Paragliding History

Let’s take a look over the origins of this aerial sport

As you know, Overfly Tenerife is a paragliding company located in Costa Adeje — at the south of Tenerife, Spain — with more than 30 years of experience. We offer an unforgettable tandem paragliding experience, together with the best information about this sport. Today at our blog, we are going to talk about paragliding history. If you are interested in this aerial sport, it is important that you know its origins.

If you are interested in getting all the information about paragliding, we invite you to take a look at other posts of our blog. For instance:

“The great bird will take flight above the ridge… filling the universe with awe, filling all writings with its fame…” – Leonardo da Vinci

Paragliding History ➞ When and where was paragliding invented?

If we talk about paragliding history, we must say that there are different opinions about who was the first person ever to paraglide. Who invented paragliding? Many people believe that it was David Barish in the early 1960s. This is due to he was developing a space capsule recovery device that he called the “Sail Wing” for NASA at that time. He tested his work by himself in 1965 on Hunter Mountain, at New York. He named this activity as “slope soaring”.

David Barish’s invention took advantage of the earlier invention work of Domina Jalbert. He was an American man who helped to develop the aerofoil technology and afterward, he patented the Parafoil in 1963. The parafoil is proved to be a forerunner of the contemporary paraglider. This is due to its ram-air design incorporating a row of inflatable air pockets into an aerofoil shape.

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Furthermore, there are also pictures and videos which were taken at any time in the late ’70s. This documentation shows a group of skydivers while they are flying their parachutes in eastern Montana. They are launching off small hills in the area.

Parachutes, the precursors to the paragliders

Parachutes – the precursors to the paragliders – were first used in World War 1, but they remained unchanged until the 1950s. It was then when the Para-Commander (PC) was invented – an elongated parachute with vents in order to provide the jumper more control.

Later in 1961, this design was modified technically and afterwards improved by Francis M. Rogallo, who invented the Rogallo wing for the NASA in order to recover their rockets and space capsules. The new design introduced more rigid sections to the parachute, leading eventually to the design of both hang and paragliders.

Domina Jalbert invented the Ram Air canopy. This one had a double surfaced design with vents that created a wing shape from the sail, allowing that the user had even more control over the direction and the speed.

Later in the 1970s, towing Ram Air parachutes behind vehicles became a very popular leisure activity. Once released, you were free to glide — the bad part was that landings were particularly complicated, and the search for more control continued.

After 1980s, the paragliding equipment started to modernize and this sport got a new dimension. The first world unofficial paragliding championship was organized in Switzerland, in 1987. Shortly after, the Federation of Aeronautic International (FAI) recognized paragliding as an official sport and organized the world’s first official championship in Kossen, Austria in 1989.

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When and where is the origin of paragliding history?

Continuing with paragliding history, you should know that at the same time in the French Alps, there were climbers using similar technology. They thought that after reaching the summit of the mountain, there may be a way to make their descent from the peak faster, more efficient and safer. Then, they found out that they could do it by using small ram-air canopies to help them “float” down the mountain.

These parachute gliders only weighed 4 kilograms and they flew at a speed of 20 metres per hour. Moreover, they dropped the rider 1 metre of height for every metre travelled. By the middle of the 80’s, those people who were curious to this way of air travel started to focus on maximizing the flight potential of rising air. Suddenly, they found that the secret was increasing the duration of flights — this way, they could cover longer distances.

Advances in paragliding history

There were a lot of advances in paragliding history thanks to the advances in the paraglider design in the 1980s. For instance, the increase of the wingspan, the modifying of the shape and trim of the aerofoil, the introduction of non-porous fabric… All of them helped to improve parachute glide performance.

A fresh and improved design meant changes in the characteristics of the flight. Hence, the techniques and skills to pilot the aircraft had to change too. The most successful paraglider designs were produced in large amounts to meet the increasing demands of paragliding lovers, whose numbers were growing greatly. By 1986, this aerial sport was already established in Europe.

Production of paragliding equipment


During the last several years, a wide range of paragliding equipment has evolved thanks to the development of its design in different parts of the world — such as Europe, the United States or Asia. Every manufacturer tested their products exhaustively in order to make sure the safety of the pilots. The development of paragliders in the USA had been restricted for a long time to three manufacturers.

Although their paragliding equipment was very stable and safe, they didn’t have the efficiency of the European designs. There were some totally new designs which incorporated wings. They appeared by the early 1990s.

The production was concentrated on paragliders with stable handling features. This way, they were suitable for all the flying population. According to their usage, the wings became classified into three different groups.

There were different wings and canopies designed and thought for student pilots (who are taking their paragliding lessons), intermediate pilots and finally, competition pilots. Standardized procedures were established for testing and certifying paragliders in Germany and France. Currently, this standard represents the reference point for all manufacturers in the whole world.

As this aerial sport evolved, it was finally divided into two different sports: skydiving (parachuting) and paragliding, a very important fact in its history. Indeed, both sports became full circle to meet again to a modest extent in design and appearance. For instance, there are nowadays a lot of different sport-jumping canopy designs.

This time, their wings are non-porous, they have thin-profile aerofoils (which allow higher speeds), they are elliptical shaped, and they count on a greater aerodynamic efficiency and a better glide performance. This was a huge advance in paragliding history. These characteristics were especially developed for paragliders, and they are now being incorporated back into skydiving parachutes.

Naturally, even though at first glance some paragliding wings seem to be very similar to certain skydiving canopies, both structures have very divergent flight characteristics that require unique paragliding pilot techniques.

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That’s all folks! We hope that you have enjoyed our post about paragliding history and that you have learned a lot today. Remember that we invite you to live one of the best experiences of your life here with us, in Costa Adeje. We will take you to the best places to paraglide in Tenerife! What are you waiting for? Overfly Tenerife is the best choice for your holidays in the Canary Islands! Don’t hesitate to contact us, we will be waiting for you.

We want to fly with you; we want to be your wings.

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