Paragliders: Which Class?
We think you should have a wide choice of the best gear, so we offer many wings from the top brands. We fly as many of them as often and much we can so we can better advise our customers on which is the right and best wing for them, individually. This gives us a unique opportunity to compare many wings side by side. It also means we can compare how the classes differ, using the latest designs from some top manufacturers. As certification tests change and technology progresses, the character of the wings in each class can evolve. In this article we offer an analysis of the handling differences, and some guidance on how to choose the right class.
Paraglider class divisions
Pilots have different expectations of what the wing categories mean and blindly following the EN ratings can lead to some surprises. We find it useful to define the classes as follows:
First wings are designed to be accessible for all first time pilots. Bomb-proof handling with often surprisingly good performance. They typically achieve an EN A rating.
Progression wings are designed to be your first upgrade, or for talented students upon licencing (in a mellow flying environment). It’s a clear step up from what you can train on, but reassuring and easy to fly with lots of passive safety. Usually get an EN B rating.
XC wings focus on handling, security and flying enjoyment. They usually have an EN B rating but are the ‘high-B’ wings with sharper turns and require some active piloting to keep control. Collapse recovery is low-energy but expect more sporty handling and performance. These are never a first wing; not for new pilots.
Sports wings give you freedom of movement. It’s probably where true performance is found for most experienced pilots, this is a sweet spot where handling is still great for thermaling, the wings are resilient in really bad turbulence and glides on half-bar are almost as good as anything in the sky. Usually rated EN C but could include the hottest EN Bs.
Performance wings are focused on XC racing, maximising repeated long glides at speed with the lowest drag possible. For advanced pilots only, these wings with very high aspect ratio and high wing loading are usually challenging to launch, with narrow tips that bring a real risk of cravats during collapses. They demand constant attention and must be flown actively and intelligently. Usually rated EN D but might include a hot EN C.
Competition Paragliders (CCC)
Competition wings is what you buy when you are regularly coming into goal in international competitions and you now want to win. The new CCC wings and the old high-end two-lined EN Ds like the Icepeak 6 would go in here.
Paraglider sub classes
Within each class there can still be a few levels of wings, or wings with unique characteristics that make them unsuitable for particular pilots or environments, so get professional advice before buying anything!
For instance, we’ve categorised the wings section of our website and split them into levels to try and help you choose wings best suited to you.
Paragliders on paper
Presently, a pilot with a 90 kg all-up-flying-weight has the following choices (some may not be wise!):
Skywalk Tequila 4
First paraglider: Supair EONA
The latest First wing from Supair, the EONA, is designed to be forgiving enough for student training but also have enough handling and performance to allow low airtime pilots to enjoy their development after licencing. One thing you cannot see on the specs is the camber, the curvature of the leading edge and the depth of the cells. This makes a huge difference to the character of a wing. The bigger the curve, the more lift it generates at low speed, and the more drag you get at high speed. If you’re not concerned about your performance on speedbar and you are happy to just take in the scenery from the air, this is all you need. The EONA features a friendly profile with nice wide cell openings for easy inflation.
Progression paraglider: Skywalk TEQUILA 4
The step to the Progression class can be subtle, when compared to some modern First wings. But something like the Skywalk TEQUILA 4 has too much freedom of movement and fast responses to be left in the hands of a beginner, yet for a pilot wanting to leave the hill and go explore the wonders of cross country, it’s a pleasure to fly and confidence building.
XC paraglider: Advance IOTA
Moving up to the XC class Advance IOTA, you’ll notice the line length is a metre more than the EONA. This means you can accelerate the wing to a higher speed during your pullup, so it helps in light wind launching, but also increases the power when ground handling in strong wind. It reduces the pitching angle that results from a pilot flying into lift, so the wing can have a less dampened profile that yields more performance. Other clues to its performance oriented design are the many more cells in the wing, and the narrower cell openings. Due to the limited aspect ratio and low wing loading, XC class wings can often turn tightly and have an edge in climbing in scrappy punchy thermals.
