Paragliding Glossary


Few of the terms frequently used in Paragliding. 

Absolute Stability – The condition of air that has an environmental lapse rate that is less than the wet adiabatic rate.

Accordion Fold – A method of folding a paraglider with the intent of minimizing the amount of creasing on the mylars on the leading edge.

Active Piloting – A method used by paragliders of maintaining wing loading, via brake pressure or weight shifting, to prevent collapses or folds.

AGL (Above Ground Level) – A pilot’s altitude measured with respect to the underlying ground surface. (Wiki)

Airfoil – The curved shape of a wing which is designed to create lift. (Wiki)

Air Mass – A large body of air, usually 1,600 kilometres or more across, that is characterized by homogenous physical properties at any given altitude.

Air Pressure – The force exerted by the weight of a column of air at a given point.

Airspeed – The speed of an aircraft relative to its surrounding air mass. If a pilot is piloting a paraglider with a trim speed is 20 km/h, into a 20 km/h headwind, the pilot’s airspeed is still 20 km/h. (Wiki)

Airspeed Indicator – An instrument often used by paraglider pilots to measure their airspeed. This can be important when flying a glider at an optimal glide ratio, or maximum speed.

Altimeter – An aneroid barometer calibrated to indicate altitude instead of pressure.

Altitude – A paraglider’s height over sea level; Typically measured in feet, or meters.

Anabatic Flow – Heated air that flows up a slope or mountainside. When at a mountain launch site, these flows may be referred to as “cycles” or “thermals”. (Wiki)

Anemometer – An instrument used to determine wind speed. Commonly known as a wind speed indicator.

Angle of Attack – The angle between the chord line of an airfoil and the vector representing the relative motion between the airfoil and the air. (Wiki)

A Risers – The risers on a paraglider that are attached to the “A Lines”, which are attached to the leading edge of the glider. The A risers are used when launching a paraglider.

Aspect Ratio – The aspect ratio is equal to the wingspan squared, divided by the wing area. Generally speaking, paragliders with low aspect ratios have low performance and are more stable. Paragliders with a higher aspect ratio are higher performing and less stable. (Wiki)

Asymmetric Fold (Asymmetric Collapse) – An event that occurs when one side of a paraglider’s wing loses its loading and is no longer a rigid airfoil. They are a result of turbulence in the air mass a paraglider is flying. the most common occurrence is when a pilot is flying in areas of thermal activity. see Active Piloting.

Atmosphere – The gaseous portion of a planet, the planet’s envelope of air; one of the traditional subdivisions of Earth’s physical environment. (Wiki)

Attitude – The angle of an airfoil’s chord relative to the horizon.

Automated Surface Observing System – A widely used, standardized set of automated weather instruments that provide routine surface observations.

– B –

Bank Angle – The angle between the aircraft’s normal axis and the Earth’s vertical plane containing the aircraft’s longitudinal axis. (Wiki)

Base Leg – The crosswind leg of a pilot’s landing approach before the pilot enters the upwind final leg. (Wiki)

Big Ears – A manoeuvre used by paraglider pilots to increase their rate of descent. The pilot pulls the “Outer A’s”, which lead to the leading edge of the wingtips. Once induced, the wingtips fold down, thereby reducing the area of the wing, and reducing the aerodynamic lift generated by the paraglider. The manoeuvre is often discouraged by paragliding instructors due to the fact that the pilot no longer feels brake pressure when the Big Ears are in action.

Brake Lines – Lines on a paraglider that are attached to the trailing edge, which changes the airfoil to increase drag. The brake lines are controlled by brake toggles that are kept near the pilot’s hands via pulleys.

Canopy – The fabric, or cloth that forms the airfoil of the paraglider.

Carabiner – A rectangular shaped ring that connects the harness to a paraglider’s risers. Paragliding carabiners typically have auto-locking gates.

Cascade of Events – A term used to describe a series of manoeuvres in which a pilot is attempting to regain control of a glider which has ceased its state of stable flight.

Cascades (Lines) – The points of the lines on a paraglider leading from the riser, which split into multiple lines that eventually attach to the canopy.

