Educational by Chapter of the Powered Paragliding Bible

I: First Flight

01 Training Process

02 Gearing Up

03 Handling the Wing

04 Prep For 1st Flight

05 The Flight

06 Flying With Wheels 

II: Spreading Wings

07 Weather Basics

08 The Law

09 Airspace   

10 Flying Anywhere

11 Controlled Airports

12 Setup & Mx

13 Flying Cross Country

14 Flying With Others

III: Mastery

15 Adv Ground Handling

16 Precision Flying

17 Challenging Sites

18 Advanced Maneuvers

19 Risk Management

20 Competition

21 Free Flight Transition

IV: Theory

22 Aerodynamics

23 Motor & Propeller

24 Weather & Wind

25 Roots: Our History

V: Choosing Gear

26 The Wing

27 The Motor Unit

28 Accessories

29 Home Building

VI: Getting the Most

30 Other Uses

31 Traveling With Gear

32 Photography

--- Not in book ---

33 Organizing Fly-Ins

34 Places To Fly

35 Preserving the Sport

36 Tandem

Reserve (Rescue) Parachutes

Section IV, Chapter 28: Accessories: Choosing a paramotor reserve (rescue) parachute

See also Reserve Parachute: Safety Considerations & Repack Video

2010-11-16 revised, correction on units.

Emotions run high regarding the decision to carry a reserve. It's a safety device, like many others, that has benefit with some tradeoffs. If you do choose to carry one, learn to use it

Know that wearing a helmet probably adds more safety than wearing a reserve. One PPG fatality involved a pilot crashing into wires and falling. Paramedics determined the pilot would have lived had he been wearing a helmet. Other fatalities might have been prevented with a helmet, too.

Some pilots prefer the feel of open air and choose not to wear helmets. So be it as long as they understand the risk. Some pilots prefer not to carry the weight of a reserve. So be it, as long as they understand the risk. It's not my position to "tell" anyone what they "must" do to be safe but rather point out the trade-offs. Safety is not black and white, it's a shade. Risk and reward.

The PPG Bible covers mounting and using a reserve but you should find an instructor who is familiar with your chosen model. Without training, the reserve can add as much risk as it mitigates although accidental deployments have, fortunately, proven rare in powered flight. 

If you answer yes to 1 or more of the questions below and are at or beyond the PPG2 level then you would likely benefit from carrying a reserve.

  • I sometimes fly mid-day.

  • I fly anywhere near where General Aviation aircraft fly.

  • I don't mind flying in somewhat active (mildly bumpy) air.

  • I tend to fly above 200 feet (whether in smooth air or not).

  • I gravitate towards steep maneuvering at altitude.

  • I sometimes fly formation with other pilots above 100 feet.

Reserve Parachute Saves

We know of at least 5 pilots who feel they were saved by their reserve parachute. One was flying several hundred feet high on a nice evening and got surprised by level 8 turbulence. It's impossible to know how these would have ended without the reserve but subsequent videos of similar situations suggest that most would have survived either way.

1. A pilot in Salt Lake City was flying in strong mechanical turbulence and took a major collapse with complications. He was unable to recover the wing and had to use the reserve.

2. A pilot flying in moderate conditions near Columbus, OH got into severe turbulence.

3. While flying in thermally conditions a pilot encountered strong turbulence in North Carolina.

4. A pilot flying during early evening of an otherwise light thermal day, encountered level 8 or higher turbulence. He was several hundred feet high and tossed the reserve by 200 feet.

5. A pilot flying a trike in aerobatics botched a loop and went through his lines. Although the wing appeared to recover it's unknown how it would have flown. He landed safely under the reserve.

Reserve Parachutes During Training

Several instructors feel that beginning paramotor pilots should not use a reserve. As much as these instructors would like to profit from the sale of one, they don't find it in the new pilot's best interest. Reasons include:

  • The additional weight makes falling slightly more likely. It is also more cumbersome, especially depending on reserve placement, and can make launching harder. Success takes more time.

