SA Paragliding and SAHPA moves into the 21st Century!   By Keith Pickersgill,   February 2002


It looks like great things are beginning to happen with SAHPA and sport paragliding in South Africa.

I look forward to the forthcoming SAHPA certification and  fully expect great spin-offs from this for all concerned.

I spent just over 8 hours total on the telephone over the last few days getting the full picture, and throwing in my two cents worth of ideas and suggestions.


Everyone has asked me to put my thoughts into writing, so here goes:


Some history, as seen from my limited perspective down here in SlaapStadt (Kaapstad) :


Some years ago, paragliding in RSA enjoyed great growth, and SAHPA membership started looking healthy (though not nearly close to the several thousand members in Germany, for example).


There were several locally made paragliders available at very respectable prices, also many 2nd hand gliders sustained a healthy starter-kit market as pilots did frequent upgrades.


For various reasons, mostly relating to concerns regarding safety, and the cost of certifying in Europe, local paraglider production has virtually ceased to exist.


The current regulations state that any new wing sold in RSA must be certified by a recognised independent test & certification body.


Currently the most widely recognised certification bodies are DHV (German), AFNOR/ACPULS (French), SHV (Swiss) and for powered paragliding, BCAR (British) and DULV (German).


There are a number of other smaller bodies, but they concentrate mostly on local certification in small, obscure markets outside of the mainstream (Eastern Bloc, etc)


As the cost of submitting wings to any of the above organisations is quite prohibitive and getting worse with the ongoing depreciation of the Rand, local manufacturers find it difficult to justify such great expense for our fairly limited market here in RSA. Even for the export market, the certification costs are severely limiting the local manufacturers.

Remember, each model, each Size, must be certified separately, each is charged separately.


When local production first scaled down, imported wings became the order of the day. At the time, the Rand was at R6.83 per US$ and though the imports were considerably more expensive, they were still within reach of a determined pilot's stretched budget.


Now, with the ongoing depreciation of the Rand, coupled with annual price increases from the foreign manufacturers, imported wings should be selling in the region of R25000 for an average model.


That is a VERY high price to pay, considering how slow our incomes are increasing.


Furthermore, the importers and dealers are so pressurised to make equipment available at an affordable price so as not to scare off many potential trainees, that their margins are being reduced.


This is counter-productive, as their businesses start to fail due to smaller margins and lower sales volumes.

We need a rescue of the paragliding industry. This is evident in the number of members that SAHPA has. We should be enjoying a good growth rate, but this is sorely lacking.


If new wings must be certified, and foreign certification is too expensive, then it makes sense to initiate local certification.


The obvious body to carry out such certification, is our national safety body, i.e. SAHPA.  To this effect, SAHPA has set up a sub-committee to look into local certification.


A lot of local pilots are very sceptical as to whether South African manufacturers could produce a reasonable wing. I say these sceptics are stuck in the old mistaken mentality that South Africa cannot achieve anything of note. 


Very few people realise what great things have been achieved by our country and all too few South Africans have any sense of pride in South Africa.  We hear every day from people all around, pessimism, doom and gloom. This is a very short-sighted mindset. We need to stop complaining and bitching,  get off our butts and do something to help and to change attitudes.


Need some encouragement? Here are a few South African firsts:


* Heart Transplant. No need to elaborate on Dr. Chris Barnard's world shocking achievement.


* First city in the world to have streetlights:    Kimberly


* First city in the world to have roads divided by a white line:    East London


* Heads Up Display as used in almost all military target acquisition, is a South African invention


* in fact, South Africa has MANY military world first innovations and inventions, most of which are actually in production, not just ideas.



* Trip Switches, as fitted in every South African home (to replace fuse-boxes), is a South African invention. South Africa was also the first country to make trip-switches mandatory in all new buildings.


* Domestic electricity Pre-Paid distribution boxes, as fitted into most new houses now, are also a South African innovation. The security systems, the disbursement and units allocations system, and the actual electronic boxes themselves were developed right here.


* many things we take for granted are in fact World Firsts for South Africa. MNET pioneered paid TV without cable! Think about the implications of offering a paid channel, much like Cable TV, but without the expensive and time-consuming cable infrastructure. Subscribers can be switched on and off over the air, without dispatching technicians to the local cable distribution box.