Catabatic Winds – Air that flows down the side of a mountain or hillside. Also called downslope winds. (Wiki)

Cells – The cavity of the airfoil, surrounded by the ribs, and the upper and lower surfaces.

Center of Gravity – The area on the chord of a wing where the pilot’s weight is centred.

Center of Pressure – The point on an airfoil or wing where all the aerodynamic forces are centred.

Certification – Given to paragliders, harnesses, and reserve parachutes to ensure safety and quality. In the paragliding industry, the certifications are given out by CEN, DHV, and other rating agencies.

Chord – The distance between the leading edge and trailing edge of a wing, measured in the direction of the normal airflow. (Wiki)

Cirrus Clouds – One of three basic cloud forms; also one of the three high cloud types. They are thin, delicate ice crystal clouds often appearing as veil-like patches or thin, wispy fibres.

Cloud – A form of condensation best described as a dense concentration of suspended water droplets or tiny ice crystals.

Cloud Base – The lowest altitude of the visible portion of a cloud. (Wiki)

Cloud Street – A row of cumulus or cumulus-type clouds aligned parallel to the low-level wind. Paragliders enjoy cloud streets as they are often able to fly long distances with the help of cloud streets. (Wiki)

Cloud Suck – A phenomenon commonly known by paragliders and hang gliders where pilots experience significant lift due to thermals under the base of cumulus clouds, especially towering cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds. In areas of strong lift, it is possible for a paraglider pilot to be sucked into a cloud, even after performing evasive manoeuvres to increase one’s rate of descent. (Wiki)

Cold Front – The discontinuity at the forward edge of an advancing cold air mass that is displacing warmer air in its path.

Conditional Instability – The condition of moist air with an environmental lapse rate between the dry and wet adiabatic rates.

Controlled Airspace – a term used in aviation in which traffic levels are such that is has been determined that Air Traffic Control must provide some form of separation between aircraft. (Wiki)

Convection – The transfer of heat by the movement of a mass or substance. (Wiki)

Convergence – The condition that exists when the wind distribution within a certain region results in a net horizontal wind flow of air into the area. Because convergence at lower levels is associated with an upward movement of air, areas of converging winds are regions favourable to cloud formation and precipitation. (Wiki)

Coriolis Effect – The deflective effect of Earth’s rotation on all free-moving objects, including the atmosphere and oceans. Deflection is to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.

Crabbing – Flying in a wind that is cross to your ground path; When a paraglider pilot is trying to reach a waypoint, and a crosswind is blowing between the pilot and the waypoint, the pilot will need to point their paraglider slightly into the crosswind and fly somewhat sideways to reach the waypoint.

Cravat – When one wingtip of a paraglider become stuck in the lines/cascades. This often happens after an asymmetric collapse.

Crosswinds – Winds that blow perpendicular to a pilot’s desired flight path. (Wiki)

Cumulus Cloud – One of three basic cloud forms; also the name was given to one of the clouds of vertical development. Cumulus is billowy, individual cloud masses that often have flat bases. (Wiki)

Cumulonimbus Cloud – A type of cloud that is tall, dense, and involved in thunderstorms. The energy and lift generated by these clouds is too intense for flying paragliders. (Wiki)

Deep Stall – when a paraglider ceases forward flight and descends vertically in a stalled state.

Dew Point – The temperature to which air has to be cooled in order to reach saturation.

Divergence – The condition that exists when the distribution of winds within a given area results in a net horizontal outflow of air from the region. In divergence at lower levels, the resulting deficit is compensated by a downward movement of air from aloft; hence, areas of divergence winds are unfavourable to cloud formation and precipitation.

Downwind – When a paraglider is landing or flying in the same direction the wind is travelling. (Wiki)

Downwind Leg – The direction when ridge soaring, a paraglider flies when travelling downwind. The opposite direction would be the upwind leg.

Drag – Resistance, or loss of energy, created by paraglider lines, the pilot, or deflection on the glider. Drag reduces glider and speed performance. (Wiki)

Dry Adiabatic Rate – The rate of adiabatic cooling or warming in unsaturated air. The rate of temperature change is 1 degree Celsius per 100 meters.

Dynamic Pressure – The pressure variations felt in a paraglider due to the fluid movement of the air mass in which the paraglider is in flight. (Wiki)

Environmental Lapse Rate – The rate of temperature decrease with height in the troposphere.