  • A new pilot is far more likely to cause an accidental deployment.

  • A new pilot is less likely to have a successful deployment. Rehearsal can help enormously, though, in this regard.

  • The risk is minimized because training takes place under relatively controlled conditions (only train when it's benign) and with an instructor on radio.

It appears that about 80% of all paramotor instructors who've been teaching more than a few years hold this view. Instructors with a free-flight background will be far more likely to have their students wear a reserve from the start since that practice is common in free flight.

If you do use a reserve, learn how to mount and deploy it. The motor pilot's deployment creed is "Kill, look, pull, clear and throw." That is, kill the motor, look at your reserve handle, pull the handle, then find clear air to and throw it that way. A plasticized, small, checklist with this statement is part of every USPPA membership packet.

Reserves Parachutes and Free Flight

It's almost universal that free-flight pilots fly with a reserve parachute. There's a number of reasons but mostly its because they have a reasonable expectation that it may save their life. Even for ridge flying, which is almost always done within a hundred feet of the ground, they offer protection.

Soaring pilots necessarily fly in conditions strong enough to keep them aloft. That's riskier and more likely to result in complications from a collapse that will require a "toss" (of the reserve). I've seen and experienced numerous significant collapses at thermal soaring sites and watched at least 4 reserve rides although 1 was from a mid-air.

Playing the Odds

We deal in probabilities. There's the probability that you'll need to use a reserve and some probability that it will be effective. There is also a very tiny probability of an accidental deployment.

For example, if you fly in beach air all the time than the probability of having a wing collapse is much, much less than if you fly inland during mid-day conditions. If you fly on a beach when the wind is blowing out to sea, or an area where prevailing winds are out to sea but are currently on shore, than your probability of turbulence or a wing collapse go way up. No, we can never perfectly predict when turbulence might strike but sure can pick the most unlikely times and places. Mornings and evenings are dramatically less likely to serve up wing-collapsing turbulence in typical inland locations.

If you rarely venture above 50 feet then the probability of a reserve saving you, even if you have a collapse, is nearly zero. The more time you spend above about 200 feet, the more you're in the save zone.

There are few absolutes regarding safety choices. Just choosing to fly incurs significant risk. Choosing to fly without a helmet, without a reserve, to fly in rowdy weather, to fly low, etc. are all choices that add risk in varying amounts. Choosing to, or not to wear a reserve is no different.


Weight (lbs)

Quantum 330 Rate-of-descent (feet/second)

Sea Level

3000 Feet

6000 Feet

9000 Feet


QS 330






QS 330






QS 330








Weight (lbs)

Landing Impact (g's)

Sea Level

3000 Feet

6000 Feet

9000 Feet

QS 330






QS 330






QS 330






Parachute size

The bigger they are, the lighter you fall. A bigger reserve may, however, take a few feet longer to open and weigh a bit more so don't get carried away.

Manufacturers will give you a descent rate based on the model and your weight. Here is a way to tell what size would be appropriate. On average, jumping from anything over about 5 feet frequently causes broken bones.


Example: At your weight, the reserve parachute maker says that you'll fall at 17.5 feet per second (fps). Go down from 17.5 to the green curve then go left to the height in feet that you'd have to jump from. In the example, it's about 5 feet.

That means that jumping from a 5 foot ledge will approximate your landing under that reserve parachute at your weight.

Choosing a Brand

The pulled apex type of reserve has become commonit provides more lift with less fabric than a basic round, making it more compact. It has proven quick to open and reliable. There are several good brands to choose from but the one that I'm most familiar with is Quantum series from High Energy Sports. Both the product and business enjoy a good reputation. Stu Caruk, a free-flight pilot who's opinion I value, also recommends the Metamorfosi Conar brand reserve.


Soaring800.jpg (134064 bytes)






© 2016 Jeff Goin & Tim Kaiser   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!