Sports paraglider: Niviuk Artik 4
The step up to the Sports class Niviuk Artik 4 leads to a big reduction in wing area, so the wing loading is higher and you should go a bit faster. The higher speed produces more lift, which balances the higher sink caused by the wing loading, so you should perform equally in thermal climbs, but do better on glides, especially into wind. The line consumption is very low on this wing, as it has only 2 main lines per side. Aspect ratio and cell count have crept up. Performance Class wings usually have the best all-round handling, they feel wonderful to fly and are great for wingovers and swooping around. However, they are more difficult to control because they can pitch, roll and generate a lot more energy than the ‘generally mellow’ XC Class when encountering prolonged turbulence.
Performance paraglider: Gin GTO 2
Jumping to the Performance class Gin GTO 2, you get over 3 and a half square metres less area than the EONA. But that’s not lifting surface . it’s actually got over a metre more projected span, or lift-generating-leading-edge, and that’s what counts. The narrow tips also reduce the drag when compared to the large tips of the first wings. What catches most pilots out on the advanced wings is the way the tips can stall rapidly, especially in tight thermal turns. Although the GTO 2 performs very well in its class in this regard, when compared to the lower classes there’s a sharp contrast. A pilot who upgrades too quickly without a good foundation of SIV skills will most likely lose control of this wing in prolonged turbulence. It doesn’t take much brake to keep an advanced wing stalling and spinning. It demands precise and delicate control inputs.
Paragliders in testing
Comparing a few specific aspects in testing: the risers; forward and reverse launching behaviour; ground handling (kiting) characteristics; and the stall point.
The risers are similar across all classes with 3 main riser sets: split As for big-ears; narrow black webbing, three-to-one speedbar gearing, mini-maillons, and unsheathed lines (except on the First and Progression wings).
In our comparative tests done in a steady 10km/h breeze, the First wing popped up quickly and waited overhead. The Progression wing tracked straight. The XC wing went through a short stall phase where it rotated, before accelerating to slightly ahead of the pilot. It required a touch of brake to control. The Sports wing was less forgiving of a skew layout, it rotated and surged more, requiring more precise pilot reaction. The Performance wing was unforgiving of mistakes and needed correct technique to yield a smooth launch.
The short lines and big cells on the EONA made it come up straight without much energy. The TEQUILA 4 has similarly large cell openings and short lines, so launching is very easy. Having a good clean horseshoe-shaped layout is more important on the IOTA. Inflation is not as rapid due to the smaller cell openings, and the long lines result in a higher airspeed over the wing, so it generates more force. This is noticeable on the ARTIK 4, where it is important to move towards the wing during the pullup to reduce the acceleration. The GTO 2 tends to shoot off skew unless the layout is perfect and your timing is spot on. It is harder to correct when it goes skew because at the high angle of attack (half-way up during a reverse), the tips of the Performance wing stall very easily. The wing also surges as it comes up and shoots past the pilot, so needs the most input to reign it in.
Ground handling (kiting)
The First wing responds quickly and keeps on flying. The Progression wing offered a quick ‘pop-up’ without the ‘pluck’ of the higher classes, and gave the impression of being effortless. The XC wing is resilient and allows precise positioning. The Sports wing is also easy but begins to yaw at the extremes. The narrow tips on the Performance wing bend and stall easily, and got stuck a few times in the lines with small cravats. Matching the wing to your skills means you spend less time in the bushes and get more flying. The higher the class of wing, the more time needed to master the ground handling, so if your time is limited it’s better to be on the Progression or XC wing.
To test this we flew a metre or two above the ground and held the brakes at seat board level. Although it’s a lot of brake to fly with, it’s probably similar to entering a sudden thermal on your normal landing approach, so it’s a good way to analyse how forgiving the wing is.
