Master Paragliding: An Inside Look at Pilot Training

Master Paragliding: An Inside Look at Pilot Training

Paragliding is an incredible sport that offers an unparalleled sense of freedom and thrill. As the founder of Adventuro and a Club Pilot with 10 hours of flying time under my belt, I’m here to share with you a step-by-step guide on how to learn this amazing sport while it is still fresh.

What qualifications do you need to paraglide?

In the UK, training is controlled by the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA). Unlike skydiving, there’s no legal requirement in the UK to have a licesnse to fly in the UK. However, it’s crucial to remember that training isn’t optional. If you try to wing it (pun slightly intended), you might end up killing yourself or others.

In Europe, it falls under the purview of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), and in the US, it’s the US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA). In parts of Europe and elsewhere you may find the APPI training system in use. All the different training systems can then be translated into an equivalent IPPI Card for international flying and comparison.

United Kingdom – BHPA (British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association)

  • Stage 1: Elementary Pilot (EP): The EP course covers basics such as launching, landing, and basic flight control. It’s about learning how to handle and control the glider safely and confidently.
  • Stage 2: Club Pilot (CP): The CP course further develops these skills, enabling students to start soaring (using lift to stay up), and beginning to understand meteorology, airmanship, and the principles of flight.
  • Stage 3: Pilot Rating: This involves a more advanced set of practical skills including accurate landings, advanced ground handling, more complex flight planning and execution, and more detailed knowledge of meteorology and air law.
  • Stage 4: Advanced Pilot Rating: The Advanced Pilot Rating demands a high level of theoretical knowledge and practical skill, and is only awarded after a demanding examination and a minimum of 75 hours airtime.
  • Pilot Development Structure (PDS): The PDS is designed to continue pilot development after the CP stage. The programme promotes continuing development through coaching and pilot self-regulation, using a ‘task-based’ structure to help pilots build skills and experience in a controlled manner. This is designed to complement the more formal Pilot and Advanced Pilot stages above.

Europe – Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and IPPI Card System

The IPPI (International Pilot Proficiency Information) card system provides a standard framework that translates national rating systems into internationally recognised levels, facilitating cross-country flying and training recognition. This system is very useful for pilots travelling abroad and proves the pilot’s skill level to instructors, flight schools, and insurance providers.

  • IPPI 1 – Parapro 1 (Initiation): This initial stage involves understanding of basic principles and practical skills such as ground handling, launching, and landing. There’s no formal exam at this stage, just skills demonstration.
  • IPPI 2 – Parapro 2 (Elementary Pilot equivalent): At this stage, pilots learn and display more advanced flight skills including basic soaring. Though there’s no formal written exam, pilots must demonstrate their proficiency in these skills.
  • IPPI 3 – Parapro 3 (Club Pilot equivalent): This level requires pilots to fly independently. They must pass a theoretical knowledge examination at this stage.
  • IPPI 4 – Parapro 4 (Pilot level): The pilot expands their skills and understanding. It requires passing an examination that tests in-depth understanding of advanced flight theory, meteorology, and air law.
  • IPPI 5 – Parapro 5 (Advanced Pilot level): This is the pinnacle of achievement for a recreational pilot. It requires a significant amount of airtime and experience, and pilots must pass a comprehensive examination to reach this level.

What are the equivalent IPPI cards levels to BHPA qualifications?

  • BHPA’s Elementary Pilot (EP) equates to IPPI 2.
  • BHPA’s Club Pilot (CP) aligns with IPPI 3.
  • BHPA’s Pilot (P) and Advanced Pilot (AP) could both fit into IPPI 4 or 5, depending on the pilot’s specific experience and skills.
  • IPPI 5 status requires a statement from a Club Chairman/Chief Coach/CFI confirming that the pilot has a total of at least 100 hours and has completed at least five cross-country flights in various types of lift.
  • However, IPPI 5 status doesn’t automatically grant Advanced Pilot status in the BHPA’s system. Likewise, being an Advanced Pilot under the BHPA does not automatically qualify one for IPPI 5 status.