* South Africa leads the world in RFID development. (microchips used to implant animals, machinery, moving assets, which can be interrogated by an external scanner for purposes of identification, asset management, etc)


* South Africa leads the world in development of Biometrics and its applications. (identifying people by the eye's iris is proving a major breakthrough in practical security applications)


* Did you know that the main GSM chip on all Nokia and Ericson phones in the world, are made only in Pretoria and nowhere else in the world?


* South Africa leads the world in GSM cellphone innovations and the rest of the world follow. Pre-paid is just one of many world firsts. SMS to email, email to SMS, SMS notification of incoming emails, all these are South African innovations.


* South Africa led the world in electronic banking, the first country to offer countrywide ATM connectivity


* Dollosse, the cast concrete formations as used all over the world to form breakwaters, was invented by a humble South African dockworker.


* SASOL pioneered conversion of Coal to Diesel and Petrol.


* MOSGAS pioneered conversion of Natural Gas to Diesel and Petrol.


* SAB is the Fourth largest brewery in the world and produces over 50% off all beer sold in China.


* South Africa leads the world in automatic pool cleaning. The Creepy Crawly is 100% South African and exported almost world-wide. Other brands basically copied their concept.


* The World's entire production of Right Hand Drive VW Golf and VW Jetta, also BMW 3 Series, also Mercedes Benz C class, are manufactured right here in our own country and exported to all the other countries requiring RHD versions.


The international microlight industry considers the South African manufacturers to be the very best in the world. At any international airshow, the South African podium usually enjoys the limelight position. Other manufacturers are often seen "stealing with their eyes" as they roam the South African stands.


I could go on for many hours, as I am passionate about achievements, inventions and innovations from our humble country.

Suffice to say that anyone stuck with the mindset and mentality that "we" cannot do anything properly, should shut up or get out.


Such negative attitude and pessimism becomes a self fulfilling prophecy for such people and they tend to drag the rest of us down with them. One rotten apple in the barrel, and the rot soon spreads to all the others like a spreading cancer.


We need to think positively, we need to be pro-active and we need to be innovative.


When I see someone ripping off the French certification protocols and changing just a few words here and there without any real improvements nor innovations, I wonder why we still put up with this copy-cat mentality. There is room for much improvement in both the French and the German certification procedures and protocols. We have an opportunity here to make a positive contribution to paragliding, and set a new world standard.

I have no doubt that if we do this correctly, others will eventually follow our lead.


Local manufacturers will need to widen their market as much as possible to make a success of local manufacture. The more credible our local certification, the sooner it will be accepted in the Global market, the faster the export market can be developed.


Without an export market, the volumes simply will not support ongoing research, development and production.

There is no doubt that powered paragliding is enjoying a higher global Growth Rate than paragliding right now. Most new equipment sales are in Growth Markets, so the powered paragliding market must be addressed too.


Here are my proposals:


A new certification protocol offers the opportunity to implement improvements and new ideas, and to try overcome some of the recognised short-comings in the existing protocols.


The most notable being the lack of any "evaluation" of the wing.


The current protocol goes along the lines of, " IF the glider finds itself in a large assymetric deflation (or whatever other attitude), then THIS is how it recovers".


Such a test gives no indication at all of how prone  the wing is to such deflations (or other problems), how frequently it is likely to happen in moderate conditions, nor how severely.


An evaluation of the wing's tendency to enter these undesirable attitudes would offer much more peace of mind to prospective buyers than the current evaluation of only measuring its recovery from the problem.


There may be much debate as to how to implement such a departure from the traditional tests, but such debate is absolutely required to come to agreement on how to actually implement these new ideas.


Evaluation of wings for Powered Paragliding:


SAHPA certification of paraglider wings should include optional powered-evaluation too. If the wing manufacturer deems the wing suitable for powered flying too, and the powered-evaluation is positive, then the world should know and the powered evaluation  should be formalised and added to the certification of the wing.


On the other hand, if the manufacturer is not interested in promoting the wing to the paramotor industry, or if the powered evaluation is not very positive, then the powered certification may simply be omitted in order to concentrate on the convention non-powered paraglider market.


I am prepared to draw up the powered evaluation protocols and procedures.


I propose that SAHPA accept up to 50mm trimtabs travel in addition to any speedbar facility, subject to testing at fast-trim as well.  This is to facilitate powered flying too, as trimtabs are essential for zero-launches (zero slope, zero wind), as well as used assymetrically to offset torque effects from the motor.


Most of the new generation dual-purpose wings (motor & soaring) are now certified with both speedbar and trimtabs fitted.


