Taking some inspiration from Stephen Hawking, this is a brief history of paragliding. In the beginning there was nothing. Then, for billions of years, there wasn’t much else. Then came the birth of man, the Sumerians, the Egyptians, and the ancient Greeks.
We thought we had discovered flight, but then Icarus flew too close to the sun and we decided that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. Then, in the 20th century, someone was brave enough to try it again. That, in a nutshell, is a very brief history of paragliding.
History of paragliding
OK, so the history of paragliding is a little more interesting and complex than that. But what we’re trying to say is that in the grand scheme of things, our ability to fly (or at least float) is relatively recent. And to fly without an engine is even more recent still.
But for those that want more detail but still a relatively brief paragliding history lesson please read on!
Parachutes – the forerunner to the paraglider – were first used in World War 1 but remained relatively unchanged until the 1950s. It was then that the paracommander was invented – an oblong parachute with vents to give the jumper more control.
This design was subsequently improved by the Rogallos, who invented the Rogallo wing for NASA rocket recovery. The design introduced more rigid sections to the parachute design, leading eventually to the design of both hang- and paragliders.
Domina Jalbert invented the Ram Air canopy, a double surfaced design with vents that created a wing shape from the sail, allowing the user even more control over both direction and speed.
Later, in the 70s, towing Ram Air parachutes behind vehicles became a popular pastime. Once released, you were then free to glide, although landings were notoriously difficult, and the search for more control continued.
The modern era
You could say that any brief history of paragliding should really start with Frenchmen Jean-Claude Betemps, Andre Bohn and Gerard Bosson. They refined the technique of self launching from the side of a steep hill.
This is the first time something recognisable as paragliding had ever been attempted. The slopes where they tried it out, at Mieussy in France, are the closest thing paragliders have to a Mecca.
It wasn’t long before paragliding was added to the hang gliding world championships in 1979. Ten short years later the first paragliding world championships were held in Kossen, Austria.
Ever since then, paragliders have been refining the equipment and techniques used. They’ve been setting new records and trying ever more adventurous things in the air. However, the basics of the sport remain essentially the same since the day three Frenchmen flung themselves of a mountain.
This brief history of paragliding might not quite be as complex as Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time but it’s much more fun to read (even if we do say so ourselves). And in all the time we’ve been soaring, no one has been stupid enough to use wax wings when flying. Seriously though, what was Icarus thinking?