Association of Paragliding Pilots and Instructors (APPI)

The APPI system is an international paragliding training program that provides a structured and progressive set of skills and qualifications for pilots. It is designed to be recognised globally.

  • APPI 1: Paragliding student
  • APPI 2: Club Pilot
  • APPI 3: Intermediate Pilot
  • APPI 4: Advanced Pilot
  • APPI 5: Master Pilot
  • APPI Instructor: Qualified to teach students

Comparison with BHPA Levels

  • APPI 1 and 2 equate to the BHPA’s Elementary Pilot and Club Pilot levels, respectively, focusing on basic skills and safety.
  • APPI 3 aligns with the BHPA Pilot rating, emphasizing more advanced flying skills and cross-country flying.
  • APPI 4 and above correspond to the BHPA Advanced Pilot and beyond, where pilots demonstrate high skill levels in various flying conditions and environments.

Comparison with IPPI Levels

  • APPI 1 and 2: IPPI 1-2, where pilots are learning the basics and beginning to practice on their own.
  • APPI 3: IPPI 3, representing an autonomous pilot capable of making flights in familiar conditions.
  • APPI 4: IPPI 4, denoting advanced pilots who can fly in different sites and conditions.
  • APPI 5 and Instructor: IPPI 5, indicating a high level of proficiency and the ability to mentor and instruct other pilots.

United States – United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA)

  • Stage 1: Beginner (P1): This stage is focused on ground handling, launching, and landing. It’s a practical-based stage with no exam. Equivalent to the Elementary Pilot.
  • Stage 2: Novice (P2): This stage involves more flight skills, including slope soaring. There is a written test as well as a practical skills demonstration. Equivalent to the Club Pilot rating.
  • Stage 3: Intermediate (P3): This stage requires a written test, and the pilot must have logged a certain number of flights and hours.
  • Stage 4: Advanced (P4): This stage requires multiple written exams covering advanced topics, and pilots must have logged a significant number of flights and flying hours.
  • Stage 5: Master (P5): This is the highest rating. It requires a significant number of flights and flight hours, and pilots must pass several written exams on advanced topics.

How can you get an IPPI card with a BHPA rating?

To receive an IPPI (International Pilot Proficiency Information) card with a BHPA (British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association) qualification, you must follow these steps:

  1. Obtain your BHPA qualification: You need to first secure your appropriate BHPA qualification – Elementary Pilot (EP), Club Pilot (CP), Pilot (P), or Advanced Pilot (AP).
  2. Apply through the BHPA: Once you have your BHPA qualification, you can apply for an IPPI card directly through the BHPA. The BHPA will verify your qualification level and then forward your details to the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale), the international body overseeing air sports worldwide.
  3. Pay the FAI fee: There will be a processing fee that you will need to pay to the FAI to receive your IPPI card. This fee may vary.

Do you need to do a tandem flight to learn to paraglide?

In short – no. You can, and many do, become an independent pilot without ever going on a tandem flight. However, if you are unsure if you want to learn, its a great way to test the waters. If you go for a tandem, tell your pilot that you are thinking of learning and would appreciate having a go with the controls and more detail about what they are doing during take off, landing etc.

I did a tandem flight a few years before I learnt to paraglide while backpacking around Peru. There is a great spot in the south of the capital, Lima, where you fly above the cliffs and dodge hotel buildings while taking in the city. It is quite something.

Let’s go over the BHPA learning path:

The Initial Steps: Elementary Pilot

In the Elementary Pilot (EP) stage, often equated with the IPPI 2 level, your learning will be segmented into five key areas:

1. Ground Training:

  • Site Assessment: Understanding the geography, wind conditions, and potential hazards of a flying site.
  • Equipment Overview: Familiarisation with all the equipment used in paragliding, including canopy, harness. As well as personal saftey equipment of helmet and proper footwear
  • Safety Techniques: Emphasis on parachute landing falls (PLFs), the safest way to land in an unplanned situation.

2. Ground Handling:

  • Pre-Flight Checks: Ensuring that all components are in good condition and correctly set up before flight.
  • Laying Out Canopy: Learning how to prepare your wing on the ground for takeoff.
  • Inflation: Mastering the technique of filling the wing with air for launch.
  • Directional Control: Understanding how to manage the wing’s direction while on the ground.