The EONA really hangs on, it keeps flying at very slow speed, and although it is possible to stall the wing, it takes a long time and happens slowly. The TEQUILA 4 stalls with slightly less brake input, but is entirely predictable. The IOTA provided a reassuring increase in brake pressure and was similarly well behaved. The ARTIK 4 gave a comfortable range, but after a few seconds at low speed was showing signs of wanting to ‘kick back’ into a stall. Pay attention if you are top landing, or it’s turbulent. The GTO 2 does not like flying slowly when compared to the lower classes. Within the Performance class it’s fine, but this means you have at most three seconds of deep brake before the wing will disappear in a stall. Reduce that time if you are top landing in lift, or trying to squeak it in behind some trees on a slope.
Matching wings to hours
The class of wing makes a big difference to your safety on launch. Sites are not always perfect, but you can make your launch more forgiving by choosing an easier wing. Although you can step onto the lower end of the Progression class straight out of flying school, the XC class wings like the IOTA, CHILI3 and MENTOR 4 only become suitable once you have 50 hours of incident-free thermic airtime. (If you’re only doing coastal ridge soaring, double the airtimes listed here). When progressing to the Sports class we’d recommend at least another 50 hours of thermic flying and some SIV experience. For a Performance wing like the GTO 2, another 100 incident-free thermic flying hours, a full SIV course and a minimum of 100 hours flying per year. Many pilots recognise the improved resale value of XC class wings, so never upgrade beyond that point. Unless you are flying into-wind tasks or competitions, there is little to gain by leaving the XC class.
Paragliders in the air
Although it’s tempting to try and compare performance, it’s pointless unless you’re at matched wing loadings and in completely still air, with at least 1000m of altitude to waste. What’s most important is that everyone in our comparison tests enjoyed their flying at the same site, and differences were so small we had to strain to see them. We could not show anything definitive on a video, although you can probably notice the First wing at the bottom/behind and the Advanced wing at the top/ahead of the stack.
In flight: First paraglider
The First class EONA is the most secure wing, it just cruises along and doesn’t disturb the pilot. It gives an easy turn without any residual energy to manage. For most pilots who just want to enjoy the scenery from aloft, the EN A does a fantastic job. It makes flying very simple.
In flight: Progression paraglider
The Progression class TEQUILA 4 is a really fun wing, responsive and playful, and surprisingly easy to build up energy with synchronised turns. It softens the turbulence during glides, turning sharp bumps into rounded thumps.
In flight: XC paraglider
The XC class IOTA is not a beginner’s wing. The sleek aerofoil is tensioned and efficient, but it surges more as it encounters updrafts and converts speed into height. It looks superb and offers a crisp responsive turn.
In flight: Sports paraglider
The Sports class ARTIK 4 turns best in a slightly wider arc, due to higher aspect ratio and speed. When it is kept flat in light conditions it is very efficient and climbs fast. It is a high-performance wing with a forgiving nature. I was totally comfortable hanging off the side with a camera and letting the wing sort itself out. It’s slightly faster than the lower classes, and is designed for cross country performance. You’ll get the best out of it when coring thermals for hours, doing long glides from cloudbase and using the full range of the smooth speedbar.
In flight: Performance paraglider
The Performance class GTO 2 moves all the time, it has a fluid grace. It was always slightly above us during our comparison, floating better, gliding further, converting every little bump into lift. It’s more efficient at everything. Watch out though, fluid grace can become ‘in your face’ in turbulence, so it’s stupid to climb onto one of these unless you’ve mastered all the extreme manoeuvres and you’re basically living in the sky. For the right pilots, the GTO 2 offers precise handling, full feedback and that wonderful feeling of freedom. It retains energy in the turns. This means it speeds up as you turn, which can be disconcerting if you’re trying to place yourself in a narrow top landing area. As you exit the turn, the speed gets converted into height again. This is very useful if you can deal with it, offering fly-on-the-wall style uphill landings, and the ability to re-enter thermals without losing much in a searching turn.
