The history of paragliding

The history of paragliding

February 28, 2024

Stavros Kostoulas

And the storybegins somewhere in America ...

In the early 1960sNASA was looking for ways to bring back the Apollo capsules from space. Theperformance of the parachutes up to that time was not enough, they needed abetter performing construction. So in a competition announced by NASA theresult was the first designs for the deltaplane (hang glider) by FrancisRogallo, which included a metal frame. Unlike the designs by Domina Jalbert andDavid Barish, where the parachutes had no frame. And they were easier totransport and easier to store.

Domina Jalber, bornin Canada in 1904, moved to the USA as a child where he lived and worked. Hewas attracted to flying, in 1927 he obtained his pilot's license. In the 50'she devoted his time to research and development of balloons, and parachutes.Jalbert conceived the pioneering idea that he should envision the parachute asa wing, rather than a drag-producing device. So he designed the wing aerofoilas we know it today, (with a double sail). Two sails sewn together where theyform the wing and are connected by fabric joints internally. This new wingfirst flew in March 1964. It was patented in October of the same year under thename Para-foil. His invention was originally used as a military parachute, witha glide ratio of 1 to 3, (at 1 meter height lost vertically it covered 3 metersin horizontal distance). In a short time it was accepted and spread its use tothe world community of skydivers. Many years later in 1988 he learned about thenew sport of paragliding through European journalists who wanted to interviewhim. When they told him the number of pilots flying he said "this isbetter than a Christmas present". Domina Jalber passed away in 1991leaving a great and historic legacy of research.

David Barish, theforgotten father of paragliding as it is often referred to, was born in 1921 inNew Jersey, USA. His interest in flight was sparked by a JN-4 "Jenny"biplane landing along the road next to his childhood home. In 1950 he obtainedhis aeronautical engineering degree, having previously obtained a fighterpilot's certificate in the US Air Force. He had a long career in aviation,mainly as a test pilot in the US Air Force, and as a consultant to NASA. Hepassed away on December 15, 2009. David Barish is often referred to as theforgotten father of the paraglider, who invented a single-sail parachuteairfoil. He made this discovery as part of a NASA competition. What was specialabout this design was that it was designed on a smaller scale, (than the oneoriginally used to land the Apollo capsules) and made it possible to take offfrom a slope on foot. The glide ratio of this wing in an official measurementorganised by the US Air Force at the time was 1 to 4.2.

NASA shortly afterthese measurements at the time, in 1964 abandoned the idea of the wingparachute as a means of returning capsules from space, eventually using anold-style parachute to land the capsule in the ocean.

Barish made his firstflight from the ground on October 15, 1965, flying down a slope at theCatskills ski resort from a height of 61 meters. Barish was a keen skier andenvisioned the slope-soaring sail wing, as he called his creation, as a newsport that would grow and bring traffic to ski resorts during the summermonths. In the summer of 1966 he organized and conducted a tour promoting thenew sport with his son Craig to ski resorts from Vermont to California. But itdidn't have the impact he had hoped for, and the idea was abandoned.

But one thing he realized many years later about how much it helped thesport get started was when he saw while driving in Ellenville, New York, over30 paragliding pilots flying down a hillside.

Much later in a 2002 interview with Cross Country magazine he would say,"It was probably too early" and add, "at the time we saw it as aform of fun going down the slope, we didn't imagine that it was possible toglide down the slope and lift using thermals"

The story continues 12 years later, in June 1978 in the commune ofAnnemasse, France. There at the local skydiving club called, Paraclub Annemassesome enthusiastic members came up with something original. The use of parafoil parachutes to take off from the mountain, so that they could train morefrequently in terms of landing accuracy. This way would be more practical andeconomical than using the airplane. More training on landings, in less time,and at less cost. Their idea came from reading an article in the 1972 Parachutemanual that referenced David Barish's Sloape Soaring. So Jean-Claude Bétemps,André Bohn and Gérard Bosson, after making their calculations and making sureof them in terms of the distance they could travel in relation to altitude, setoff for the first tests. Jean-Claude Bétemps from Pertuiset in Mieussy was thefirst to test and flew successfully, exceeding 100 metres. He was followed byhis friend André Bohn who successfully landed in the valley on a footballpitch, covering a distance of 1000 metres. A new sport Parapente had just beenborn.

Parapente is a compound word, from para which comes from parachute, andthe second compound pente which means slope in French. A year later in May1979, the first paragliding school was created in Mieussy, with Michel Sarthe,Michel Didriche, Gérard Bosson and Jean-Claude Bétemps as instructors.

This new spectacular activity attracted the attention of the media ofthe time, and the visibility of this new activity attracted more people.

Paragliding quickly became popular as a quick, economical and practicalway for someone to enjoy the freedom and sensation of flight.

The involvement of more andmore people in paragliding made it a commercially viable sport, so by thebeginning of the next decade the first improvements in paragliding constructionbegan to appear. After 1985 there is the very big development of the sport withthe emergence of the first paragliding manufacturing companies.

Swiss Laurent de Kalbermatten founds Ailes de K and starts to massproduce and sell the first model specifically for paragliding called la Randonneuse. Other manufacturers soon followed. The increasing involvement ofpeople, commerciality, and competition between companies resulted in thetechnical development of paragliders in terms of both ease, performance, andsafety. The first recorded record in free flight distance is 69.15 km and wasset by Hans Jörg Bachmair on 10 June 1989, which has been officially recordedby the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI). Soon it is also organizedas a sport, so the first European championship is held in 1988 in St Hilliare,France. The following year, in 1989, the first world championship will be heldin Koosen, Austria. Much later in 2004 the Asian championship in Handong, SouthKorea. And in 2008, the Pan-American in Castelo, Brazil.

Αrticle sources ::  (History of Paragliding and Speedflying)   (Domina C. Jalbert)   (Domina Jalbert awarded FAI gold air metal for the invention of the multi-cell ram-air wing)   (David Barish: The Probable Inventor of the Paraglider) ( David Barish, the forgotten father of paragliding)  (David Barish, a Developer of the Paraglider, Is Dead at 88)   (Fliegen war zweitrangig

Geschichte des Gleitschirmfliegens ) (parapente) Paragliding  cross country (XC)