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Which is safer, hang gliding or paragliding? Answered

I am very interested in buying a hang glider or paraglider. It seems to me that hang gliders are less expensive, but I am more concerned about the safety than I am about the price. Which do you recommend, a hang glider or a paraglider? And, which goes faster and farther? Thanks



Best Answer 6 years ago

There are several branches to "hang gliders":  
1. Those without any tethers (Lilienthal, Batso, etc)
2. Those with one tether, short, that allows pilot to move the airframe of the hang glider. This is a true paraglider, but has airframe and allows pilot to move the airframe for control 
3. Soft canopy and many long lines. Upon collapses from turbulence within a certain vertical zone, there is a high injury and fatality rate. Explore the incomplete incidents at CometClones. 

#2 and #3 are both hang gliders and both paragliders. #1 is not a paraglider.   #2 is frequently just called "hang glider" even though it is a paraglider of one tether, short, and airframed.  

Please report all incidents of any free-flight gliding to WorldParaGlidingAssociation. 

It is highly recommended that a participant fully understand the causes of any incident that may be examined; then avoid the arrangement that one learns about.  Take the time to study each fatality in paragliding since 2000.  Note that collection of facts is incomplete; but the known 850 fatalities in soft-canopy long string paragliders since 2002 is important; pay due respect. 

All paragliders are mechanically a sort of "gliding kite" with wing set, tether set, and a resistive set.   (w, t ,r).  Paragliders are much more than the soft-canopy sort. Wings may actually be semi-rigid, even fully solid; and one paraglider may have more than one wing element. 

Once you have read cometclones, please read cometcrones for a balanced view on PG.

I am afraid I am not overly familiar with either but I have looked at the numbers for skydiving a while back. It seems that skydiving is ridiculously safe (if you exclude things like swoop which you really shouldn't want to do if you value safety). It is more dangerous to drive a car to the airstrip than actually dropping out of the sky at 200kph.

Um... no, actually skydiving is nowhere near safe. More deaths occur from skydiving than any other heights sport. (Just to clarify, my first job was teaching rock climbing/maintaining the wall I worked at, and my level 4 heights safety instructor certification [advanced rescue maneuvers] is still valid.)

This just isn't true. Yes accidents happen but I don't think I've ever heard of a double malfunction. Where main canopy and reserve fails. The (few) deaths occur for other reasons - usually by doing low aggressive hook turns showing off to people on the ground. Again advice should really come from people who actually do these sports - there is a lot of mis-information out there. No sport like this is totally safe though.

C. (old recreational skydiver with several hundred jumps and paraglider pilot).

Um... I'm not claiming that accidents happen every day, but I am claiming that there are more accidents from skydiving than any other heights sport. (At least this was true at the time of my certification) I agree that no heights sport is totally safe, but there is no substitute for actually knowing what you are doing. I would prefer to go skydiving with an experienced skydiver than be exclusively belayed by a first time belayer. Also, technically you can pass-out during a dive if your main fails. (I'm not sure if this is true, but it is on the HSI exam) Therefore, if your main fails and you pass-out, there is no way to open your backup. And also, I have heard of a double malfunction.

Again wrong on so many levels. It's extremely unlikely you can pass out from a main malfunction - perhaps a rapidly spinning mess but we have safety features and procedures to deal with that - ironically skydiving is safer than paragliding in this regard as there are less ways of dealing with a spinning mess see http://vimeo.com/26201476 - Did you know that you can even be unconscious in freefall without any parachute open and still be OK?! Let's say I bang my head exiting the aircraft - if I go through 1000ft at a very fast velocity an AAD (Automatic Activation Device like this http://www.cypres.cc/ ) will fire and automatically deploy my reserve parachute. These devices have saved many lives from such mundane things as losing height awareness (having too much fun and forgetting to deploy with sufficient height). A different type of malfunction can happen after freefall on deployment of the main canopy - I can cut-away the main canopy the reserve can automatically deploy using systems like the skyhook http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyhook_(skydiving) so even if I somehow forget/panic I don't need to pull the reserve handle after cut-away to live - and, even if it somehow didn't deploy the AAD will fire anyway at 1000ft. You may have heard of a double malfunction - I'm not saying it hasn't happened but it's such an unlikely event I haven't heard of one - millions of successful skydives are done each year. Also I don't believe there are more accidents skydiving than any other height sport - and I've done most of them - mountaineering and rock climbing for 15 years around the world, skydiving for 8 years, paragliding for 20 years - I keep a paragliding blog here http://colinhawke.blogspot.com/ Please don't spread misinformation - thank you C.