Big ears (descent technique)
First class EONA has relatively small ‘ears’ when inducing the big ears descent technique, and a very stable wing.
Progression class TEQUILA 4 makes larger ears and sometimes tries to reinflate when accelerated.
XC class IOTA gives a bigger descent rate and is a little more active but still simple to manage.
Sports class ARTIK 4 produces bigger ears than the IOTA–due to having only two A lines per side there’s a bigger chunk of wing gone–and my wingtip caught in the lines and needed more fiddling to clear.
Performance class GTO 2 requires the pilot to care of the flapping tips! Once settled, the manoeuvre is pretty stable.
Which paraglider class? Conclusion
Whatever you are flying, be sure it’s something you trust in all conditions, so you can spend as much time as possible in the sky with your friends.
We hope this article and accompanying video (see below) help you understand your choices. Match the wing to your skills.
If you need expert assistance when choosing your new wing we’re always here to help.
Check out the great range of wonderful wings we have to offer on our website.
How to Choose the Right Paraglider Part One: Which Class? video
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How Safe is Paragliding?
How safe is paragliding? It may look pretty dangerous being high in the sky with little in between you and the ground if you were to fall. But let’s be realistic and look at the figures – a study into paragliding accidents found that in 242,355 paragliding jumps reviewed between 2004 and 2011, 82 received serious injury and 18 of these people lost their lives. That’s only 0.007%.
If you’re considering paragliding for the first time at a paragliding school or on holiday with a tourism operator, don’t worry, you’ll be flying tandem paragliding. These operators employ paragliding pilots who not only have many years of experience, but have great people skills and can explain what they are doing in the flight and make you feel safe. Most tandem paragliding beginners find that once they’re in the sky, they feel at ease and really enjoy the view.
Paragliding safety can be increased by approaching the sport with a systematic approach. Correct safety checks on equipment and discipline when in flight can help you to avoid most dangerous situations and ensure you live to fly another day.
Here are some key paragliding safety tips:
Maintain Relationships with Experienced Paragliders
Even after completing a paragliding certification course and being told you’re ready to fly solo, it’s a good idea to continue flying with experienced pilots. Join a club or association such as the USHPA in the United States, SAFA in Australia, and the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association in the United Kingdom.
The reason for this is that in your training, you may not gain experience in all types of conditions. Experienced pilots can inform you about different conditions that you’re not very experienced in handling and provide tips on how to safely navigate them.
It’s a good idea to continue paragliding in new conditions while learning to increase your competency. Joining experienced pilots is a great way to do this.
Use Appropriate Equipment
Carrying fancy equipment isn’t enough, you must use it consistently. A variometer and a GPS can inform you about changes in altitude and if your drifting off-track or backwards. These factors can be indicators of weather changes and that you’re gradually losing control of your paraglider.
Make sure you fly with a reserve parachute, it’s not worth flying without one.
Use a Paraglider for Your Level of Experience
It’s tempting when you’re an amateaur with experienced friends, or you want to buy something for the long-term, to purchase a cross-country or performance paraglider that’s designed for experienced pilots. These require higher skills in manoeuvrability and can be a handful for a beginner. There’s no shame in starting with an EN A rating paraglider. It won’t reduce your enjoyment of paragliding, it will actually increase your enjoyment as you’ll be flying something that’s easier to control and will feel more stable.
Check Paragliding Equipment Before Every Flight
This rule applies to all pilots regardless of experience. You’re paraglider wing may have been damaged when landing in your most recent flight. Your lines may have go tangled when unpacking. Don’t risk it!
Most pilots perform their safety checks in the same way each time, following a set order to reduce the chances of forgetting anything. Helmet (also make sure you’re wearing it) wing, lines, harness, and risers.