Ft./Min – Feet Per Minute; A measurement used to determine rate of ascent or descent.

FAA – Federal Aviation Administration; The federal agency of the US Government which has been designated to oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S.. (Wiki), (FAA website)

FAI – Fédération Aéronautique Internationale; The international agency that sets standards and maintains records for aeronautics and astronautics. Often, paragliding Competitions will be sanctioned by the FAI, adhering to the FAI’s standards, so that the results can be applied to national and international rankings. (Wiki), (FAI website)

Figure 8 Turn – Often used when close to terrain, a pilot will make figure 8 turns, instead of 360 degree turns, to stay pointed away from the terrain. These are also often used as part of a landing approach, giving the pilot the ability to burn altitude before making a final approach to an LZ.

Final Leg – The final straight flight path a pilot will take to land their aircraft. (Wiki)

Flare – A method of increasing brake pressure, just before landing a paraglider, to decrease the rate of descent, and ground speed of the glider. (Wiki)

Flat Area – The platform of a paraglider as it is lied out flat on the ground. Measured in square meters (m2).

Flight Plan – A predetermined set of procedures and/or flight paths planned before an actual flight.

Form Drag – Drag caused by a moving object through a fluid. In paragliding, the most notable causes of form drag include lines, the harness, and the pilot. (Wiki)

Forward Launch – A launching technique used for low wind conditions. The pilot begins the launch facing into the wind, and away from the glider.

Frontal (Frontal Collapse) – An event in which the leading edge of the paraglider loses its loading and collapses in a downward motion towards the pilot. Commonly caused by pilots reaching the edge of a thermal.

G-Forces (or G-Load) – A unit of force equal to the force exerted by gravity; used to indicate the force to which a body is subjected when it is accelerating. In paragliding, g-forces are often experienced during spiral dives, steeply banked turns, or large wingovers. (Wiki)

Glass Off – An event that occurs in the late afternoon when the surface of the earth releases heating that has been accumulating all day, creating lifting air, and typically smooth flying conditions.

Glide Angle – The angle between the horizontal and the glide path of an aircraft.

Glide Path – The path of descent of an aircraft.

Glider – An engineless aircraft that is able to maintain its glide through the energy of gravity.

Glide Ratio – Also known as Lift to Drag Ratio, refers to the distance an aircraft will move forward for any given amount of altitude lost. (Wiki)

Ground Handling – The practice of controlling the paraglider while the pilot remains grounded. It includes lifting the glider off the ground, and keeping it overhead.

Ground Speed – The speed of an aircraft relative to the ground. (Wiki)

Handling – A gliders responsiveness to pilot input.

Harness – A piece of equipment, which attaches to the risers of the paraglider, used to secure the pilot.

Heading – The direction the paraglider is pointing, which can differ from the flight path, depending on the direction of the wind.

Head Wind – Wind that travels in the direction opposite to the paraglider’s heading. A headwind will reduce ground speed. It is preferable to launch and land a paraglider into a headwind.

Hook Knife – A tool consisting of a razor blade embedded in a plastic or metal casing, that would be used to cut lines if they were ever to pose a threat to the pilot. This situation would typically arise following a water landing, or tree landing.

Horseshoe – A glider configuration in which the centre of the leading edge collapses, while the outer leading edge, or wingtips, continue the flight, travel toward each other, and form a horseshoe shape.

House Thermal – The area at a specific flying site where it is most common to find the first thermal after launching.

Hypoxia – A shortage of oxygen in the bloodstream, causing lightheadedness. In paragliding, it can occur when flying at high altitudes. (Wiki)

Induced Drag – A drag force which occurs whenever a lifting body or a wing of finite span generates lift. (Wiki)

Intermediate Syndrome – A tendency for pilots to become overconfident with their skills and abilities once they reach an intermediate skill level.

