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Parascending is a group activity where pilots fly canopies that are towed into the air by a Land Rover or winch before gliding back down to land. Traditionally these canopies were based on parachutes and were either round or square, but teams now have winches that can tow paragliders as well as ascending canopies.
Parascending normally takes place on very large fields or airfields, and height gains of 1-2 thousand feet can be gained before releasing the tow line and going for an accuracy target or just flying down for fun. Pilots flying paragliding wings also have the option of flying cross country if conditions are favourable, or down from a hill launch to make an accuracy approach.
How about competitions?
Accuracy competitions, where pilots are judged on their skill in landing within centimetres of their target, are held at national and international level, and the 'Brits' usually do well in international competitions.
Learning to fly a parascender
Most students start on a round canopy. The day begins with parachute landing fall training (PLF) to ensure safe injury-free landings, followed by an introduction to equipment, launch, collapse and field packing the canopy. First flights are carried out towed on 100 or so metres of rope behind a Land Rover.
These flights are usually only a few minutes long and are controlled entirely by the vehicle driver. After being towed across the field the canopy and pilot are brought gently back to the ground where the student performs a 'parachute landing fall'.
As students progress they will learn to 'self-release' the tow line and land on their own. They may also progress onto a higher performance 'ram-air' square canopy and work towards flying circuits and trying to land on a target. After studying basic flight theory, meteorology and air law, and passing a simple exam, they are ready for their BHPA Club Pilot rating.
Some parascending pilots progress on to fly paragliders, others concentrate on landing target accuracy competitions. Others are simply happy being a team member and enjoying sociable flying weekends, helping with the launching and perhaps progressing on to be a tow 'operator' or even an Instructor.
Most parascending schools only operate at weekends as they usually rely on voluntary instructors and operators.