You don't need a license of any sort to fly a paraglider, right?

So if you want to fly someone on a paraglider- family or friends- is there any way to do that without going through the certification process to fly tandem? For example, a couple of years ago I had a friend whom I am no longer able to contact and he had a go-cart-looking thing (I don't know what they are called) and it had a tiny seat behind the pilot's seat. I got in behind him and he took me up for a few minutes. I'm pretty sure he did not have certification to fly tandem. Was that ride illegal, or is that type of thing okay? In order to fly someone else with me, what would be the easiest way to do it legally?

Thank you very much

Thank you for your information. Your links are very helpful, and I am less worried about paragliding now. If I could, I would select you as the Best Answer, but I can't since your answer is in reply to FoolishSage. Thanks again :)

I will admit that a lot of what I know about sky diving is hearsay. However, I am a certified level 4 HSI. I know that there are a lot of safety backups, but as of 7 years ago when I got my HSI cert, it was true that there are more accidents with sky diving than any other heights sport. Now, again, this is just stuff that I had to know for my HSI exam. I have never gone sky diving, and don't plan to, but no heights sport is safe. I always recommend at least three redundant backups, so since you seem to know skydiving, tell me. Does it have three redundant backups? (Please understand, I'm not trying to undermine what you are saying, I'm just trying to understand all points of view.)

Great that you have your HSI ticket and want to apply your wisdom on other areas outside your circle-of-influence but you have to realize these aren't just slapped together systems but have evolved over the sports history to something that is quite safe (in relative terms to other similar activities) - it's been a competitive sport for 60 years, longer if you count military use. The weak link is not in the system but in the lump of meat operating the system. I would suggest you find an FAA Certified Parachute Rigger if you are really inclined to discuss the details. Maybe you are getting BASE Jumping mixed up in the stats, that would skew it? - http://www.blincmagazine.com/forum/wiki/BASE_Fatality_List :( Anyway that's it from me. C.

I'm pretty sure the statistics that I know do include BASE. I agree (I think I said it before) that the person operating it needs to know what they're doing forwards and backwards. Thanks for your time. Like I said, I don't really feel like arguing, but I do like to hear what others think. This site is nice because there are people who probably know more than I do, whereas when I was still in the HSI industry, I was considered the best at the facility I worked at. And I am also considered the best in my current job, so I am really never able to discuss the truly fun stuff with co-workers. :)

Hmm, it was a while ago but I had the distinct impression it was rather safe.. Then again if you are the expert I will concede to your wisdom and not argue the point. Even if I was wrong the thought that it was safe got me into the plane :p

It's not that everyone that goes skydiving is going to die, but they generally only use one backup. (And it's not even a redundant backup!) Generally with any heights sport, you want two redundant backups or more. Equipment fails. (for instance, when I still worked at a climbing wall, I was stupid one day, and I didn't check my knots before climbing or use any backups. One of my co-workers had untied one knot, and then re-tied it incorrectly. Needless to say, the sudden stop at the bottom didn't really feel to good... I didn't break anything, but it still wasn't something I ever did again!) Just understand that there is a reason for those waivers that they make you sign.


6 years ago

As an old single engine mountain pilot , I would strongly recommend
hang gliding over paragliding.
I know of many local paragliders that crashed and some died during
take-off due to freak mountain winds that collapsed their air foils.

To be fair it's not 'freak mountain winds' it's most likely because they were flying in active thermic air without having acquired the necessary skills. To answer the question - try both on a tandem flight, talk to the instructors and make informed decisions by getting experience and advice from people that actually fly these things.

Ignore Joe Faust he's slightly nuts but in a nice way.

Cheers from someone who actually flies these things, yes even in mountains http://colinhawke.blogspot.com/2008/06/pakistan-mayjune-2008.html

Safety is subjective and really more determined by the experience of the pilot than the equipment.

As far as speed, Hand gliding is faster than paragliding. Hand gliders are made with solid wing structures in a V shape similar to a stealth bomber. Paragliders use a soft wing and no internal frame and inflate to their shape.

Pro's and Cons: Handgliders require a vehicle transport as they are still about 15 ft long and weigh between 75 and 100 lbs when disassembled. A paragliders gear will be about 30 lbs altogether, and fit in a backpack, making them much more convenient. Paragliders can maneuver better than handgliders and can fly in lesser wind situations and therefor they will likely fly further than handgliders. Lastly the learning curve for a paraglider is less than a handglider, and due to the slower speed, are more forgiving to a novice.

Define safe?? On the average definition neither is safe. Depends on how well your trained and how unlucky you may be in the future.