Inversion – A atmospheric scenario when a cooler mass of air lies beneath a warmer mass of air, disabling thermal activity beyond the height of the cooler air mass. (Wiki)

Jet Stream – Fast flowing, narrow air currents found in the troposphere about 10-15 km above the earth’s surface. (Wiki)

Kiting -Ground handling (also called kiting) is the art of being in touch with your glider. Once in the air, things are pretty simple due the fact that you are suspended directly underneath the glider and keeping it fully loaded with your weight. Being on the ground is a different story. Now you have to move with the glider in order to stay centered, or directly underneath it. If you are behind the curve in moving with your glider it can fall in front or behind you or off to one side or the other. Practice in this area gives you the ability to feel where the glider is over your head without having to look at it. This in turn teaches you to move intuitively with your glider. When you have the “feel” of your glider you can anticipate what it is going to do, and make an input before the glider gets too far out of center. This skill helps tremendously when launching, and will make you a better all around pilot. It is easy to only want to fly once you get your rating, but try to get out and do some kiting in the park when you can. Your ability to control your glider in a variety of different conditions and situations will allow you to be confident and focus on your launch.

Kook – Originated in the surf scene, a kook is a pilot who is not appreciated by his peers. This can be caused by cutting people off, constantly making bad decisions that jeopardize the safety of any pilot or the sport in general, or anything that makes fellow pilots shake their heads.

Landing Approach – A series of manoeuvres, or pattern, used to set up for landing an aircraft. (Wiki)

Landing Zone (LZ) – An area used for landing a paraglider.

Lapse Rate – The rate of decrease in temperature as altitude increases. (Wiki)

Leeward – The direction downwind from a point of reference. (Wiki)

Lee side – The side of an object that is located downwind. Rotor can be experienced on the lee side of mountains, trees, buildings, and other objects, and it is advised that flying in the lee can be hazardous. (Wiki)

Leg Straps – The parts of a harness which secure the legs of the pilot.

Lift Band – Usually at a ridge soaring site, a 3-dimensional area of the lift where a pilot is able to maintain altitude. The size of the lift band depends on the speed of the wind, the angle of the slope, and the height of the slope.

Lift to Drag Ratio – The amount of lift generated by a wing, compared to the amount of drag it creates by moving through the air. (Wiki)

Leading Edge – The front edge of a wing. (Wiki)

Lift – Paraglider pilots refer to lift as rising air that will cause a glider to increase in altitude. Lift can refer to thermals, converging air, anabatic flow, or any other type of air that aids altitude gain.

Light and Variable – A weather term used to describe light winds and variable wind direction.

Lockout – A configuration reached in static towing when a turn to one side becomes difficult to correct.

Log Book – A booklet used to maintain records of a pilot’s flying history.

LTF – The standardized rating given to a paragliders by rating agencies, such as DHV, AFNOR, and others. The “LTF” term took replaced the term “DHV” in 2008 based on an agreement at the (Paragliding Manufacturers Association)

M/S – Meters Per Second; A measurement used to determine rate of ascent or descent.

Maximum Glide Ratio – The glide ratio reached at the airspeed that an aircraft will fly its furthest distance. The speed at which maximum glide is achieved is slightly higher than minimum sink. (more info)

Mean Sea Level (MSL) – The average sea level, used as a reference in aviation to gauge altitude. (Wiki)

Minimum Sink – The airspeed of a glider at which the glider reaches its lowest rate of descent, and will, therefore, stay in the air for a longer period of time.

Orographic Lift – When an air mass is forced to increase altitude due to rising terrain. (Wiki)

Over Development – A weather event when cumulus clouds build and spread, leading to less heating of the ground, and possibly rain or thunderstorms.

Parachutal (or Parachutage) – see Deep Stall

Parachute Bridle – Also called Y Bridle; The webbing that connects the reserve parachute to the pilot’s harness.

Parasitic Drag – Drag caused by movement of a solid object (pilot, lines & harness) through a fluid (air). (Wiki)

Pitch – The tilt of a wing’s chord in relation to the horizon. Also see Angle of Attack.

Preflight Check – A procedure performed prior to launching a paraglider to ensure the safety of the pilot and glider.

Profile – The form or shape that make up the airfoil.

Profile Drag – Drag created by the form of the airfoil. (Wiki)

Projected Area – The are of the planform of a paraglider as the paraglider is in flight, or inflated, measured in square meters (m2)

Quick link – Metal rings of various shapes that are used to connect the lines to the risers, or the reserve parachute to the Y-bridle.

