Paramotors Buying Advice Guide:
We have been searching for the ultimate in paramotors design for well over 20 years. We have owned, flown, broken and tested many different paramotors. We have also tested many wings and motor combinations, being the first pilots in the UK and on a few occasions the first pilots in the world to try a new wing under power. One thing we realised a long time ago is just how unreliable and downright badly designed some units were. Some manufacturers have it far more sorted than others. High-frequency vibration is the enemy to all paramotors. It is not unusual to see exhausts crack and sometimes break up taking the propeller with it. We’ve seen cages built so flimsily that just the line pressure around the motor when forward launching is enough to press the protective outer hoop into the propeller and cause another expensive incident. We know of cages where just a hit with the palm of your hand is enough to make contact with the propeller. How the thrust of the motor is transferred to the glider is very important. How and where the wing is attached is paramount. The weight of the unit is important as is the maximum thrust available and fuel consumption. Over the years things have got a lot better but there have been conclusions made over that time.
Aluminium, Stainless Steel, Titanium or Carbon Fibre:
Today’s paramotor pilot has a lot of choices when it comes down to the material that his or her machine is made of, but there is a lot of differences between them. Aluminum is very light and frames can also be made very strongly if thick enough tubing is used, although this will alway incur a weight penalty. The main drawback with aluminium is its lack of in field repairability. Bent tubes can rarely be forced back into shape so more expensive repairs or even replacements tend to be the order of the day. Stainless steel however and the even lighter titanium can to a certain extent, be bent back into shape after quite a mishap. Of the two, stainless steel is probably the material that can be forced back into shape the easiest, although if done carefully, titanium can also be significantly repaired without the tubes breaking. Certain grades of titanium can be brittle but these are not usually used in the construction of paramotors. Both titanium and stainless steel can take a direct strike from a spinning propeller. The propeller will be damaged or even destroyed but the cage should still be serviceable with a little work. Lightweight aluminium cages cannot take this level of punishment without breaking but heavier gauge frames like the Parajet V3 for example, not only can but are also used by schools because of this durability. Carbon fibre is very light and very strong and is now being used for many paramotor components as well as complete frames. Despite having an enormous strength to weight ratio, a carbon fibre frame is usually seriously damaged by a spinning propeller necessitating replacement parts. For this reason, carbon fibre paramotors are often recommended for experienced pilots who are less likely to make an expensive mistake than a beginner. With all paramotors, just having clearance from propellor tips to the frame isn’t enough as the engine can also move on its mounts so that must also be taken into consideration. Some new paramotors are also designed using a modular system which means that you can simply replace the bit you have broken or bent without having to change expensive full sections of the cage.
Under Arm Attachment Points:
Really is the correct way to connect a paraglider to a paramotor. When you fly with this system, it is far more like controlling a normal paraglider in flight. Your arms will be in the normal flying position, unlike overarm ‘J’ bars that place your arms high in the air. This is uncomfortable, brings the stall point on the brake handles dangerously high and makes it difficult to launch. But the most important feature of underarm attachments is that with this system the thrust line tends to be in line with the karabiners. When a paraglider is towed, it is pulled from its carabiner attachment points. When a paraglider is pushed, it should be from these same points. The thrust of the engine should not be through the pilot. Having the attachments high and the thrust line low will cause problems when launching and when in flight. When power is applied, the motor can do all sorts of weird things as it tries to indirectly apply its thrust to the wing. At the very least, the thrust line will keep changing under different power settings. The more power you have, the worst this system is. Some pilots seem to get on happily with this setup but it can be done much better. One advantage that high hang points do have however is that the weight of the machine is lifted off the pilot as soon as the wing is above your head and producing lift. With underarm attachments, the weight that the wing is lifting is being split between the pilot and the paramotor but still, it’s only for a very short period of time. There are also systems where the carabiners are attached directly to the harness without using any kind of bars whatsoever. Again, a lot of pilots get along fine with this setup, but it is best suited to paramotors that are producing little power. Overall though, it is low to medium underarm attachments that are now mostly being used as they are considered to be the best compromise between all of the different systems.
Bottom Mounted Fuel Tanks:
That feeds petrol upwards. With this system, if you have a problem or god forsake a fire, switching off the engine also kills the fuel supply. If you get a fuel leak with a bottom mounted tank it simply runs away. If you get a fuel leak with a top mounted gravity fed tank, it will keep on flowing. Fuel running on to a hot engine, plug cap and exhaust is not a great idea. It is so easy to mount the tank at the bottom of the frame and the serious consequences of a severe leak with a top mounted tank, it leaves absolutely no excuse or reason to mount a petrol tank in this dangerous position although in its defence, by placing the weight up high it does make it easier for the pilot to stand in an upright position as it moves forward the center of gravity. Overall though, having the fuel tank mounted in a high position makes it more difficult for the designers to balance the whole machine.
