Ed Ewing has some advice for newly qualified pilots about what to look for when buying your first paraglider.
Most paraglider pilots train on an EN-A paraglider. These are the simplest and safest paragliders on the market. As well as being safe they must also be robust enough to withstand the groundhandling field and durable enough to be bundled up, thrown over a shoulder and carried back up the hill several times a day, every day, all season.
These wings are therefore designed and built to last, while in the air they launch easily, fly predictably and land simply.
Regardless of manufacturer, paragliders for beginners all feature similar attributes. They have a low aspect ratio, typically 4.5-4.9; colour-coded lines and risers with visual cues on them like letters or numbers; an obvious stabilo line for big ears; and a super simple speed system. In the air, brake travel is long and progressive, so heavy-handed pilots will find it hard (although not impossible) to reach the stall point while flying. Certified EN A they offer the maximum passive safety.
New pilots deserve nothing less than security and fun in the wings they train on – that way confidence and skills build quickly.
Buying a glider when leaving school
When you leave school you have a choice. Do you buy the glider you learnt to fly on, or one very like it, or do you buy a more advanced wing?
In the first instance you will be rewarded with familiarity and comfort. You can continue to rack up hours confidently, knowing you can launch, land and fly the glider even when your instructor isn’t there. That’s an important consideration: airtime is your most important priority at this stage of your flying career and flying a familiar glider will leave you loads of headspace to focus on actually progressing in your flying: learning to soar, thermal and go XC. You can’t go wrong if you follow this route, especially with the frankly brilliant EN-A gliders that are on the market today.
However, you might also feel you want to “step up” or try to “futureproof” yourself as you progress. One of your friends might opt for a “low EN-B” instead of sticking with an EN A, while financially it can look like buying an intermediate wing so you can “grow into it” over the next couple of seasons will make sense.
If you are a quick learner and have picked up the sport easily then both these routes might be OK (although watch out for “over-accelerated progression” – learning too quickly and missing out crucial steps in establishing your basic skills). You will have to commit to the learning curve in glider handling that buying a more refined glider will require, and that might mean a lot of thrashing about on launch and in the groundhandling field (think of the re-sale value!). But you will probably get there.
Then again, if it doesn’t go as you hoped you will not be the first pilot to find themselves struggling to manage their glider on launch while their buddies on EN-A gliders take off and sky out. Going this route can often be harder.
So the choice is yours, but choose wisely. Your instructor will be useful here. They will know you and your flying and they will guide you towards a wing they think will suit you. They might be happy for you to “step up” if they know you are a quick learner; they might also think it’s a good idea that you spend your first season on a glider you already know. Try to listen to what they are saying and be honest with yourself about your own ability and ambition.
Progressing on an EN A
Modern EN-A and low EN-B gliders are miraculous pieces of equipment. On the right day in the right hands they can easily thermal and go 100km cross country. They are absolutely perfect for learning all the skills you need to establish yourself as a pilot. Do not be too quick to dismiss the idea of spending your first two seasons flying your first EN-A paraglider.
If you have not got to cloudbase, gone downwind, attempted to fly XC, pushed the speed bar, perhaps even been on an SIV course and done your first full stalls and spiral dives, there is no real need to trade-in a modern beginner’s wing for an intermediate glider.
It is old advice, but it is the pilot flying the wing who makes the difference. Flying a modern EN-A or low-B beginner’s paraglider will allow you to fly with your eyes wide open, so you can see what is going on around you: clouds; birds climbing; windsocks; other pilots. Flying a wing that is too demanding for you at this stage in your flying career means you won’t see any of those things; it will just be you and your glider.
Buying your first glider should be an exciting and fun process. Flying it should also be fun, comfortable and exciting. Nothing else should come into it except that!