Paragliding & Paramotoring Rescue Systems

Paragliding Reserve Parachutes – What should I be looking for?:

Simplicity in design, the correct size and a good descent rate. In the early days of paragliding and paramotoring, we didn’t actually carry rescue parachutes at all. When we did, the risk from accidental deployment was greater than needing one for real. As the performance of gliders improved together with the fact that as pilots became more experienced, they tended to push the limits a lot harder, it wasn’t long before there became an obvious demand for paragliding reserve parachutes. New developments are now producing the best systems so far seen in our sport.

Why would I need one?:

There are four main scenarios in which you may need to use a paragliding reserve parachute.

  1. Mid air collision: Many pilots have already been saved by deploying a rescue parachute in this nasty scenario. You can be the most observant pilot on the planet but can you say the same for the other pilots that you are sharing the air with? In a perfect world, this should never happen but it does and it will continue to do so.
  2. Structural failure: Although now very rare, this has occurred but mostly with old gliders that haven’t followed a particularly good maintenance schedule. The other times that this has happened, is with pilots pushing their gliders too hard during aerobatic manoeuvres and when a glider has somehow become damaged and the pilot hasn’t noticed until after takeoff.
  3. Incorrect piloting: Usually after practising some extreme manoeuvre and getting the recovery wrong or simply applying the wrong inputs at the wrong time after a brief exit of the flight envelope. This could be from entering some rough air or even extreme turbulence.
  4. Extreme turbulence: It is possible to fly into an area that a paraglider simply was not designed to fly in. This could be on the lee-side of a hill during a cross country flight, behind a cliff or downwind of something producing severe turbulence. If you are unlucky enough to encounter this kind of thing, a rescue parachute may be the only chance to walk away in one piece. Of course, the other side of the argument is that if the air is so bad that a paraglider could not fly in it, would a rescue parachute fair any better? In our opinion, we think that it better to at least have the choice.

How reliable are they?:

If packed correctly, paragliding reserve parachutes are very reliable and the simpler the design, the more reliable they are. Saying that, rescue parachutes should not be viewed as a guaranteed second chance. They are more of your ‘only chance’ should things go really south. Even then, it’s possible for the deployment to go wrong and the rescue could get tangled up in the paraglider. There are no guarantees with extreme sports no matter what that sport is.

How is it deployed:

Almost all paragliding reserve parachutes are hand deployed meaning that you grasp the handle, pull out the parachute and throw it into clear air. There are some advanced systems where the pilot pulls a rip cord, the paraglider cuts away and pulls out the rescue at the same time. Deployment speeds are very fast but you need the altitude for it to work. Ballistic systems are still in development stages and maybe this is something that we’ll see in the future.

How fast do reserve parachutes open?:

This usually depends on how hard it was thrown in the first place. The lines have to deploy then the parachute has to fill with air. All this takes time but it’s all going to usually happen in under well under 5 seconds with 3 seconds being close to normal. It’s also worth noting that even when the parachute is only half open it will already be producing a useful amount of drag and starting to slow things down.

What size do I need?:

Smaller rescue parachutes open faster than large ones and they are also lighter so it is good to go with one that is not larger than you actually require, but like previously stated, even a big one, half inflated maybe as good as a really small one fully inflated. There must also be enough weight on the deployed rescue to ‘drive’ it and keep it properly inflated. If however, the rescue is too large, it can then suffer from oscillations and swing wildly from side to side, spilling air each time it does so. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when dealing with sizes. One advantage of the larger paragliding reserve parachute is that it will be less susceptible to downplaning where the paraglider and rescue fight against each other leading to a very hard and dangerous landing.

How fast do you descend?:

It is said that a descent rate of 4.5 meters per second is the equivalent to jumping off a table 1m high giving you a stand-up landing. Based on this, we would suggest that you try to choose a rescue parachute with a descent rate of no more than 5m/s – 5.5m/s. We used to have products with descent rates as high as 7m/s. This was almost guaranteed to be a leg breaker and thankfully those days have gone. Don’t forget that the size you will choose will be based on your all up weight and not your naked weight.

How heavy are rescue parachutes?:

As with all things paragliding, the lighter, the more expensive they are. If weight is not that important to you, a considerable amount of money can be saved if you go for one of the heavier models but we wouldn’t recommend that you do. Lighter paragliding reserve parachutes are easier to throw and therefore deploy in a faster time. All good lightweight rescue parachutes are now under 2kg in weight with super lightweight being under 1.5kg.

What dictates the price?:

This comes down to the total weight but also designs with some of the new square types being more expensive as they can be considered to be state of the art products.

Can I pack this and how often?:

Even though it’s not a bad idea to learn how to pack your own paragliding reserve parachutes, at least to see how it works, we would suggest that you leave this to the professionals who do them every day. They should be repacked every 6 months and we don’t feel that this is often enough to get really good at doing it yourself, unless you also want to practice with your friends. But after saying all of that, you may find that you might need to pack your own rescue parachute if for example you were on holiday and someone accidentally pulled your handle. It’s amazing how many times we have seen this; the red handle is not for carrying the harness!

How do I fit this to my harness?:

We offer a free fitting service with any paragliding rescue parachutes purchased. All you need to do is post us your harness at the point of ordering and we’ll send your harness back to you with the rescue fitted. If you need your parachute repacked at a later date, we can get it arranged for you.

Do I need one for paramotoring?:

Only you can answer that question. It could be argued that by flying super safe reflex wings you are never going to need it. All we can say for sure is, if you need one but haven’t got one, we can literally guarantee that you will never need one again!

Any questions?:

As always, it is encouraged that you ask a question if you need clarification on anything that is written above using the form at the bottom of the page. If something is puzzling you, it is guaranteed that you will not be on your own. By putting your questions on this page, other pilots will also be able to learn.

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