3. First Hops:

  • Straight Ground-Skimming Flights: Performing “bunny hops,” which are short flights, typically less than 5m/15ft ground clearance, that help practice launches and landings.
  • Forward and Reverse Launches: The two different techniques to get you off the ground and into the air.

4. Flight Exercises:

  • Maintaining Course and Airspeed: Learning how to control your path and speed in the air.
  • S-shape Turns: starting with small S-shape turns to help you control your landing path.
  • Full Turns: Introducing turns of 90 degrees or more with good lookout and maintaining airspeed control.
  • Landing within a Defined Area: ability to control landings within a predetermined zone
  • At least four successful flights is required for the EP.

5. Theory:

  • Meteorology: Gaining an elementary understanding of weather conditions and their effect on flights.
  • Principles of Flight: Understanding basic aerodynamic principles such as lift, drag, and angle of attack.
  • Rules of the Air and Air Law: Learning about the rules that govern air traffic, collision avoidance strategies, and the legal aspect of paragliding.
  • Elementary Stage Examination: A written test to assess the theoretical knowledge you’ve gained.

Progressing Forward: Club Pilot

For the Club Pilot (CP) stage, you further deepen your skills and theoretical understanding across the following key areas:

1. How to Soar:

  • Thermalling Techniques: Understand how to identify and respond to variances in ascend or descend rates, mastering the art of staying within the thermal through controlled turning and the application of weight shift and brake input.
  • Dynamic Lift: Learn to effectively harness the wind deflected upwards by terrain (ridge lift) or by the meeting of air masses (convergence lift), for sustained flight.
  • Cross-Country Flying: Implement detailed flight planning to navigate longer flights, taking into account weather patterns, airspaces, and landing zones.

2. Top Land:

  • Top Landing Techniques: Develop precise control and wind awareness skills to land safely at your takeoff point, usually on a hill or mountain.

3. Safety Manoeuvers:

  • Rapid Descent Techniques: Use techniques such as B-line stalls, big ears, and spiral dives, to quickly reduce altitude when necessary, always with an understanding of the safety implications.
  • Dealing with Collapses: Enhance your ability to respond to wing collapses, working towards preventing full stalls and regaining control swiftly.
  • Active Flying: Anticipate and respond to changes in the wing behaviour or air conditions, increasing your safety and flight performance.

4. Descent Techniques:

  • Controlled Descents: Explore various rapid descent methods, understanding when to use each technique safely and effectively.
  • A key technique learnt here is Big Ears. Big Ears is where you pull on your outer A risers to partially collapse the two ends of your wing. This decreases lift and increases descent rate. It can be alarming the first time you try it, but it is a key saftey technique to get out of situations where you have too much lift or need to land.

5. Theory:

  • Advanced Meteorology: Delve deeper into weather patterns and micro-meteorology, learning how to read and respond to changing weather conditions.
  • Advanced Principles of Flight: Understand more complex aerodynamics, including turbulence, lift variations, wing loading, and the effect of different wing designs on flight characteristics.
  • Airspace Rules and Regulations: Gain a detailed understanding of air laws, flight restrictions, and how to communicate with air traffic control.
  • Club Pilot Examination: Test your theoretical knowledge with a written examination that covers all these aspects and more.

After successfully demonstrating these practical skills and passing the theoretical exam, you’ll receive your CP certification, issued by the BHPA or respective local body.

The Club Pilot stage gives you a qualified status, but you are still considered a novice and not fully fledged. It is intended that you continue to learn and develop in the club setting, hence the name. You should develop and refine your skills, either casually as part of a club, through guided coaching trips, or dedicated pilot training.

Now you’re equipped with the knowledge of what the journey to becoming a paragliding pilot looks like. All that’s left is to take the leap and start flying. Check out all paragliding courses and trips here.

If you are worried about the safety of paragliding then check out my assessment of what the data says. If you are trying to decide between skydiving and paragliding, I do a head to head write up.

Check out some of our top paragliding courses:

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Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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