The weight of the Machine:
Is more important than some people would have you think, but there is more to it than just what is the lightest. What is in no doubt is the amount of sweat you will produce with a heavy paramotor should you duff up a couple of launches. Also, running up a heavy machine to the point where it lifts you off the ground can be much more difficult in zero wind conditions. In their defence, the heavy machines do seem to be very powerful as a rule and once up to speed, the launch can be so fast it can be like being fired out of a cannon! Sometimes, but certainly not exclusively used in the paramotor world, is a thing called the 30/70 percent rule. This means trying to use a unit no more than 30% of your naked body weight and a thrust figure of no less than 70% of the same weight. If you stick close to this equation you should not be disappointed. We believe a machine should be as light as you can get it but not at the expense of strength.
But this is not the whole story. Sometimes the heavier machine is also the lightest when fuel consumption is taken into the equation. Say you had two different paramotors of exactly the same empty weight but one was twice as fuel efficient as the other. The fact that only half the amount of fuel needs to be carried for exactly the same flight time would give you not only less weight to carry on takeoff, but offers double the flying time if needed. If your average flight time is an hour, there is no need to be carrying enough fuel to break an endurance record. Fuel weighs approximately 0.75kg per litre so take this into account when searching for the right machine for your particular needs.
Finally, and this is so overlooked, what is the lightest machine for you, personally? Human beings have different levels of strength. A 30kg machine may feel as light as a feather to one person and ridiculously heavy to another. Some pilots are happy with a 40kg tandem unit whilst another can’t even lift it off the ground. A properly designed paramotor will keep the weight as close to your back as possible. This has a dramatic effect on how heavy a unit will actually feel. We have experienced this for ourselves where two 25kg machines feel so radically different, it is very hard to believe that they are actually the same weight. One rule has always applied to paramotors and that is, the lighter they are, the more fragile it is going to be. You can only reduce weight so far. Rather than asking what is the lightest you can find, maybe a better question is to ask what is the heaviest you are happy to live with. Thinking this way will give you many more options in your choice of machine.
Size of the Paramotor:
You should try to fly paramotors with the biggest propellers and cage that you can. Big propellers are far more efficient than their smaller counterparts. Bigger propellers are not only more powerful, they also use a lot less fuel. The propeller has to be matched to the engine that is using it but as a very rough rule, you can add around 5kg of thrust for every 10cm you increase the length. For example, you may find a paramotor in in two sizes putting out different thrust figures like 60kg for 115cm propellers and 65kg for a 125cm propellor. Some of the manufacturers are starting to offer propellers well over 130cm long in a drive for maximum efficiency. For you personally, the deciding factor is going to be how tall you are. If the propeller is too long and the cage too big, not only will the bottom of the frame bang on the back of your legs when running, it is possible to have the frame and propeller hit the ground, especially when landing. We have found that people who are 173cm (5ft 8in) and above are usually fine with a propeller of 125cm. This also depends on how high the paramotor sits on your back, but it is close enough for us to be able to use a simple rule; starting with a 125cm propeller, if you are over 173cm you can look at longer propellers and if you are under 173cm you may need to go down a size. This is only a rough rule but should put you in the ball park. One thing that is very handy and what is done in the schools with students is to use a smaller propeller when training which will allow you the odd mistake and move up to the longer but more vulnerable propeller when your skill increases.
Good thrust will make your take offs a pleasure rather than the worst part of your day. Underpowered units are a pain. We have tested units that are physically incapable of getting a 75kg pilot into the air on a zero wind day after running the length of a football pitch. If you do get into the air, the underpowered units can give a climb rate of only 100 feet per minute. It is common to fly into sinking air that’s going down faster than you’re capable of going up. A powerful unit will easily give a climb in excess of 500 feet per minute. Good climb rates can get you out of trouble in sinking air and help to fly you out of danger. We believe that a minimum of 300 feet per minute is not too much to ask. Try to apply the 30/70 rule explained above. Try also not to purchase a unit that has more power than you require. They are usually heavy to carry and heavy on fuel and provide no advantages over a correctly powered machine. The height above sea level should also be taken into consideration if you live at high altitude. The final consideration will be the wing size; the smaller, the more power you will need and vice versa.
