This is for all the Dreamers looking to become Pilots!
Paramotor changed my life and the way I see this world. It literally opened a new dimension of personal freedom and when I first saw it I was hooked. I wrote this article as if to help myself over ten years ago when I had so little information but such high motivation!
When was the first time you saw Paramotor? For me it was Bear Grylls flying the height of the summit of Everest. Pretty extreme even by today’s standards and it got tons of views. That’s how it goes for this sport because viewers love drama, and drama gets more views and view counts drive exposure. It’s hard to say if this helps or hurts the sport. There’s more exposure but also more misinformation. As more people feel inclined to get into the sport it is unavoidable that there will be more accidents as some of those people will push too hard or take unnecessary shortcuts.
If you’re an aspiring pilot then I hope this article helps you on your journey. It begins with asking the right questions, of yourself and the sport, so that you will be better informed and able to make the right decisions when it comes to your life and flying a paramotor. Pilots may make it look easy and even say that you can figure it out on your own. That’s terrible advice because if they had the experience of seeing more than just themselves and a couple of friends’ progress into the sport they would have a more informed perspective to consider. Luck is not a worthy substitute for knowledge and skill. Many pilots are lucky to not suffer the repercussions of their own carelessness. Don’t be the collateral damage from their ignorance. Anyone who really cares about your life would want you to get lessons versus not.
Most people see Paramotor for the first time because someone has posted a video on YouTube about doing something that sounds extreme like flying too high or getting a scary “collapse” in flight. There’s also the assortment of crash videos with self-taught amateurs blundering their way through launches and landings looking more like PigPen from the Charlie Brown cartoons. It’s easy to see why lots of folks have a ton of misconceptions about Powered Paragliding before they really learn anything factual about the sport.
I find that I’m frequently asked about the same pros/cons, accessibility, options, and risks of flying Paramotors. I’m a full-time Instructor with my own Paragliding Flight School. It’s given me a ton of relevant experience to share with dreamers, students, and tandem passengers and I’m hoping my perspective on these topics will give you some insight to the sport. Besides helping you, my overall goal is to clear up some of the misconceptions newcomers typically have about this awesome way of being in the air.
So let’s Do This!
WHERE can I fly a Paramotor?
This is the most asked question and the answer depends on where you live and how much you’re willing to travel. It would be sweet to fly out of your own backyard but it’s typically not an option. If you do have this option then you could have many paramotor friends!
Paramotor pilots look for wide open spaces with smooth wind that is undisturbed by terrain, structures, and trees. Disruptions in the airflow from these obstacles and/or dynamic weather conditions can lead to loss of canopy control. Losing control near the ground can be catastrophic. That’s why beaches, deserts, and open fields are preferred as well as the smooth, stable air of most mornings and early evenings. We have a tiny, slow aircraft. If it were a motorized skiff we would want to be on a glassy lake and not in the open ocean because our craft has its limits.
Pilots must also consider the FAA regulations that govern our sport. They state, among other things, that pilots cannot fly over places like neighborhoods, freeways, and even small groups of people. These regulations make it difficult to find places to fly in urban and developed areas like Southern California. As a result, almost all coastal access to launch, land or fly a paramotor is prohibited in SoCal. As the dwindling few locations attract more pilots, it is extremely likely that they will burn the existing sites until there are none left. Soooooo many cool places to fly are off limits in the first place like state parks, protected wildlife areas, and residential/business districts etc. Forget about those.
Do you like the desert? If so, it’s one of the few, last bastions for the sport. A setting we can still enjoy this passion unharrassed (for the most part) and enjoy this golden age of civilian aviation. If you don’t live in the desert then that type of flying will cost more and take longer to get to. Fly-in festivals typically take place in desert areas where there is little to no concern about this sort of activity from the locals.
Often times, pilots find can a random open field to use but in all cases it comes down to the land ownership. Are they really okay with the liability to their assets, ownership, and future as you pursue your passion for this seemingly risky activity? Have I mentioned?
