Power Gliders (Paramotor Wings)

What are Power Gliders & Paramotor Wings

Also known as paramotor wings, power gliders are paragliders that are specifically designed to be used under power with either a paramotor or a paramotor trike (paratrike). Paramotors first started to make an appearance around 1992 here in the UK but some pilots in Europe were building their own units a little earlier than this. Although not ideal for power, in these early days, standard paragliders were the order of the day. A lot of standard paragliders currently available are also suitable to be used under power and are certified as such. It definitely saves money for the pilot having a wing that will be able to be used under power as well as just launched off a hill but these wings never seem to do the job as well as a purpose designed power glider. Over the years it became obvious that for use with an engine, purpose designed paramotor wings needed to be developed.

How is a paramotor wing different to a standard paraglider

There are quite a few differences between a standard paraglider and a power glider. For starters, there is the size difference. As progress in the sport has moved on, the sizes have been getting smaller compared to conventional paragliders. There are three main reasons for this. Firstly, we are not overly concerned with the sink rate of the wing as we are using power to stay up. Secondly, the smaller wing is much faster. Finally, the smaller wing has a much higher wing loading leading to a substantial increase in stability and collapse resistance. Power gliders often have a heavy duty build compared to regular paragliders to resist the extra load from a power unit dragging the wing through the air. It is often said that using a power unit with a standard paraglider can shorten the life of that wing by half. But when we are talking about paramotor power gliders these days, we are usually referring to reflex sectioned wings.

Reflex paramotor wingReflex: A lot, but by all means, not all power gliders, are designed with Reflex aerofoil wing sections. Although Reflex has almost been around as long as aeroplanes have been flying, it was the British designer Michael Campbell Jones who first recognised the potential benefits for a power glider and the whole sport went off in a new and exciting direction.  A reflexed section wing simply means that the trailing edge or rear portion of the aerofoil is higher than the leading edge. Compared to a standard paragliding wing section, this has the effect of moving the centre of pressure forward, having the result of making the aerofoil extremely pitch stable and resistant to collapse. Think of the centre of pressure as a sort of balance point; a point where all forces on the wing come together. If the centre of pressure moves backwards, it results in a loss of pressure at the leading edge. If this pressure reduction is high enough, a front collapse may result. This is exactly what paragliders of a few years ago used to do when full speed bar was applied so all pilots had to be careful, especially in rough conditions. Newer designs of paragliders now actually induce some amount of reflex when accelerated to increase the wings stability. A lot of paragliders are now at their most stable when flying slightly above trim speed for this reason.

Power Glider Certification:

Certification tends to fall into three camps; either the French DGAC, European EN testing and the German LTF. If the power glider is of the more conventional design, it may be tested under the standard EN test procedures for paragliders receiving either A, B, C or D grade as normal and the LTF in Germany. But the big problem with reflex wings is that they are incompatible with a lot of ways that the tests are conducted. The asymmetric collapse test is a perfect example. To cause the wing to collapse, the test pilot pulls down hard on one riser to induce the event. The problem is with reflex wings and now even with ordinary paragliders, especially with ‘Sharks nose’ designs, is that this pulling down on a single riser can cause pre acceleration on that side of the wing. When it actually does collapse, the results can be very aggressive and show little resemblance to what actually happens when a collapse happens naturally in flight. This is causing quite a few headaches for both designers and the testing institutes and can lead to a situation of a ‘beginners’ reflex wing ending up with an ENd certification.

Because of this situation, many reflex designs will be load tested only and the flight tests will be conducted by the manufacturer. This is the situation with the French DGAC and is compulsory in that country. For years, experts have been trying to come to a single agreement and testing of reflex wings but there has been no result so far and remains a grey area.