Clutch or Direct Drive:
This is one of the most asked questions by customers but never believe that paramotors with a clutch are safer, as some will tell you. A paramotor with a clutch should not spin the propeller until the hand throttle is squeezed. A paramotor without a clutch will spin its propeller as soon as it’s started. Clutch or not, a paramotor must always be treated the same way as the potentially lethal machine that it is (think tiger crossed with a chainsaw). Some pilots think that a paramotor with a clutch can happily be left to warm up whilst they prepare their wing but nothing is further from the truth. A 2 stroke engine starved of fuel can suddenly ‘rev up’, turning into some kind of nightmarish lawn mower and chase you across the field. Always respect paramotors! So do you actually need a clutch?
There is one circumstance that makes a clutch compulsory. If you have a lightly built paramotor with a soft cage, it is possible when launching that the lines of the paraglider will squeeze the frame of the paramotor into an oval and make contact with the propeller destroying it. In this case, if you do not have a clutch that will allow you to spin up the propeller once the wing is above your head, you will never be able to forward launch; every launch will depend on a reverse technique and there will need to be a breeze to achieve that. That would be a terribly designed paramotor but it has been seen in the past. More on this can be found in another article here. After saying all of that, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of having a clutch on a paramotor:
- When you are standing ready for takeoff, the propeller is not going to blow your carefully laid out wing all over the place but this can be avoided by thinking about where the propeller wash is going.
- If you have a non clutched paramotor and the propeller is spinning on your back, without a wind indicator such as a wing sock etc, it can be difficult to tell where the wind is actually coming from as it will always feel like it’s blowing in your face.
- Power pulses from the engine firing at low RPM are not felt with a clutch and the propeller not spinning. With clutchless designs, a paramotor that is ticking over can sometimes bounce around in the frame, shaking the whole unit and stressing the engine mountings. Clutched paramotors tend to idle smoothly with no low-frequency damaging vibrations.
- If you don’t have an electric start and the motor is hard to pull over, you will need to crawl into the harness with the engine already running and propeller spinning.
- Pilots have simply tripped over, walking towards the wing with the paramotor running on their back. If the propeller isn’t spinning you should be fine; if it is though, there’s a good chance that you will be needing a new one.
- Having the propeller stationary on your back until you are ready to fly is a lot less stressful especially for beginners.
- Forward launching is easier done exactly the same as paragliding; once the wing is above your head, squeeze on the power and off you go.
- The paramotor can be easier to start as the propeller doesn’t need to be spun over.
- Much easier to practice ground handling with the engine running and glider lines less likely to be pulled into the propeller.
- More to go wrong mechanically with a clutch. Early ones were awful but now seem to be mostly sorted out these days.
- Propellers can, but not always, continue to ‘free wheel’ or ‘windmill’ even when the motor is switched off when coming into land. If you get unlucky and hit the frame on the ground, you could still break a propeller. Very upsetting when technically you did nothing wrong.
- Increased weight. Centrifugal clutches can have gears, bell housings, friction pads and sometimes oil. This can make them significantly heavier than a simple two pulley and belt drive system.
Pull start or Electric start:
The paramotor community is split over this. Many prefer the convenience of simply being able to push a button to get the paramotor started. But with the advent of the ‘flash start’, pull starting a paramotor has never been easier. A flash start works by winding up a spring with one or two gentle pulls on the starting rope. Once it’s fully wound, a small extra movement releases the energy much like a starter motor found in a car, firing the engine into life. These starters are so easy to use that even a small child could do it. The electric start will have an advantage though if the engine needs to be turned over quite a few times before starting. The disadvantage with the electric start system is the extra weight of the battery and it is worth pointing out that almost all the fires that have occurred in the air, have been from lithium ion packs going up in smoke. Now that we have flash starts I’m not sure if the fire risk needs to be taken at all.
Reliability, Build Quality and Good Factory Backup:
Easy to start and little-required maintenance comes only with well-proven designs. If you need a part, from a nut or bolt to a complete frame you should be able to get it with little drama. Deal only with people who have a good reputation and are supporting pilots after the initial purchase. After sales service with some manufacturers has been nothing short of dismal in the past so now we only support brands that support their customers. Paramotor manufacturers seem to come and go. The older established brands will be supporting their customers well into the future.
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.
I’m Here to Help You
I have been involved in paramotoring for over 20 years. I had my first paramotor in 1994. I have been instructing full time since 1993 until 2017 and available to help you with advice whenever needed. This is my way of putting back into the sport which has given me such incredible experiences in life. If you purchase a paramotor, I offer a free familiarisation session out in the field to run you through the motor setup, running in and first flights on the new unit where I can offer support if you need it. I this case, I will be assuming that you have flown a paramotor before or are qualified, as I no longer teach beginners. If you need any help in the meantime, just write in the chat box found on this site and I’ll get back to you either immediately or when I’m back in the office.
Good Flying! Paul Williams