It is extremely difficult to get permission to launch and land these aircraft and it’s only getting tougher!
WHEN can I fly a Paramotor?
Thermic activity throughout the day can make it pretty dangerous to be near the ground when the air is turbulent. Inland, the air tends to get bumpy during the peak hours of the day. So most of the time pilots won’t fly mid day because of the added risk during launch and take off. Exceptions are coastal sites and some larger bodies of water. In Southern California, some days offer all day flying conditions inland but you must really understand the fundamentals of weather and reading charts enough to be able to make that decision safely. Only one incorrect decision to fly can lead to a lifetime of regret and there are plenty of stories about haphazard pilots pushing this limit only to meet their demise.
It comes down to WEATHER conditions, TERRAIN, and human DEVELOPMENT.
Those are the most limiting factors for us because we fly the lightest weight, slowest aircraft on the planet.
What happens if my MOTOR goes out?
Unlike most other aircraft, when the motor stops working in a paramotor it is almost never an issue for landing safely. However, an inattentive pilot who has lost site of a suitable emergency landing field will have put him/herself into a very unsafe situation. Two-stroke motors are notorious for failing mid flight so Paramotor pilots expect this to happen eventually. A safe pilot always flys with a suitable option for landing within a distance that the glider can achieve without power. Landing on anything but flat, consistent terrain with smooth wind flow is a gamble.
Beaches, deserts, and open pastures provide these almost unlimited landing options so they’re great places to fly our paramotors. Then if your motor goes out it’s just a long walk back to the vehicle. It’s good to have friends to fly with because, in addition to the safety aspect, hiking with a +55lbs motor unit on your back just sucks.
Flying low is SWEEEET!
Flying close to terrain IS, in my opinion, one of the coolest aspects of motorized flight. The detail, the constantly changing scenery, and the expressions on everyones’ faces… priceless. But flying low definitely carries more risk as you have less altitude (time) to sort things out should anything go wrong. Don’t be fooled by your emotions. Altitude is your friend and even though it’s amazing to check out all the details and wave to people on the ground, the sacrifice is how much time you will have to deal with any unexpected issues. Additionally, terrain features can disrupt good wind flow and smooth, steady wind is what most pilots prefer.
OH MY GAWD, A COLLAPSE!!!!
Okay, first it’s important to acknowledge that this occasion would more appropriately be called a deflation because most of the time they require little if any correction before they reinflate. Since the capacity to reinflate is a built-in feature of the glider then a partial wing deflation is NOT destined to be an unrecoverable disaster, so we can reduce the scare-factor on this one a bit.
They can be avoided in the moment by proper input from a skilled pilot or avoided all together by the knowledgeable pilot who knows to stay out of air beyond his skill level. One of the biggest risks from a deflation is due to proximity to terrain. Flying low, or during launch and landings where there is insufficient altitude to recover or reinflate. A deflation of more than half of the wing can cascade into other problems but IF the pilot is flying in good conditions, deflations are usually rare, tiny and corrected before the pilot even has a chance to look up and see it.
There is a lot of misinformation around deflations because they sound scary and make good clickbait videos. Once you truly understand how a canopy works you will see them as avoidable and recoverable. There’s no good reason to be in turbulent air on a paramotor but then again the air does change quickly at times and people, including weather forecasters, make mistakes.
If you really want to KNOW how to deal with deflations and a few other in-flight incidents, then you would want to practice them and the corresponding recovery maneuvers at an SIV clinic over water. These clinics are part of the Paragliding world but there simply is no comparison with the amount of value and experience you will achieve through attending one of them. Until a pilot attends one of these clinics they are really only guessing about the performance, recovery, and limitations of their glider. Most motor guys will never attend one and consequently are usually more timid canopy pilots than their paragliding counterparts. I know, "I've been there, man!!!"
