Hello there! So you’ve asked the question many new gliders think to themselves: Can this contraption be flown at night? Maybe you’re even thinking of dropping some water balloons on your friend’s house, then escaping off into the darkness. Seems legit, right? Well, not so much.
Can Paramotors fly at night? It is in no way safe, legal, or desirable to operate a paramotor at night. First off, it is illegal. Secondly, your visibility is poor and you could run into something or someone else, and finally, if something goes wrong with your glider, your chances of making a safe emergency landing are very slim.
Some new paramotorists don’t even stop to think about the fact that just because they own a paramotor doesn’t mean they can do anything with it at any time. It is important to learn about your paramotor and use common sense to determine whether or not the setting (like nighttime) is appropriate.
In the United States, and pretty much every other country, aircraft are heavily regulated. The reasons for this are obvious. For the practice of flying to stay safe, there are certain rules that everyone has to follow. At night there are extra rules and instruments that pilots use to steer safely around the skies.
If you are not well versed in the rules surrounding air flight, you can take a class from a local instructor who will teach you all about these things. This is really a good idea for a first time paramotorist so that you can get up to speed with respect to the rules, regulations, laws, and best practices of flying a paramotor.
As paragliders, we are free to fly without many of those regulations. For example, we don’t have to take off from an airport or be in contact with air traffic control. But it is that same lack of regulation that makes it so we don’t qualify to fly at night.
Since we don’t participate in the air traffic control system or have all of the official instruments, there is no way to safely fly at night.
In the daytime, when the weather is clear, it is possible to see the obstacles that can arise. We can steer clear of them with time to spare. We can follow the flying and aviation laws. Paramotoring is done under VFR, or Visual Flight Rules. These rules touch on many things, but some of the most important are the rules concerning right of way. The right of way laws deal with who yields to who in the skies.
To follow the right of way rules, you need to have plenty of light and good visibility. When it is dark, you obviously cannot be operating under VFR (legally or practically). On top of not being able to follow the Visual Flight Rules, you can hit a mountain, building, another flyer, or the ground at full speed without even realizing that it is coming at you.
It is for this and other obvious reasons that paramotoring at night is illegal. Paramotoring is a VFR activity, and VFR is legally (and practically) not possible at night.
On top of being illegal, flying at night is just plain dangerous! Under no circumstance should you be flying a paramotor at night.
Even at dusk, once the sun is going down, your depth perception will lose accuracy very quickly. Anyone who has ever found themselves watching a sunset from the air in a paraglider has found out how scary this can quickly become.
You see how quickly the light fades, especially once you come back down from the altitude you were flying at.
You need to take into account that the sun will go down earlier from the ground than from the air. Coming back down into that fading light can actually be pretty terrifying. You should not underestimate how fast you can become lost and disoriented in this type of condition.
Without a clear view of landmarks and streets, even the best navigator can become temporarily confused. And in these critical moments of decisions, every minute counts.
You should also not overestimate your abilities in that type of fading light. Power lines, branches, cell phone towers, etc. are all more dangerous at this time, simply because your perception decreases sharply. These things can sneak up on you more easily than in the daytime.
On top of all this, there are the usual concerns about what to do in an emergency situation. If you lose power, a cord breaks, or if you have any other type of emergency while you are flying at night, the options available to you are pretty limited.
So even if you can see a lighted landing target clearly, and are confident that you will be able to land there just fine, the fact that there is always the possibility of an emergency landing situation makes this type of flying dangerous.
In an emergency landing, you would look down at the dark ground below, just try to land as slow and smooth as possible. What is below you would be left completely up to fate. It might be a house, power line, cell phone tower, or a lake.
If you even saw the ground coming, it would be unlikely that you would be able to make out enough detail in the dark to tell what was there. Altogether, the chances of making a safe emergency landing in the dark are just not good at all.
There is another aspect to consider here: even if you are out on the plains, with no trees, civilization, powerlines, or anything around, and you have tons of lights to guide your way, and you think that no one will know what you are doing, please know that every time someone makes an illegal flight at night, they are putting the whole paragliding community in danger of legal banishment.
As paragliders, we enjoy the freedom of not needing much supervision, not needing to use an airport, not needing to be in contact with the air traffic controllers, not needing a license, and all that good stuff. But even just one accident can be enough to spark a public outcry.
If one person flying at night were to crash, it really could be enough to invigorate those that would love to regulate us out of existence.
One person’s dumb moves really can put the whole community in danger of being kicked out of the skies. Well, I really shouldn’t say being kicked out of the skies. It’s more like we would be kicked into the system.
We would have to use airports, use air traffic control, deal with licensing, etc. All of these are possible if our community does not use their noggins to make safe decisions about when and how to fly.
You have a responsibility for your own life (which is the most important obviously), and for the lives and livelihoods of others. If we can regulate ourselves, we won’t need to be regulated. If we can be responsible, we won’t need supervision. Can you see now why one person’s mistakes are enough to put the whole community on edge?
So even if you have giant spotlights, night vision goggles, and you think that nothing can go wrong, please just don’t try it. Flying at night is a mortal risk to your health, and a high risk to the community of paragliders.
What kind of regulations are there for flying a paramotor? The answer is that when paragliding you need to follow all aviation regulations. Even though you don’t need a license, you need to follow rules relating to airspace, rights of way, and the like.
What is the cutoff time for flying? In aviation rules, “night” is generally legally defined as thirty minutes after the legal sunset until thirty minutes before the legal sunrise. However, as mentioned in the post, that doesn’t mean that it is safe to fly after sunset.