How much experience do I need to fly a Power Glider?:

If the glider is of the conventional type that has been approved for use with power, the same rules apply for paragliding certification and the pilots that level is suitable for (see guides for each EN certification). When it comes to reflex wing designs and DGAC, you are going to have to trust the manufacturer’s recommendations but this is how it is done in general aviation as well. So are reflex wings suitable for beginners? Although there are high-performance reflex wings available that a sensible beginner should not even consider, there are now plenty of choices for a first wing with the passive security levels being the highest available in both the sports of paragliding and paramotoring. When flying a reflexed design, there is a little added complexity compared to a standard paraglider so a beginner will have more to learn. A lot of paramotor wings these days are now moving towards reflex design because of the benefits to powered flight.

What is the level of passive security?:

As mentioned above, the maximum passive security in paragliding and paramotoring is found in low aspect ratio reflexed designs. There are also a few high aspect, high-performance reflex designs available but it is hard to see what the point of them actually is, even in competition. Reflex adds a fantastic level of passive stability. High aspect takes most of it away.

How easy is a Power Glider to launch?:

The first reflex wings were hard to launch especially in zero winds. Since those early days, things have improved immeasurably. The new generation of power gliders has been designed from the ground up to be as easy to launch as is possible. The best of these gliders will literally now launch on their own; the pilot only needs to quickly walk forward and the wing will do the rest.

How does a Power Glider handle?:

Gliders tend to handle very differently when under power compared to free flying. When climbing, it is best to use as little brake input as possible and this also goes for level flight. If you pull on the brakes with a reflexed design, the reflex disappears and you are basically back on a conventional paraglider except with extremely heavy controls. The designers have got around this by employing wing tip steering controls. If full reflex mode you simply leave the brake handles clipped on and use the tip steering for direction control. Not only is this system extremely efficient, it has no effect whatsoever on the reflexed part of the wing so retaining all of the benefits. When landing or taking off, the brakes are used as normal, often in conjunction with riser trim systems. Although seeming a little complicated at first, the benefits of reflex soon become apparent.

How good is the performance?:

Who cares; you’ve got an engine! Seriously though, glide performance is less important with power gliders, instead, the emphasis is more on speed and stability. Saying that, some fully reflexed power gliders still make good unpowered hill soaring paragliders when used on slow trim. If flying in strong, rough conditions is your thing, a small reflexed wing could be a better decision than a lot of the speed wings currently being used for this purpose.

Is this category for me?:

If you want to use your wing for both powered and unpowered flight, one of the many gliders that are certified for this purpose will be fine. However, if you want to get the most out of paramotoring and be able to move around with some decent speed and effortless stability, the reflex designs are what is required.

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.

Here to Help

I have been involved in paramotoring for over 20 years. I had my first paramotor in 1994 and what an animal it was! 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 and first flights on the new unit where I can offer advice if you need it. If you need anything 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

 

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4 Comments

  1. Steve West

    hi
    my name is steve and I have just read your article offering advice etc. OK so i have a
    windtech fr. kinetic. canopy or wing and a parajet volution motor mounted on a grazzhopper trike, all of the equiptment is in pretty good shape the wing has been inspected by the people at The Loft I am a motorcycle mechanic and very experienced with 2stroke engines ans basic running gear on 2 and 3 wheeled vehicles, however i have been trained by a qualified paramotor piltot but have no certification. I was wondering where in the country you were based and whether it would be possible to take on board what you have to say as 20years is very difficult to argue with, look fwrd to your reply.
    Kind Regards S West

    Reply
    • Paul Williams

      Hi Steve, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I retired from formal instruction at the end of Sept last year. The training of trike instructors is in the process of being set up at the moment. The best place is to have a look at BHPA.co.uk and give them a call. They should be able to point you in the right direction. Good luck with it!

      Reply
  2. Jean Ferreira

    Hello I did my paramotor course in Brazil. I live in London, it takes help to fly in UK. You can help me. JEAN

    Reply
    • Paul Williams

      Hi Jean; have a look at BHPA.CO.UK
      You should find what you are looking for there. Cheers

      Reply

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