The Bad Old, Good Old Days
The fifteen year perspective
I'm driving with the heater on full blast. My teeth are numb from
the cold. 15 years ago to the date I took my first flight on a paraglider.
Today I marked the occasion with with a numbing flight on my paramotor,
climbing up beyond the inversion for warm, skimming the beach around
lake for the sheer foolishness of in all.
15 years ago I saw what I thought were parachutes floating down
town of Verbier Switzerland. And, although we’ve all heard,
plane you jumped from?” back then the difference between sky
and paragliders were few and the mistake was easily made. I had
first few sky dives earlier that year and was curious. I signed
My first day of instruction stays with me to this day. I think,
I spare my students from the experience I had”. The Instructor
fling unexplained terminology at us, “What was string? Was
it the same
as Lines and or wires?” We were stuck in gliders and told
to run down
the hill till, “We got it.”. After flailing around for
an hour the
Instructor came by and said, “You don’t have it, try
more.” and walked
off. “That’s #@%ing helpful.” I thought.
For those of you that missed the “Bad Old, Good Old Days”
yourself lucky. The gear was poor and low performing. The Instructors
knew only a tiny bit more than you did because back then no one
a picture of what went on.
- My first glider, (which was typical of the gliders of that time),
nine cells, boasted a glider ratio of 4/1, a sink rate of, somewhere
around, five hundred feet per minute, weighed about ten pounds.
weight range was 60 - 80 kg with a flat surface area of 23 Sq. m.
cell was large enough to crawl into making it possible to use it
nine man bivy sack.
- The American Paragliding Association, (APA) was the regulating
organization, not USHGA.
They had a magazine and Instructor program.
-Everything about paragliding was bright! Glow in the dark, clashing
colors. Fluorescent colors were big.
- The industry hadn’t figured out what colors and materials
resistant. Some gliders were used up in as little as a year or two!
- There was no internet! No flaming posts, no way to find an Instructor,
I flew for over a year and a half before finding out about the APA.
- You had to do a FULL STALL to get what was called a “Class
“OK you’ve got twenty flights, time for your full stall.”
- You couldn’t do a B-line stall because the gliders only
had front and
- When gliders got B risers, pilots would use B-line stalls for
approaches in tight LZ’s.
(That didn’t last long!)
- There were two ratings, Class One and Class Two.
-“V” ribs were already invented. Pro-Design had a v-rib
glider in ‘86
and the Excaliber was very heavily marketed in the U.S. Then “V”
went out of favor till the late nineties.
- As most early gliders were square, rounding the wing tips was
revolution. One manufacture claimed a patent on the idea of an
“elliptical glider” and attempted to sue all the other
- There actually were gliders made in the U.S. once.
- By the early Nineties there were two dominate players importing
paragliders, Pro-Design and Edel. Last time I counted there were
brands in the U.S. and I’m sure I missed some.
- The use of reserve parachutes was a hot topic of debate. “What
need a parachute for when you already have a good canopy overhead.”
the argument from those with a sky diving background.
Back protection didn’t exist.
- Neither did speed bars.
- The first back protectors were hard plastic plates. Although
serve to distribute the impact of a crash over a larger area, they
nothing to absorb that impact. Often the ground was softer than
- Trim tabs were the first device used to change angle of attack.
tabs were often added to those old slow gliders, (thereby voiding
certification) especially at high wind ridge soaring sites. I had
Pro-Design Compact modified to race at the “Torrey Pines Air
1993. A full thirteen inches of travel was added to my “C”
to the instability of such excessive travel the last 5 inches were
marked "death" in magic marker. Note: Some modern glider
are sold with
trim tabs. These gliders have been certified with trim tabs.
- Speed seats, A speed seat extended your risers under your seat
of you harness. If you leaned forward you would pull your “A”
down, lowering your angle of attack and speeding up the glider.
back, slow and increase your angle of attack. Weight shift as normal.
You could always tell a speed seat glider in the air, they were
agile. The idea was to give a paraglider true three axis control,
roll and yaw.
One big problem, gliders stall when the angle of attack gets too
Enter a thermal on any glider and because the rising air has a greater
vertical component your angle of attack becomes higher When increasing
your angle of attack the glider slows down and the pilot swings
This oscillation also increases the angle of attack. When you swing
forward you legs go up and you sit back in your harness. In a normal
harness sitting back in your harness doesn’t change your angle
attack, in a speed seat it does. That adding of a whole new factor
angle of attack, in some cases, made the difference between a bit
pitch oscillation and stalling.
Speed seat have been abandon as far as I know. ( Well, expect for
one guy I know in San Francisco.)
- Collapses, It was thought that the best way to prevent collapses
was to make the gliders stiffer. To this end some gliders had battens
or stiffeners on the bottom of the leading edge. These battens were
a foot or two long running front to back. My Pro Design Airbow had
stiff mylar load ribs. One glider had two plastic battens that ran
along the top and bottom of the ports from wing tip to wing tip.
This glider was the winner of the “All time hardest to pack”
award. You had to coil it up from one wing tip like a giant spring
and then wrestle it into you pack, while it tried to unfurl. Stiffening
the glider, alas, is a two way street. Stiffening impedes collapses,
but in also impedes re-inflating your glider. I had more than one
flight on my Airbow that, after getting a collapse, ( A much more
common event on those old crappy gliders.) that I went all the way
to the landing zone to land, cursing, being unable to get the wing
tip inflated again.
- In the early 90’s speed bars became an option on the new
three riser gliders.
- In the summer of 1990, with 75 flights (Expert pilot at this
right!?) I ordered, over the phone, a new DHV level three glider.
flailing around for a few days I called the guy who sold it to me.
can’t I get this glider overhead?” I said, “How
much “A” riser are you
pulling” He asked, “You mean I’m supposed to pull
the “A” risers?”
- I survived flying a glider that would just as soon spin as turn.
it till 93 when the first crop of reasonable gliders appeared, such
The Pro-Design Compact, Edel Space, Firebird Apache. All these glider
were sold as entry level gliders. They were DHV 2!
A new pilot can get a brand new DHV 1 beginner glider that will
perform the nastiest competition gliders of the bad old days. That’s
cool thing, the new beginner gliders have gotten so much more stable
perform so well that many old time pilots are down grading from
2 and 2/3 advanced gliders. I’ve given up flying DHV 2/3.
There is no
point for any recreational pilot to fly a glider at that level,
performance gain is so small and what you give up in stability and
are too great. I’m jealous of you new guys just starting out.
I wish I
had, back then, the cool gear you have.