See also A Better Paramotor | A Better Cart | A Better Throttle
There have been at least three accidents resulting in pilot paralysis. In one, a reserve parachute may have saved the day but in the other two it would not have since they were doing low level maneuvering. One safety improvement that MAY have reduced those injuries is an airbag harness like what’s used in free flight.
It won’t be easy. A paramotor seat must be able to retract for walking around, takeoff and landing. In flight the harness must fill with air while not impeding pilot movement or weight shift. It must deal with frame parts that could impinge on the pilot or airbag. It must be lightweight, reliable, and affordable.
This may be impossible but my hope is that some enterprising, capable harness designer can pull it off. We’ll see!
Here is a concept idea for handling the seat retraction issue for landing. Youtube Video.
For the purpose of an airbag harness I see two (probably more, of course) distinct design issues.
- Weight Shift or floating J-Barmachines: Every weight shift or floating J-Bar paramotor that I’m aware of has the pilot’s butt on the ground just sitting in the unit. That means that if the pilot hits the ground from a nearly vertical drop with his legs out front, his spine takes the impact.
- Others: Every other (not defined above) paramotor that I’m aware of keeps the pilot suspended above the ground so that the frame should take the initial impact. But accident history shows that this will NOT always protect the spine as evidenced by one pilot who did suffer serious back trauma on such a machine so these machines should be included in any design proposal.
Other design criteria, should be:
- Completely passive. The only action on the pilot’s part may be to pull a chord that makes standing up for landing easier by opening a hole in the airbag. But there are probably automated ways to do that (which is what the animation shows).
- Reasonably inexpensive.
- Highly reliable even if the harness gets some amount of sand in it. It will likely tolerate less such abuse than a regular harness but we have to be realistic about how these things are used.
Thanks to Jeff Williams, a long time free flyer who has recently gotten into paramotoring, for bringing his knowledge of safety gear from other adventure endeavors. One sound suggestion regards a kind of foam that may be able to play some part in our search for safety. Here are the links for creative types who may be able to put them to use as the next revolutionizers of paramotor protection.
Pads for helmets: https://www.unequal.com
CONFOR foam seat cushions are used in gliders for seat comfort and protection in hard landings. These could be considered in a system that employs both hard and soft foam, especially for seat padding and possible side protection. Is there an automotive or aviation crash protection specialist in the house?
Just Fly Safe
I sometimes here “Just fly safe.” You could say the same thing to racecar drivers but, lets face it, what they do carries certain unavoidable risks. That’s us!
Yes, most of the injuries happen to intermediate and advanced pilots but everyone benefits from the safety initiatives employed for their more ambitious needs. A reserve parachute is good, for sure, but is only effective in certain types of accidents. Passive safety systems (like seat belts and air bags) have made the single biggest improvements in auto accident survival. Airbag harnesses in paragliding have been extremely effective at reducing injuries. If we can get them incorporated for paramotors, it could greatly improve your odds of a debilitating back injury.
Is it Possible?
I’m not a designer but I sure hope someone, with the smarts and resources, can come up with something. I’m to help with financing some research, and will certainly promote, any company’s likely solutions to this. Plus, I’ll be the first to buy a couple.
One crude idea to handle the stand-to-land seat retraction problem with using an airbag harness. This is an extract from the YouTube video that shows how it works. This would clearly not be usable but is intended only to show a concept