Powered paragliding, or paramotoring, is an inexpensive, easy-to-learn form of power aviation, but don’t think you’ll be able to fly and maneuver like the Parabatix Sky Racers at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
It’s like the difference between skateboarding at your local skate park and competing in the X Games.
These aviators are precision fliers who compete against one another for time as they follow a course that has them soaring high in the sky and swooping low to the ground.
Winding through 40-foot-tall inflatable cones, they kick a ball, pick up rings, grab objects from one zone and drop them on targets in another and perform similar tasks.
Paramotor aviators do not sit in what is normally thought of as an aircraft. Rather, they sit in a harness that is attached to a wing-shaped sail or chute above and that fills with air. They are propelled forward at speeds up to 40 mph by a propeller and motor that is supported on their backs.
Pascal Campbell-James, 32, a Brit who lives in France, founded and directs Parabatix, which is based in France. He learned the sport from his father, who designed the flexible wing that is now commonly used in paramotoring.
The idea of paramotoring has mass appeal, because “you can pack it all in the back of a car or in a van and take it with you,” he said.
Beyond that, is the ability “to feel free like a bird and not have to focus on road signs to tell you where to go,” he said. “You can fly down a canyon or skim across a river with your feet in the water, and it’s as if you’re in an armchair, just sitting back taking in the view.”
While the Parabatix Sky Racers are doing some pretty technical maneuvering, paramotoring in general is “maybe the safest aviation sport,” Campbell-James said. “You don’t need to jump off a cliff or a mountain, and can take off from flat ground, and if the engine cuts out, you just glide down” courtesy of the wing chute that remains deployed overhead.
There are 15 members of the Parabatix team, though only seven are in the contingent competing in Albuquerque. The team is truly international, with pilots being recruited from Slovakia, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic and the United States.
Parabatix pilot Thomas Migneauz, 23, of France, has been flying since he was 12 years old. He learned from his father, a paramotors instructor in France. Migneaux eventually became so good that he went to Parabatix school to learn high-level competitive flying.
“The spirit of Parabatix is my spirit,” he said. “I love freestyle flying and acrobatics, and I love making the public cheer,” something the crowds at Balloon Fiesta Park did repeatedly while watching their performance.