Like many among the air-addicted, I can't go more than a week without suffering withdrawals when not flying something. As a kid, I used some creative methods to satisfy this addiction, when circumstances prevented me from taking flight in a traditional airplane. It started with model airplanes, then ultralights, sailplanes, light aircraft and then commercial flying helped to keep me satiated.

As I progressed in my career, I enjoyed operating airliners, but it wasn't as liberating as the flying I did earlier. Fortunately, I was able to borrow airplanes on occasion, which is a great way to fly cheaply. 

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But when trying to justify owning my own airplane, I kept referring to a formula. Fun per dollar. Take the amount of fun you expect to have and divide it by the amount you'll need to spend. Not just the fuel costs, but the hangar fees and interest expense on the airplane itself. 

Even as an airline pilot, I couldn't justify owning an airplane. For me, $400 to $600 a month in hangar fees was the deal killer. 

I had been eyeing paragliders since first seeing them in 1991. Twenty years later, I was finally in a position to take lessons; something I should have done long ago.

I went to, the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, and found the closest instructor to New York. I talked to other paraglider pilots in the area and, reasonably satisfied that the school knew what they were doing, I jumped in with both feet.

Early on, I was stunned that I could take my airplane –– ok, we can call it a glider if you'd prefer –– out of my closet and throw all 28 lb. of it over my shoulders and go anywhere in the world to fly it. Seeing other countries from the perch of a paraglider harness has become a ticket to explore. 

What I didn't immediately grasp was that I could combine paragliding with my job. Since I fly internationally, layovers of one to two days in Europe or Brazil allow for some amazing flying. 

I schlepped my glider along on 'work-trips' to Switzerland, Ireland, France and Brazil, before settling mostly on trips to Rio de Janeiro. 

Nothing in my aviation career has compared to cranking into a smooth thermal to top out at 4,000 ft. before making the 5 mi. crossing over the city of Rio to circle around the Christ statue and then heading back to land near the launch. 

These kind of flights are like a chess game, where good decisions can lead to better and longer flights.

Of course not everyone has the ability to combine their jobs with flying in such a way, but most of my paragliding friends manage a trip or two each year to places like Costa Rica, Mexico or Slovenia. It's a great excuse to travel, and it just may be the cheapest form of aviation available.


Typically schools offer a P2 (beginner) rating course that runs around $1,500. In addition, these schools sell you your first glider, harness, reserve parachute and helmet, which helps keep them in business. Equipment costs are around $4,000 for the glider, $600-$900 for the harness and a similar price for the reserve parachute. Plan on $6,000 total. Your instructor will help you choose the right (safest with the best performance) glider for you.

Supporting your instructor with equipment purchases is important. No one is making a fortune instructing, but plenty of pilots are at least living out their dreams of working in something they love.


There are brake toggles connected to the trailing edge. When you pull on the right side, for example, the right wing has more drag than the left and you turn in that direction. To be most efficient, weight shift is used to initiate the turn and then the brake helps in continuing. 

In straight and level flight, with both hands up, pulling no brake, a better glide is achieved. By pulling about the same amount of pressure as the weight of your arms, you will be at the minimum sink rate, which is about 200 feet per minute. 

When trying to go into the wind, a bar at your feet, called the speedbar, allows you to pull the leading edge down for a 6 to 8 mph increase over the normal 23 mph hands-up speed. 

Cross country pilots usually fly with a pod that provides a bit of aerodynamic improvement. Most paragliders have a calm air glide ratio of 8:1 to 11:1, meaning for every 11 ft. flown forward, the glider will sink a foot in no lift conditions. 


Like learning to fly an airplane, how fast you progress depends on your schedule and the weather where you want to learn. If you live near Salt Lake City, or Southern California, schools there will train nearly every day of the week and may get you going in as little as two weeks. I spent 6 months waiting for conditions to align with my schedule before I could reach my P2 rating.


Accidents happen, just as in riding a motorcycle. In fact it's probably as safe, or as dangerous, as riding a motorcycle, although I have no facts to back that up. Like anything, if you find the enjoyment worth the risk, give it a go.


Take a look at and see what is in your area. In New England, we often drive a few hours to get to some sites, but maybe you'll be luckier and find something closer. Then go to USHPA.AERO to find an instructor. 


It depends on the lift. While the average flight in my logbook is around 30 min., 5 hr. thermal flights aren't uncommon, and even 10 hr. cross country flights have been achieved by some attempting to seek out distance records. The current record distance in a paraglider is just under 500 km (300+ mi.). 


Not exactly, however most sites require USHPA membership and a certain rating level to fly there. This offers the land owners liability protection and USHPA is recognized by the FAA to provide training for pilots using solo and tandem gliders.


As with other forms of aviation, paragliding offers other variations. 

Paramotoring: By strapping a 40-60 lb. motor on your back and using your existing wing, you can fly around during smooth morning and evening flights, touring the shoreline, rivers or canyons, often closer to home than your mountain paragliding site may be and a good option for flat land flyers.

Acro: After mastering paragliding, you might elect to learn some acrobatic flying. Typically done by towing over a lake, acro is best performed under instruction from a qualified teacher and with plenty of altitude over water. Wing-overs (lazy 8s), Misty flips (stall turns), loops (barrel rolls), full stalls (temporarily plummeting with a ball of fabric over your head), and infinity tumbles (turning your paraglider into a jump rope and performing outside loops without actually going negative) are all possible.

Speed wings: While a normal paraglider might be 26 square meters, some are sized between eight and 16 square meters to allow for faster, map of the earth-type flying down mountains. Combine this with a pair of skis, and the transition between skiing and flying become effortless. 

Tandem flying: FAR Part 103 requires us to operate only seat ultralights, which paragliding falls under. The FAA allows, through an exemption, tandem training flights to be flown by properly rated pilots through USHPA. The qualifications to reach that level are high, but if you like to teach, you may enjoy introducing others to the sport with a tandem paraglider.

Vol-Biv: Hike and flying has been taken to new heights by some very fit pilots. Imagine flying for 60 mi., landing on a mountain, setting up a tent, and then taking off the next day to continue your journey. An entire race, known as the Red Bull X-Alps has been running for the past 12 years that does just that. Pilots fly for over 700 mi. from Salzburg, Austria to Monaco in what just may be the ultimate race that lasts a week or two depending on the weather.

Towing: Often used when learning to fly, gas powered winches can provide a way to get in the air when mountains aren't available. Pay-out winches, mounted in a truck or boat, offer even higher climbs to 3,000 ft. or more. Recently I enjoyed flying outside of Canyonlands National Park close to Moab, Utah from the comfort of one such tow. 

Competition flying: Flying a 25 to 50-mi. course in the least amount of time with 60+ other gliders is a great way to learn how to make the most efficient decisions and how to improve your "thermalling" and cross country flying. Regardless of how competitive you are, don't pass up this opportunity to gain such experience. 

Hang Gliding: Paragliding has enjoyed more popularity in the past decade, but don't overlook hang gliding if the logistics work for you. While less portable than a paraglider, hang gliding costs about as little as paragliding and can offer long flights with the ability to handle a bit more wind than a paraglider.

So maybe thinking outside the box (or hangar) could help satisfy your aviation addiction. It has for me and, while not for everyone, I can't imagine a better ratio of fun per dollar than paragliding offers.