Radio Handle – A pilot’s nickname when communicating on a 2-way radio.

Rear Risers – The risers that connect to the D lines, which are the last set of lines before reaching the trailing edge of the glider. Also called the D Risers.

Relative Wind – The direction of airflow over an airfoil. (Wiki)

Reserve Parachute – A parachute kept in the pilot’s harness, or in a front mount container, to be deployed by the pilot if the paraglider reaches a state in which it cannot recover to normal flight.

Ribs – Material that extends from the leading edge to the trailing edge, and from upper surface to the bottom surface of the canopy. The ribs create the profile of the canopy and provide structure.

Ridge Soaring – Also called slope soaring; A type of paraglider flight when a pilot utilizes lift created by wind flowing up a slope or cliff. (Wiki)

Right of Way – The concept of one pilot having the right to a certain area over another pilot. In general, when ridge soaring, the pilot with the ridge to their right has the right of way. In that case, the pilot with the ridge on their left would need to yield and give way to the oncoming pilot.

Riser Twist – A configuration which is typically reached by the wing spinning in one direction while the pilot remains facing the same direction. The result is a twist in the risers that attach the pilot to the glider.

Risers – The webbing that connects the paraglider lines to the harness.

Roll – The rotating of a wing on its longitudinal axis. If a glider rolls to the right, the left wingtip will be higher than the right wingtip. (Wiki)

Root – On a paraglider, the center of the glider; On a fixed wing aircraft, the part of the wing that is closest to the fuselage. (Wiki)

Rotor – Displacement of airflow, creating variations in the speed, direction, or pressure, created downwind of a large object, such as a mountain, or trees. (Wiki)

S-turn – Turns that are made in the pattern of the letter “S”, usually done at the perimeter of a landing zone to allow the pilot to set up for their landing approach. Also used by pilots to stay in lift when 360 degree turns are not possible, due to lack of terrain clearance.

Scratching – A term used by paraglider pilots to describe a scenario in which a pilot is low and searching for lift, or is becoming less certain of clearing an area in which there is no designated landing zone.

Sea Breeze – Wind that develops near land or coasts formed by a pressure difference that develops between the land and ocean, creating an onshore flow. (Wiki)

Sectional – A type of aeronautical chart designed for navigation under Visual Flight Rules. (Wiki)

Sheath – A thin layer of polyester material that surrounding paraglider lines to protect from UV rays and abrasion.

Shear – A difference in wind speed and/or direction over a relatively short distance between two air masses. Typically experienced at the edges of thermals, or at higher altitudes between two air masses. (Wiki)

Simulator – A device that is typically hung from a ceiling that includes a harness and risers, where a pilot is able to simulate the controls of a paraglider.

Sink – Air that is moving downward. Oftentimes, a sink can cause a paraglider to dive or surge. The severity of the dive depends on the rate that the air is sinking. The management of these surges/dives is known as pitch control.

Soaring – In paragliding, used to describe any type of flight where a pilot is able to maintain or increase altitude by using lifting air. (Wiki)

Span – The distance measured from the left wingtip to the right wingtip. (Wiki)

Speed Bar – Part of the Speed system that the pilot pushes down on to decrease the angle of attack of the glider.

Speed System – A series of devices on a paraglider that are used to decrease the angle of attack of the wing, and therefore increase the speed at which the glider is traveling. The system start at the A risers, move through the harness, and end at a pilot’s feet. When the pilot presses down on their speed bar, it pulls on the A Risers, which pulls down on the leading edge to decrease the angle of attack.

Spin – In a paraglider, a spin occurs when one side of the wing is stalled, and the wing rotates on an axis that spans between the pilot and the glider. (Wiki)

Spiral, or Spiral Dive – A configuration in which the glider becomes in a steeply banked turn. The glider’s path in a spiral dive can be described as a corkscrew. Pilots can experience g’s in spiral dives and can often feel “locked out” due to the fact that the glider will continue its spiral dive even after the pilot releases controls and no longer employs weight shift. (Wiki)

Spreader Bar – A device used in a tandem paraglider setup which separates the harnesses of the pilot and passenger.