What is BURNING a site?
This term is something all seasoned pilots know by heart. The ability to fly one of these aircraft is a privilege and not a right. Not everybody thinks paramotors are cool and many land owners who have paid a considerable amount for their properties do not want people buzzing around creating noise pollution. Additionally, many land owners are rightfully paranoid about liability and are not willing to give access to their property given that they could be sued for injury or what the courts call an “attractive nuisance” that they have neglected to control or regulate.
The end result is that those who would have an issue with you launching, flying around, and landing will be the first to report you to local jurisdiction or the FAA. When this happens, your party is over… permanently. The federal government can be pretty heavy handed, employing such tactics as gear confiscation, massive monetary fines, and loss of other licenses or certificates you may have with them.
Burning a site means you’ve lost whatever access existed and have ruined a relationship with the land owner that will impact all future flying in that area. This is why we cannot paramotor in places like Long Beach, CA anymore. Pilots, usually self-taught amateurs, show up to fly one of the last sweet spots and proceed to scare the locals with terrible flying skills. The locals then become unsure about safety and liability concerns and they get some restriction in place over land use. Your relationships with your neighbors will likely go the same way. Some may think you’re pretty cool but others will likely not. Those are the ones to worry about.
It’s a sad tragedy that we routinely lose flying site access but almost never get one opened for our use.
HOW do I LEARN how to fly one?
If you live in Southern California then I have some good news and some bad news for you. The bad might already be obvious given the content of this article.
Motor flying spots around this region are really hard to come by!
There may only be two coastal options at the time this was written! Many pilots have paramotors that just sit in their garage and only get used a couple of times a year as they must plan a weekend excursion into the desert just to fly it for a few hours. Not always easy to do if you have to juggle a job and a family.
The Good News is that Southern California is THE Paragliding Capitol of North America! It provides the BEST terrain features and most consistent flying conditions in the entire country. You will not find a better place to learn Basic Canopy Flying Skills because learning to fly without a motor lets you tune into the subtle feedback and inputs necessary to build that intuitive relationship with your wing. When you can fly for hours without a motor on you begin to understand subtle nuances of the air, how your glider responds to it, and you learn how to read terrain in ways that are not apparent with a paramotor unit. One is not more risky than the other, it comes down to pilot attitude and there are safe pilots and there are dumbasses in each sport. How you choose to fly matters.
Developing good canopy habits from the beginning will make you a better, safer pilot than the limited understanding most paramotor pilots get through their training. Pilots who come from Paramotor to the Paragliding side have to unlearn a bunch of bad habits. Most find that they were completely unprepared for flying a canopy. This is a sport where getting it right 19 times out of 20 isn’t good enough, because it just takes that one time.
I encourage every aspiring Paramotor pilot in Southern California to attend their basic flight training at a Paragliding Training Site first. Learn how to control your canopy without power, and THEN put a $4-8k unit on your back when you know you won’t be botching any more launches or landings. The internet has no shortage of PPG accident videos and many of them were due to lack of proper canopy handling skills.
What you don’t know can absolutely kill you so please take this sport seriously. Flying is like a dream but if you shortcut lessons and suitable equipment then you are only as lucky as your ignorance and luck will allow. Take your life seriously and you can be flying a canopy well into your senior years. That is the value of proper training; to create skilled, knowledgeable, and competent pilots.
It makes since to save money wherever you can but NOT at the expense of your wellbeing. Flight Lessons are the very last place you should be looking for discounts. Treat yourself to the very best! Our Flight School is about creating an achievable progression towards a skill set that will serve you for decades. Our priority is you as an individual on their own personal journey to becoming a pilot. Join us and learn the true path to your dreams.
You’re more than a student, you’re one of us now!
FlyWithJordan Paragliding Lessons and Tandems
Andy Jackson Airpark - Southern California
5500 Ben Canyon Rd
San Bernardino, CA