Saturday, July 13, 2013

Paramotoring basics: Malaysia

The equipment that one has to strap on for paramotoring consists of a motor, a cage with a propeller and a parachute. It all weighs between 20kg and 35kg. An alternative is to attach all the equipment to a wheeled frame.

Powered paragliding is a form of ultralight aviation where the pilot wears a motor on his back (a paramotor, or motorized paraglider) which provides enough thrust to take off on level ground.

 Those who don’t want to bear the weight of the flight equipment on their backs can also use a trike or quad (three- or four-wheeler), where the paramotor is attached to a frame.

Pilots who have issues with their knees or ankles, for example, can fly easily and safely in trikes. The frames also allow the pilot to carry more gear such as camera equipment or extra gasoline for long-distance flights.

A paramotor gives a pilot more independence than in similar flying activities like parasailing, which relies on a towing vehicle, or BASE jumping, which requires a high structure from which to launch. One also need not depend on the wind for lift-off, unlike in pure (unpowered) paragliding.

Permission from air traffic control to fly a motorised paraglider (MPG) is not required. Flying should be done away from built-up areas, military areas, airports and other sensitive areas, and below radar.

MPGs can fly up to 3,000m but the best altitude is 30m to 100m as it offers the best views. It is advisable not to fly in winds greater than 5km to 10km per hour.

The sport is open to both male and female enthusiasts, who are at least 16 years old, of sound health both mentally and physically, and who preferably weigh no more than 80kg.

Paramotoring is not an extreme sport and to date, it has recorded zero fatalities. If the motor fails, the pilot will glide down to the ground with the parachute. Pilots are connected to the ground via two-way radio so guidance can be provided by experienced pilots if required.

At Air Venture Sdn Bhd, beginners start with a combination of tandem flights and learning the basics of kiting, which is getting the wing or parachute to catch the wind and stay up in the air. Depending on the individual, they may be able to fly on their own after five to 10 days of training.

James Gibbs, the founder of Air Venture, says a course to learn the sport is as expensive as learning to fly a single-engine Cessna plane (around RM3,500).

While the equipment is provided during the course, true enthusiasts will buy their own gear once they’ve qualified to fly.

Solo pilots would require an engine, a cage which holds the propeller, a harness and of course, the wing or parachute, but there are also trike frames for solo and tandem flying. When dismantled, the equipment can be stored in a couple of duffle bags, making it portable and easy to transport.

However, it can weigh on you – literally. The equipment weighs 18kg to 35kg and those who “wear” the paramotor on their backs feel it the most. But Gibbs’ six-year-old son Max can still easily raise the front of the trike off the ground as it rests on its back wheels.

In a trike, the takeoff and landing feel more like flying a fixed-wing aircraft. However, many paramotoring enthusiasts say that they prefer the “backpack”.

Being airborne with their feet dangling and their arms steering the wing comes as close to being a bird as one can get for now. 

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