Stall – A configuration in which the glider ceases forward flight. In a deep stall, the glider will begin to slowly descend in a vertical manner, similar to a parachute (see parachutal). In a full stall, the brakes are applied past the stall point of the glider, and the canopy will collapse entirely. Methods to recover from stalls can be learned at SIV clinics. (Wiki)

Stratus Clouds – Flat sheets or layers of cloud that cover much or all of the sky. There are no distinct individual cloud units. (Wiki)

Streamer – A thin plastic ribbon used as an indicator of approximate wind direction and speed.

Suspension Lines – The lines that connect the risers to the canopy.

Tail Wind – A wind that is traveling the same direction as an aircraft’s heading. Flying with a tailwind will increase groundspeed. (Wiki)

Takeoff Weight – The weight of the pilot and all of their gear, including the glider. A pilot’s takeoff weight will determine what size glider they will fly on.

Tandem – A glider that is designed for two people; A flight in a paraglider with two people.

Thermal – A column of rising air used by paraglider pilots to maintain or increase altitude. (Wiki)

Thunderstorm – A storm produced by a cumulonimbus cloud and always accompanied by lightning and thunder. It is of relatively short duration and usually accompanied by strong wind gusts, heavy rain, and sometimes hail. (Wiki)

Toggles – Handles attached to the brake lines that enable a pilot to pull on the brakes.

Trailing Edge – The rear edge of a wing. (Wiki)

Trim Speed – The speed of a paraglider with no glider input.

Trimmers – Adjustable webbing on a paraglider’s risers that allow the pilot to adjust the profile of the wing to increase or decrease trim speed.

Turbulence – Variations in wind direction, wind speed, and/or air pressure that can effect the behavior of a glider during flight. (Wiki)

Upper Surface – The top surface of a paraglider, spanning from one wingtip to another.

Upwind – The location of an object that is in the direction the wind is coming from the observer’s perspective. A glider’s flight path that is opposite the direction the wind is blowing. Flying upwind decreases ground speed. (Wiki)

Upwind Leg – The direction of flight, when two opposite directions are available, that is into the wind.

Variometer – An instrument used to measure the rate of ascent or descent of a paraglider. (Wiki)

Velocity – The measurement of the speed of an object. (Wiki)

Venturi – An area of accelerated wind speed due to the reduction in area available for the wind to travel through, (Wiki)

Vertigo – A physical condition in which someone is unable to recognize the directions of up from down. It is often reached from excessive turns in a paraglider, or loss of visual reference, which could occur while flying in a cloud. (Wiki)

Wind Dummy – In paragliding, the term used for someone who is the first to launch to test the flying conditions.

Wind Gradient – The difference in wind speed at different altitudes. (Wiki)

Wind Indicator – A device used to measure approximate wind direction and wind speed, such as a wind sock, or a streamer.

Wind Shadow – An area that is protected from the wind by an obstruction, such as a building, or trees.

Wind Sock – A conical tube made of polyester or nylon used to measure wind speed and direction. (Wiki)

Winds Aloft – A measurement of wind speed and wind direction at different altitudes. (Wiki)

Windward – The side of an object, such as a mountain, upon which the wind is blowing. (Wiki)

Wing Loading – The loaded weight of an aircraft divided by the area of the wing. The higher the loading on a paraglider, the less risk there is that a glider will experience a deflation. However, the heavier the wing loading, the more dynamic the wing will react to changes in the air. (Wiki)

Wingover – A manoeuvre in which the pilot utilizes the energy from turning the glider in one direction, to make a larger banked turn in the opposite direction. It is recommended that wingers be practised under the guidance of an experienced acro pilot, as wingovers can be a dangerous manoeuvre.

Wingtip Vortices – Swirling of air at a glider’s wingtips. (Wiki)

Wraps – A procedure in which a pilot wraps the brake line around their hand, while still holding on to the brake handle, to increase the amount of brake pressure they fly with, and increase the amount of feel in the lines. Often referred to as “taking a wrap”.

X-C – Also cross country; Referred to a flight that covers a large distance.

Yaw – The rotating of a wing from side to side on a vertical axis. In the case of a yaw to the right, the left wingtip will move forward, and the right wingtip will move backward. (Wiki)


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