Understand and Check the Weather Conditions
Meteorology is something all paragliding pilots need to understand. Key components a thermals, clouds and wind. It’s not enough to check the weather report, even the hourly online reports. It’s important to be able to spot changes in weather as they happening.
And for thermalling, cumulous clouds are important for providing warm thermals for flight. Learn how to spot these and incorporate them into your flying.
Best weather conditions for paragliding are sunny, warm weather with moderate cumulus clouds. However, paragliding can be done in cold and cloudy conditions.
Weather conditions which aren’t suitable include moderate or strong rain, lighting, or excessive wind. It’s important that you recognise your skills and experience when dealing with wind, there will be some strong winds which an experienced pilot can handle, but amateur pilots may find difficult, particularly taking off safely.
It’s also important to consider the direction of the wind. If you have a strong headwind, it will make takeoff difficult and make gliding to your destination in a safe and timely manner difficult. Unfortunately there will be times when you have to abandon your paragliding plans, but at least you’ll walk away without injury.
Maintain Safe Distances
If you have to fly over roads and houses, ensure you’re sufficiently high in the air with more than enough room to correct yourself if something were to make you lose stability. Avoid flying over large groups of people, schools, busy sports grounds, car parks or anywhere else where a crash could harm high numbers of people.
Types of Paragliders
Not all paragliders are the same! There are many types of paragliders, with the main points of difference being the wing, closely followed by the lines and harness. Different paraglider configurations can affect speed, handling, stability, gliding ability, comfort and ability to regain control.
Types of Paraglider Wings – What is an EN Rating?
The various types of paraglider wings can be distinguished by the EN Paraglider Certification (EN is short for European Norm). This system was developed by a group of paragliding experts from several European countries, with the aim of developing a clear system to help the consumers, retailers and manufacturers. The creation of a four-level wing certification system (EN Rating A, EN Rating B, EN Rating C and EN Rating D) which helps consumers to pick the right wing for their needs and skill level, and helps retailers and manufacturers to sell the right product to the right person.
The introduction of the EN Paraglider Certification has also led to improvements in wing safety and flight characteristics (the likelihood of losing control and ease of which control can be recovered).
To quickly determine which type of paraglider wing is best for you, consider the following points:
- You’re a beginner – EN Rating A
- You’re an occasional flyer – EN Rating A
- You’re looking for your first upgrade – EN Rating B
- You’re looking for greater control and manoeuvrability over various conditions – XC Wing (EN Rating B or C)
- You mostly fly in thermic conditions – Sports (En-Rating C)
- Your an intermediate pilot looking for you’re first speed wing – Performance (EN-Rating C)
- Your a highly experienced pilot who flies regularly and enters competitions – Competition (EN-Rating D)
Below we discuss key attributes of each wing and why they are suitable for certain types of pilots.
EN-A Certified Paragliders
EN-A certified paragliders are designed for all pilots, and are the safest and most recommended choice for beginners or occasional pilots. They have the highest level of passive safety and are the most forgiving to minor pilot errors or sudden changes in thermal conditions or weather.
While these are designed to be beginner friendly, there’s absolutely no shame in flying one of these long term. If you only paraglide a handful of times per year, an EN-A wing will make you feel safer and provide the best value. You’ll still reach decent speeds and can enjoy a great paragliding experience.
EN-B Certified Paragliders
EN-B certified paragliders are in many cases, a beginner pilot’s first upgrade. These allow a pilot to reach slightly higher speeds, while still being an easier wing to maintain stability and control. Some of these wings include XC wings which enable sharper turning, and a small number of sports wings which allow greater manoeuvrability when thermalling.
Some beginner pilots are tempted to splurge and purchase an EN-B wing to avoid having to upgrade in the future, but for most people it’s recommended to start on the En-A and wait until you’re ready. A good benchmark to wait for is 30 hours of flight time in various conditions with at least 10 hours in thermic conditions. Flying regularly is important to maintain and develop your flying skills, so if you fly less than 50 hours per year you might feel safer with an EN-A paraglider.
