Earlier this year I wrote a page on risks flying gyrocopters.
While gyros are potentially safe currently they seem to be one of the most dangerous aircraft.
Despite this I found the risk is probably acceptable.
This time I will take a slightly different tack. I have a few things I want to say but I can't say them all at once.
This is written from my Australian perspective. I do not currently have a PPC (powered parachute) license and my opinions may change when I do.
Rammed air para-foils are the basis for many sports from kite flying through to PPC.
The other sport of particular interest here is foot launched para-motoring AKA PPG (powered paragliding).
PPC appears to be one of the safest air-sports while para-motoring appears to be one of the most dangerous.
Here PPCs fly under RAA (Recreational Aviation Australia) while para-motors fly under HGFA (Hang Gliding Federation of Australia).
Most PPCs fly rectangular (aka box) chutes. PPGs fly higher performance elliptical chutes.
High performance chutes mean less drag, better glide angle, less fuel consumption and possibly better control. Less drag means a lower powered engine can be used and the overall weight can be less.
Straddling the gap with a wheel or two in each camp is the WPPG (wheeled powered para-glider).
WPPG can potentially be flown either under RAA or HGFA - but there are some problems at the moment.
Most PPC pilots seem to believe the box chutes are the reason for their good safety record.
Box chutes generally don't stall or go into other dangerous modes.
PPG does not have a good safest record.
Elliptical chutes can enter stall and twist situations which are unrecoverable by unskilled pilots.
All elliptical chutes need significantly more skill to fly than box chutes.
"PPGs crash, PPGs have elliptical wings therefor elliptical wing = death."
But there are other differences between PPC and PPG and more importantly how they are flown.
PPCs usually motor around on calm days, at a safe height without any aggressive maneuvers.
PPGs are more likely to fly low, fly in turbulence, thermal, ridge soar and do other risky stuff.
There are videos online of PPG doing stuff like..
- deliberately bumping canopies together
- touching other gliders with hands or feet
- dragging their feet along the ground or water.
- turning low with wing a tip touching the ground or water.
- kicking trees.
- flying low enough to get weeds caught in the propeller cage.
- flying in cloud.
- flying over terrain without suitable landing areas.
Pilots may also make dangerous modification to there flying machines.
PPG wings may have a grade and certification. Wings are not created equally.
I will be getting a DHV1 certified wing which means it is a certified beginners wings.
This means it is fairly easy to fly and recovers easy from most in flight disturbances.
PPGs that get into trouble are often flying advanced or uncertified wings.
PPGs also tend to fly with lighter wing loadings than PPC or WPPG.
I'm not saying that taking extra risks in bad but it has to be taken into account when comparing the safety of the two type of flying.
My feeling (which some will disagree with) is that the dangers of flying a DHV1 compared to a box wing are over stated. I'd conceded box wings are less likely to be misbehave but the difference is small.
In other countries PPGs are unlicensed and the death rate is still fairly low.
On the flip side PPG wing give you more time and distance when looking for a landing zone after an engine failure. The sink rate is lower for soft landings. The engine can be and overall weight can be less - so the is less energy in a crash.
The lower cost and weight mean extra safety gear can be fitted and a more reliable 4-stroke engine can be fitted for the same price as a larger 2-stroke.
Others have done wet Sunday maths suggesting a mortality rate of around one per thousand per year.
This is about the same as riding a motorbike.
My guess which may be wrong is PPC is probably ten or twenty times better but not a hundred times better. This guess is based on overseas deaths and near misses here in Oz.
I think WPPG flown like PPCs will have similar statistics.
Even if the aircraft is %100 safe eventually someone will come to grief for some reason.
Even if there were a few fatalities PPC would still be safer that most if not all other airsports.
If I died of a heart attack the most I'd get is a funeral notice.
If riding my bike prevented a heart attack no one would ever know.
If the bus saved me from some worse fate you would never know.
Death is more newsworthy than life and we are unable to see alternative paths our lives could have taken.
If I died in a PPG crash it would most likely make the national news.
If flying prevented my death in some way no-one would even know.
We get a filtered look at reality.
If I am an average 54 Y.O. Australian male (I hope I'm not) there is about a %0.8 chance I will die in the next year. Most pilots are 50+ males so this is typical.
If I add a pessimistic %0.1 chance of dying from PPG it would increase to %0.9 but %0.81 is more likely.
Is this a big deal? Answer carefully.
If %0.1 is a big deal then there is a good chance there is something you can do to lower the overall risk by more than %0.1. For me giving up doughnuts would probably do it.
Considering WPPGs are generally cheaper to buy and operate you could invest the savings in something promoting health or safety and actually lower your mortality risk by choosing a WPPG over a PPC.
I need to get into the air ASAP before something else kills me.