As a pilot, it is important you understand how you can pick safe gear. We will try to give you an overview of how paragliders and equipment are certified by agencies independent of the manufacturing organisation. You should always consider the implications of certification on the equipment you take to the air with.
With current equipment, you will find two forms of certification EN (or European Norms) and LTF. You may find references to older standards, DHV and AFNOR. At this point, you should be suspicious of any equipment with only the older ratings. In general, reputable manufacturers will make their certification documents available via there websites.
Some kinds of equipment are certified on a pass-fail basis. The major categories are:
Helmets are certified to EN 966 standard (helmets for airsports). The testing consists of loading them up with 6 kg of weights (average weight of a human head) and dropping them repeatedly on an anvil. There has been some criticism of the EN 966 standards, and some pilots use helmets certified to both the EN 966 and the more stringent EN 1077 (downhill skiing). The important elements in picking a helmet are to make sure it fits, it is secure and you replace it after any damage.
Reserves (aka Recovery Systems)
Reserves are parachutes that can give you a second chance if your primary glider gets into a situation where you cannot recover it. Reserves are certified to the EN 12491 standard. The certification tests the speed of opening, the opening shock, the strength of the deployment system, the strength of the attachment system, the speed of descent and the stability of descent. Reserves are certified for specific weight ranges. It is important to pick a reserve certified for the right weight.
Harnesses are certified to the EN 1651 and/or the LTF 91/09 standards. Both standards require tests of the strength and structural integrity of the harness. Only the LTF standard requires testing of the back protector system.
It gets a little complicated here. Both the EN standard (962-1 (Paragliding equipment – Paragliders – Part 1: Requirements and test methods for structural strength) and 962-2 (Paragliding equipment – Paragliders – Part 2: Requirements and test methods for classifying flight safety characteristics)) and the LTF requirements test for both structure strength and for passive safety and flying characteristics. They rate paragliders with letter grades A, B, C, D. The following table summarises the ratings.
|Rating||Flying Characteristics||Pilot Characteristics|
|A||Paragliders with a maximum level of passive safety. EN-A Certified Paragliders are extremely forgiving and show exceptional resistance to deviation from normal flight.||EN-A Certified Paragliders are designed for ALL PILOTS, and suitable for any level of training. These are great for pilots with less than 1 year of flight experience, or for those who fly less than twice a month (25 hours a year).|
|B||EN-B Certified Paragliders display good passive-safety and forgiving flight characteristics. The glider must have some resistance to deviation from normal flight.||EN-B Certified paragliders are designed for experienced recreational paragliders. There is a broad range of paragliders on the market fitting this category. Some are closer to “EN-A” gliders than others. NOTE: Pilots should have experienced AT LEAST 30 hours of flight time in various flight conditions. At least 10 of those hours being in thermic conditions. EN-B Certified Paragliders are commonly flown by pilots with advanced “ratings” or “certifications,” and for those who fly no less than 50 hours per year (3-4 times per month).|
|C||EN-C Certified Paragliders possess a moderate level of passive safety.These gliders can potentially display dynamic reactions to turbulence or pilot errors. Precise “active piloting” or input may be required for recovery.||EN-C Certified Paragliders are designed for intermediate pilots who possess good “active piloting” skills and are quite familiar with recovery techniques. The pilot must fully understand the implications of flying a glider with reduced passive safety. Pilots should possess an advanced rating or certification, and have logged HUNDREDS of flight hours in ALL conditions (especially thermic). An “SIV” or “Advanced Maneuvers” Clinic should be completed by pilots flying EN-C Paragliders. Recommended for those who fly at least 10 hours per month (2 times per week), and for those who are comfortable handling large asymmetric collapses.|
|D||EN-D Certified Paragliders have demanding flight characteristics. They can have potentially violent reactions to turbulence or pilot error. Precise pilot input will be required for recovery to normal flight.||EN-D Certified Paragliders are for the most advanced pilots who are very well-versed in recovery techniques. Pilots should fly very actively, possess much experience flying in turbulence, and fully accept the implications of flying such a glider. Pilots should fly for many years before considering an EN-D Certified Paraglider. Various advanced manoeuvres or “SIV skills” must be MASTERED to fly such a glider, and pilots should fly no less than 200 hours a year (often in strong conditions).|
-Sources, Blackhawk Paramotors, Fly Manilla
There are a few things you should keep in mind.
- In each of these categories, there is a range of paragliders. Flying a low-B is not at all like flying a high-B. You need guidance from professional instructors.
- In our experience, very few pilots will be ready for anything other than an A at the end of training. Flying even a low B would probably constrain them to benign conditions.
- Many recreational pilots fly A-wings for years. Progression to higher wings is often a marketing tactic. You should fly a wing you are comfortable with.
- Recently, speciality wings have been introduced. Often these are certified to the EN 962-1 standard (structural strength), but not the EN 962-2 standard (flying safety). We think this is misleading. You should always understand the certification of any wing you are considering.