To facilitate wider markets for locally made wings, SAHPA should cater for parallel certification, such as is already common practice in Europe.  This allows a local wing manufacturer to supply wings to other companies to sell as their own brand (re-branding), and protects the secondary brand-holder from customers looking up the certificate number on the web, identifying the original model name,  and bypassing the parallel brandholder to order direct from the manufacturer. The secondary brandholder needs this level of protection to justify the expense and effort in promoting "his" new wing.


I further propose that the powered evaluation allow for a considerably higher wing-loading than for the normal gliding/soaring tests. This is to accommodate the fact that the placarded weight ranges on paraglider wings usually do not cater for the fact that paramotors are usually flown with a much heavier wing-loading than non-powered flight. For example, a typical glider may be placarded all-up weight of 80-100kg for soaring flight.  The same wing, may well be better suited to all-up closer to 135kg under power when used near sea level, and possibly up to 110kg on the Reef.


See the article, "Wing Size Selection for Powered Paragliding", at:


The load-test should cater for this difference in wing-loadings.

I propose that the load test be done at Eight times the soaring maximum weight, or Six times the maximum powered weight, whichever is the greater total test load. If the greater total load is based on Six times the powered all-up weight, then the load test duration should be increased by 50%



80-100kg soaring all-up range : 8 * 100 = 800kg for 20 seconds, or

80-140kg powered all-up range: 6 * 140 = 840kg for 30 seconds.


As the powered total 840kg test load is greater than the un-powered 800kg, the actual load test will thus be 840kg but at 30 seconds instead of the usual 20 seconds. 


This is just an example, the actual numbers will vary according to the actual situation.


Why separate tests for powered flying and for soaring flight?

Well, a glider (sailplane) looks completely different to a powered light aircraft, due to the one being designed to cater for gliding, and the other for flying around under power.


Sometimes great gliders make less than suitable powered wings.

One cannot base a wing's suitability for powered flight on the tests done for non-powered flight.


The types of tests foreseen for powered flight: (These are only ideas in principle at this stage)


* on level ground, with enough wind for a light reverse pullup, where does the wing position itself? 

#If it tends to stop a bit short and needs to be  teased further forward, it may lead to inadvertently launching behind the power-curve.

#If it overshoots and needs to be braked at the top of its arch, a possible nose-tuck could lead to slack lines being sucked into the prop.


* on a Zero Launch (Zero Wind, Zero Slope), using a forward running pullup, how much pressure do the risers tend to apply to the framework before reaching the flying position overhead?

# Excessive backwards pressure on the framework could deflect the frame into the path of the spinning propeller on some paramotors.


* how easy is it to accidentally launch behind the power-curve of the wing? More specifically, is it at all possible to launch behind the power-curve when running on zero brakes?

# launching behind the power-curve leads to flying at full power, just inches above the ground without being able to climb.


* if accidentally (or intentionally) caught behind the wing's power-curve, how difficult or dangerous is the recovery to "normal" powered flight? How much runway would be consumed in the event of zero wind?
# If normal flight cannot be established, the pilot will eventually fly out of the field at ground level, possibly colliding with boundary fences, trees, etc


* how much lower is the Airspeed at level-flight cruise (keep off the brakes, adjust only the power level to establish level flight), compared to Airspeed at engine-off glide ? (i.e. with the same wing-loading)
# This pertains to the safety margin between cruising airspeed and stalling speed (consider the higher stall-speed due to the extra wingloading due to the extra weight of the motor)


* What is the level flight cruising airspeed (off the brakes, no speedbar, trims at neutral)? Is it enough to penetrate into moderate wind? Is it significantly lower than expected, significantly lower than gliding trimspeed?

#Many paraglider wings (including some fast gliders) fly very slowly under power, leading to potential penetration problems and potential dynamic stall problems.


* How much power is required to maintain level flight at trimspeed?

This indicates the wing's fuel ENDURANCE, i.e. the longest TIME it can be kept airborne with limited fuel.


* How much trims or speedbar need to be applied to bring the wing's level-fight powered airspeed up to its gliding trimspeed? (Assuming flight altitude is kept near constant by adding enough power to compensate for the extra speed)

# This is close to the wing's most efficient fuel-reach, i.e. the furthest DISTANCE possible with limited fuel.

* What is the maximum airspeed the wing can maintain in level flight?

