Wings Come in Different Sizes

The decision on which size paraglider you buy and fly should depend on correctly accounting for your “Takeoff Weight”. Your Takeoff Weight is the weight of everything leaving the ground with you. This includes your clothes, harness, wing, flight instruments, helmet, reserve parachute, water, and anything else you might be carrying in your harness when you fly. Imagine hiking to launch, and while on the trail, you briefly step off the trail and stand on a scale. This number is your Takeoff Weight, and arguably as important as the level of glider you choose. It’s certainly important to get a wing having the proper passive safety and performance to match your experience and skill set.  You also need to nail the correct size glider to match your Takeoff Weight.  This may mean your favorite brand, or a certain model wing you are considering may not be the correct choice.  Certain brands have weight windows which don’t line up well with your Takeoff Weight.

The launching, turning, handling, wing pressurization, penetration, and the entire feel of a glider changes more than you realize with favorable wing loading. Tandem pilots are well aware of this, since they fly the same tandem glider with a variety of passengers of different sizes.  They certainly know what we are speaking about here.

It’s easy to get locked in on a certain brand or glider that has impressed you in an article, or with some beautiful imagery.  However, you will always do better on a premium glider where you are properly loaded when the wings share the same aspect ratio. Your Takeoff Weight is something that you should always know. You should know your takeoff weight in kilograms (kgs.), because this is how all paragliding manufacturers disclose the Takeoff Weight range of their gliders. Use the following formula to calculate your Takeoff Weight:

(Pilot’s Body Weight in lb. + Gear Weight in lb.) / 2.2 = Takeoff Weight in kilograms

The easiest way to determine gear weight is to step on a scale with your paragliding rucksack loaded with all the gear you fly with, and subtract your body weight. On average, a pilot’s gear (including their wing) weighs around 30 to 45 pounds, but gear can get as light as 20-25 pounds.

Once you have determined your Takeoff Weight in kilograms, you will need to refer to a wing’s takeoff weight range to determine what wing size is best for you. It is optimal to select a wing in which your weight will be in the top half of the weight range (at least 50% wing loading), and we feel the sweet spot is 75% of wing loading. So, if a wing’s takeoff weight range is 90kg to 110kg, the ideal pilot’s takeoff weight for that wing is between 100kg and 110kg, with the sweet spot being 105kg. A pilot with a takeoff weight under 100kg should go with a smaller wing with a favorable weight range matching their Takeoff Weight. It’s common certain brands won’t offer you optimal wing loading, while other brands line up very well.  Thank goodness there are so many premium brands with different weight windows to choose from when making this important decision. Premium brand wings with the same aspect ratio are practically identical in performance and passive safety.  Once we have decided on the correct performance and passive safety level of a glider, we can focus on the equally important consideration of Takeoff Weight. A thorough review of wing brands and their offerings with different weight windows is paramount in making a wise choice in your glider purchase decision. Considering Takeoff Weight on a glider is where it’s at.

At 75% wing loading (or close to it) you get the best of both worlds. Proper wing loading gives you 3 distinct advantages all related to simple physics.

  1. You to penetrate better into a head wind
  2. The glider is more responsive to your steering inputs (steering with toggles and weigh shift)
  3. You are less prone to take tip deflations with higher wing loading

The only advantage of being loaded lighter is you will climb better in thermals, and maybe get higher than others while ridge soaring.  However, this is negligible. The other huge factor here to consider is pilot skill.  A pilot who is loaded heavier can out climb another pilot on a similar wing if they do a better job of finding the core and working the lift. This makes the advantage of being loaded lighter a moot point, since a pilot who thermals better will out climb a lighter loaded pilot regardless.

Fortunately for our students and customers, Eagle Paragliding imports a variety of premium paragliding brands. The Takeoff Weight ranges of these brands are staggered, so we can offer a wider variety of options as we consider your Takeoff Weight.  The customer is always right, but we strongly urge you to heed our advice and make Takeoff Weight a major factor in wing selection.