Sunday, January 14, 2007

The relative risk of hang gliding vs. paragliding

Given the winter weather here in New England, I have to pursue my interest in hang gliding vicariously through my SoCal brother, John.

The other day he called me while going down the freeway in his new sports car having just successfully flown his second solo (from 2,200 feet). Not only that, he got his hang-2 rating, which, as you might guess, is better than my hang-1 rating. Okay, mixed with the happiness for him is more than a little envy!

This leads me to an interesting risk assessment that his hang gliding teacher told us when I was out there in November. John asked him to compare hang and paragliding, and he answered by comparing the hypothetical experiences of a hang gliding and a paragliding pilot. If both were to jump 450 times, the paraglider would have a softer, easier landing 449 times--sort of like sitting down on a sofa. The 450th time, however, was a wildcard, and anything could happen, including plummeting from a high altitude and needing to deploy the emergency parachute.

For both John and me, this compelling evidence for hang gliding, but there are probably as many people who would see things the other way.


Knumb said...

err... would you believe a minivan with 101K on it?

Anyway, as far as the risk of each, I was just reading up more on it.

It's hard to control variables and the reporting is spotty (except for fatalities). But, from what I can tell, and what I have been told, the biggest differences are these:

- Hang gliders launch and land at greater speeds, leading to more limb injuries.
- Hang gliding safety can be greatly increased through training, caution in the air, and discretion when conditions are bad.
- Paragliders can lose their shape at any height and that is often before a reserve chute can be deployed.
- Paragliders have a smaller envelope of what can be considered "safe conditions" and pilot skills and attitude are less likely to overcome hazardous conditions than would be the case in hang gliding.

On top of that, hang gliders are more manueverable and fly faster, futher, and higher; and have better penetration in higher winds.

Paragliders are more convenient to transport and learn on. They also can be lanched and landed in more places.

Knumb said...

What I would really be interested in knowing is the risk of Hang Gliding vs. these activities:

- Horseback riding
- Motorcycle riding
- Sky diving
- Commuting to work 30 miles a day
- Being a private pilot
- Hiking
- etc.

Given that a horse kicked my wife a few years back, grazing her jaw and almost removing her thumb from her body, I'd think a few of those activities are more dangerous than careful hang gliding.

pete said...

I've been paragliding for 9 years. and got no injury worse than a graze.

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