Will the average power unit be able to deliver enough thrust to maintain level flight with the wing set to its maximum accelerated flight (i.e. fastest trimtabs setting and/or fastest speedbar setting)
# Some wings cannot be kept from descending at max airspeed with a typical motor's output.


* Is the wing still manoeuvrable in the above configuration?

# Is it safe to turn and manoeuvre at max airspeed setting?


* What is the extent of the wing's stability in this configuration?

i.e. to what extent will it remain fully inflated without pilot input in moderate turbulence? If the glider suffers small wing-tip closures, to what extent does this affect its flightpath without pilot input?


* Without any brake input, at maximum wing speed, in straight and level flight, if the pilot suddenly dumps the speedbar without easing off the power, how does the glider respond?

# The wing should climb without undue increase in AOA in order to bleed off the surplus airspeed, should not semi-stall at the top of the climb, and should not surge back into glidespeed.


* How much can the same manoeuvre as above tolerate the pilot also applying some brake at the same time as dumping the speedbar?

# More forgiving wings will simply climb longer and higher, less forgiving wings may go too dynamic.


* when flying straight and level (off the brakes), hit the kill switch and assess how much height is lost in the initial dive to regain airspeed to establish glidespeed (while remaining off the brakes).

# If excessive height is lost during the dive and surge, a low-level (ground-skimming) engine-out may lead to diving into the ground at high pendulum speed.


*The same test as above, but at full power, to simulate an engine-out just after take-off

# Just after take-off is the most likely time that motors cut-out, due to insufficient engine warm-ups, incorrect WOT (Wide open throttle) mixture adjustment, fuel-starvation (fuel-cock closed, bubbles in fuel line, etc)

* how much does the wing re-act to propeller-torque effect?

i.e. how much counter-brake "pressure" is required to keep the wing flying straight at (a) cruise power, and at (b) climb power, assuming that ONLY brake is used as a counter-measure (no assymetrical trim, no assymetrical speed-bar)

# Wings with very high brake-pressure required as counter-torque, will quickly fatigue any pilot as this brake input is required constantly throughout most of the flight.


* how close to stall is the outside wing (braked to counter-torque) when forced into to straight flight on brake alone at (a) cruise power, and (b) at climb power.

# Wings that sacrifice much of their Angle of Attack under power may require excessive assymetrical brake input as torque- counter measure, bringing that wing very close to stall. Even moderate turbulence could then cause a dynamic assymetric power-stall with disastrous consequences.


*at trimspeed level-flight (cruise), how difficult is it to make the wing turn AGAINST the direction induced by the Propeller Torque Effect?

# Most paramotors induce a right-hand turning on the wing due to the PTE. Considerable left-brake might be required just to keep the wing from turning to the right, i.e. for straight flightpath. Trying to turn to the Left in this case may prove difficult on some wings, dangerous on others, and occasionally impossible.

* at full power (and zero brake), how great is the overall angle of attack of the wing if no counter-torque braking is implemented? How close to stall will the wing be?

# Immediately after takeoff, the pilot is likely to be at full power.

Even if he applies no anti-torque counter-braking and allows the wing to turn in response to the torque-effect, some wings are still too close to the stall for comfort.


* on powered switchbacks (power-assisted wingovers), how easy will the wing accidentally go out of sync?
How is the recovery? How much pilot skill is required to keep the wing under control?

# Complications from un-intended thrust vectoring may lead to the wing facing a different direction to the motor, in some cases unloading part or all of the wing momentarily, possibly leading to scary or even dangerous attitudes and recoveries.


* during motor-yaw resulting from Assymetric Blade Thrust, how much does the wing oscillate sideways?
# ABT frequently sets up a continuous sideways swinging oscillation which cannot be dampened by any pilot input, possibly leading to disorientation, vertigo and possible motion sickness. Larger wings tend to exaggerate the ABT oscillation.


* to what extent does the wing resist the motor from yawing as a result of Gyroscopic Precession?
# The lines and risers should offer enough outward forces to resist the motor's yawing. Excessive yawing leads to the thrustline deflected to the side of the flightpath, causing the wing to dive off in the opposite direction, much like classic lockout.


As mentioned, the above powered evaluation is only a rough start, but it is a good start.

Such an evaluation will be thorough and can only lead to improved safety by promoting the use of wings suitable for powered flight.


I have no doubt that once such an evaluations implemented, other certification bodies will see the benefits and follow in our footsteps.


Furthermore, manufacturers of wings will have a solid basis to work from when designing new wings, should they intend to consider powered performance and safety of their new wings.