EN-C Certified Paragliders
En-C certified paragliders are a step up from the En-B’s and are intended to offer intermediate level pilots the ability to perform sharper turns or glide at higher speeds across various conditions.
To fly an En-C paraglider, it’s important for pilots to have excellent recovery skills, as the dynamic abilities of these wings are less forgiving for inexperienced pilots. Pilots should also fly at least 10 hours per week to maintain and develop their paragliding abilities.
Types of En-C paragliders include sports paragliders and XC wings with excellent manoeuvrability and control, and some performance paragliders which are designed for long glides over long distances at high speeds.
EN-D Certified Paragliders
E-D Paragliders are for the absolute most advanced pilots with years of experience and are mostly used in competition. These paragliders are very fast and can perform long, smooth glides, however they’re also very unforgiving to pilot error or turbulence and require precise handling and active flying abilities.
Pilots wishing to progress to an EN-D paraglider should fly at least 200 hours per year; regularly in strong, challenging conditions.
Other Key Differences in Paraglider Types
Aspect ratio refers to the wing span squared divided by the wing area. The higher the aspect ratio the higher the speed, however this also results in less manoeuvrability. Most advanced pilots will be comfortable controlling a fast paraglider with a high aspect ratio of 6 to over 7, however beginner pilots will find this to be difficult to control and will be more comfortable with an aspect ratio of less than 6.
When shopping for a paraglider wing, it’s important to know that the projected wingspan will be different than the actual wingspan. The projected wingspan refers to the distance between the lowest and furthest point of the paraglider wing while it is fully inflated and in an arc curve. This will give you an idea of it’s manoeuvrability and gliding ability.
The actual wingspan refers to the wingspan while the wing is lying flat on the ground. This doesn’t always indicate the wingspan and wing curve or aspect ratio and makes it harder to determine what to expect when flying this wing.
Typically, wings with more cells have better stability and overall performance. It costs more to produce a wing with more cells, so you’ll generally pay more for a wing with a greater cell count.
Some top-end wings have the addition of cloth diagonal cells in addition to their regular cells. Diagonals further improve the performance and stability of a paraglider, however the extra weight can slow-down reinflation times after a collapse, making it not ideal for beginners.
Paraglider Line Length
Line length has a significant impact as it creates distance between you and the wing. It also can affect the level of wing curvature. The longer the length between pilot and wing, the more evenly the load is spread of the wing. This means that longer lines offer greater comfort and stability but shorter lines allow for quicker reactions and greater energy retention.
Types of Paraglider Harnesses
Common types of paragliding harnesses include:
These are lightweight and easy to fold up and store, which is especially useful when travelling or if you have to hike to the launch site. These are more of a hammock style and don’t have a solid back or sides. By carefully positioning yourself in the harness, your weight will be distributed correctly and you’ll feel safe and comfortable. A reserve parachute can be fitted to the bottom of the harness. A Sky Harness is suitable for pilots of all abilities.
A pod harness is like an aerodynamic cocoon which when in flight, covers your entire body except for your head and arms. This can be great for longer flights and competition where it’s important to reduce drag and wind resistance, and the extra weight can give you a little more speed. They’re also great for keeping warm in cold, windy conditions. However, pod harnesses are more expensive and are not beginner-friendly, especially when taking off.
The Gin Harness is fast becoming a popular choice amongst paragliding enthusiasts and for good reason. It’s similar to the pod harness where it offers support and shelter from the weather, however it’s lighter and easier to use for those with less experience. These can be easily adjusted to make pilots feel comfortable and safe.
Which Type of Paraglider is right for you?
If you’re a beginner or still fairly new to paragliding, a paraglider with great stability and ease of control is the best option. Depending on your experience and flying frequency, an EN-A rated wing with a Sky Harness will do just find. As you progress there are many options depending on your flying frequency and the type of conditions you enjoy flying in.