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Powered Paragliders - 101 Uses
Well, 5 uses are described here, but there must be more. For those unaware of their existence, powered paragliders (PPG) look much like a parachute flying along with an engine strapped to the parachutist's back. Paragliding under power is a natural extension to the sport of paragliding. There are some similarities to hang-gliding, but that is not the subject of this article. Most power paraglider pilots just buzz along at or under 150 meters (500 feet) or so, slowly and breezily getting from A to B. And a wonderful sport it is. Never before has there been the opportunity for ordinary people to travel so slowly at low altitudes with precise control. It's interesting to discover all the non-sporting uses to which these fascinating craft have been put.
Yes, powered paragliders have been used a lot in advertising. Some companies pay for large letters to be attached to the spacious underside of the canopy. People looking up at the paraglider going overhead can't fail to see the huge, brightly colored words or logo. Another approach is for the pilot to tow a banner, attached to a short cable hung from the paramotor frame. A paraglider can get in low and close to a large crowd, gaining great exposure for the advertiser. An extra attention-grabbing technique is to suspend a colored smoke cannister, leaving a long colored trail in the sky.
You don't need an engine to take still pictures or video footage from a paraglider. However, a powered craft can be flown at constant height, anything from a few hundred to a few thousand feet depending on the subject matter. With a cruising speed of between 25 and 40 kph (15 to 25 mph), nothing changes too quickly and so detailed and precisely framed pictures or footage can be taken. Sometimes PPG tandems are used. In these cases, a passenger does all the photography, letting the pilot concentrate on accurate flying. In contrast with other types of powered aircraft, no special long paved areas are required for take-off and landing. Operating powered paragliders is also very economical.
Apparently, there's a plant biologist who loves to do some of his field research by flying over trees and other plants. After trying to find an inexpensive way of doing these observations, a powered paraglider was his natural choice. By observing from the air, and from low altitudes, he gains insights about plant diversity and all the different ways they collect light. Since light is collected from the sun, the aerial perspective is 'biologically more relevant' than looking at them from the side as we usually do.
Ok, these things aren't put out by your usual paraglider manufacturers, but they are definitely powered paragliders! Aerospace company Atair has developed a Micro LEAPP ISR UAV. Don't the military just love to use acronyms! Ok, it's a Long Endurance Autonomous Powered Paraglider (LEAPP) designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is my best guess for UAV. This rather cool device can be programmed to fly around on it's own, taking happy snaps of enemy soldiers or whatever. Alternatively, an operator can fly it like a model airplane. I presume the operator can see what it sees. The paraglider can stay airborne for up to 8 hours, and can carry a payload of 23 kg (50 pounds). It's big brother, the rather more impressive LEAPP UAV, can stay aloft for an amazing 55 hours, and lugs up to 1090 kg (2,400 pounds) of surveillance gear, including the weight of fuel. The canopy is a real paraglider wing design, except that it has a span of over 112 feet!
Extracting Money From Tourists
Fancy a charter flight over the Great Wall of China? Well, it's been done apparently. An enterprising guy who owns a 'donglisan' as they call powered paragliders, has been seen operating it near the Badaling section of the wall. With a game tourist attached, he takes off in the bright yellow and red craft. After reaching an altitude of about 1000 meters, they both get a fabulous view of the famous stone monument that seems to go forever, in both directions. It's a short and sweet experience, and the passenger pays for the 5 minute flight. That's 6 an hour, I think he's really onto something.
Bet you didn't realize what versatile machines powered paragliders are! I would like to fly one myself one day, having already tried sailplanes, hang-gliders and free-flight paragliders. As for new and interesting applications, I wonder if the ecology department of Flinders University would like me to fly at night with a searchlight, keeping tabs on nocturnal marsupials. Or maybe the lifesavers at Glenelg would appreciate another aircraft in the sky looking out for sharks along the coastline. Or maybe...
About the Author: Tim Parish is a motorless flight enthusiast, the webmaster of Paragliding Tales and Reviews, a site which will introduce you to many aspects of paragliding, with a sprinkling of humor. Tim has had the pleasure of soaring in sailplanes, hang-gliders and paragliders in the past, both real and simulated. His enthusiasm for these activities is evident in his writing, which he hopes will inspire others.