a hill unless “you can demonstrate that you can control the glider, it doesn’t control you,” Vince said.
He described a safe take-off. Imagine you are on the ridge above our town. Pre-flight check the wing and gear. Harness yourself to the wing and instruments. Double-check you are safely strapped at legs, waist and chest. Check the wind. Time gusts. Lift the wing. It’s flying now. And your bum is attached. Look around for other air traffic. All good. Run to the edge…
Landing a paraglider is much the same as any fixed-wing. Select your landing zone. Fly downwind, ie the wind is at your back. You’re moving fast. Eyeing your landing spot, judge the turn onto base-leg. Now line up on final approach. Into wind.
Beginners’ paragliders have forward speeds of 40km per hour. More advanced kit 60km per hour. “Best fun you can have with your clothes on.” The old saying about aviation.
To get into a tight landing zone, Vince says, you do S-turns, figure 8s, even 360s. Only for the experienced. Vince said accidents can happen if the glider is stalled, landings or take-offs are misjudged. Or violent tumbling wind is encountered on the leeside of a hill.