We will talk about what is paragliding, how a paraglider works, and where paraglider pilots fly. We will also look at the most remarkable flights in the history of Kilimanjaro – in the early times when it was illegal, and more recently when paragliding flights were authorized by the national park. How to fly on a paraglider today, how much it costs, how paragliding is organized on Kilimanjaro – you will find all the information here from a top-ranked Tanzanian operator Let’s view Tanzania.
If you already have paragliding experience and are interested in practical questions such as how to fly on Kilimanjaro, what are the costs, and other logistics.
What is paragliding?
Paragliding is a spectacular extreme sport in which pilots soar through the air on paragliders. A paraglider is a soft banana-shaped wing that is controlled by a system of slings. The pilot sits in a harness or reclines in a seat underneath the wing, with a reserve parachute behind his back. There are no motors and rigid elements in this construction – the flight is performed by gliding in the air. It is similar to how many many birds and even some insects fly.
Typically, a flight lasts 1-2 hours and covers several tens of kilometers. However, longer flights are also possible. Outstanding pilots who mastered the skills of orientation in the air streams and can fully exploit the lift are able to fly over hundreds of kilometers. The record is considered to be the distance of 609.9 km (378.9 mi), while the longest flight in terms of time exceeded 30 hours!
How do paragliders fly?
Paraglider pilots need ascending air currents in order to fly. Otherwise, they would be falling down under the pressure of their own weight. There are two types of such air currents (also called lift): dynamic and thermal. Horizontal currents create what is called dynamic lift. Such currents are formed after the wind hits an obstacle like a hill or a mountain and is forced up to overcome the obstacle. With dynamic lift, you can start the flight but it’s difficult to fly very far only relying on this type of air current because it can’t keep the paraglider and the pilot consistently aloft.
Much more interesting are the vertical streams of air that move upwards from the surface of the earth. Such air currents produce thermal lift. It was after these currents were mastered that a real paragliding boom began in the world, marked by a mass interest in aerial planning and a continuous improvement of paraglider design.
When the sun warms the earth, so-called thermic air currents rise from it and produce thermal lift. These currents are large rings of air, similar to the rings of smoke that can be made when smoking. Such a ring is in motion and constantly curls upward through its own center as if turning inside out. These rings, ascending one after another, create rising poles that are used by large birds who are not able to fly just by constantly flapping their wings. Paraglider pilots employ these poles or thermal lift since they, unlike motor-glider pilots, do not have any propulsion systems.
The task of a paraglider pilot is to catch rising air currents and climb them to a higher altitude. And then, slowly descending, look for the next “air column”. It’s possible to start directly from the ground or from the water using a car or a boat respectively. But in order to avoid using any vehicles, and start directly from their feet, pilots often climb to high objects and launch the glider from that height, gradually descending until landing in a flat open space.
Where can you fly on a paraglider?
Interestingly, in urbanized areas ascending streams form above power plants, factory pipes, and gas pipeline stations. In order to take advantage of them, birds can even change their usual routes, laying new ones from one compressor station to another.
In the natural environment, the strongest thermal streams form where the ground surface is warmest: on hillsides, rock surfaces, rock placers, on the sand, and on other dry open surfaces. Hills and mountains are convenient starting points for a paragliding flight. In Africa, the continent’s main mountain peak – the beautiful Kilimanjaro with its snowy cap, is a great place for paragliding.
Paraglider pilots depend entirely on weather conditions: wind strength and direction, humidity and precipitation, visibility, and other meteorological factors. Flights take place in the dry season with its calm weather, over open and well-warmed surfaces, often in the morning or evening hours, when the wind is not strong and the sun’s heat is enough to create upward currents in the atmosphere.
Kilimanjaro wins over many other paragliding sites in the world. The unique mountain stands near the equator, which means that the weather conditions here are stable throughout the year. In addition, Kilimanjaro is the highest free-standing peak on the planet. So after the pilot takes off from here, there are no obstacles on the path. The altitude of the best Kilimanjaro launch site, Stella Point, is 5756 meters (18,885 feet). This allows the pilot to catch a good dynamic lift and glide all the way to the landing site. It takes about an hour and a half.
The history of paragliding on Kilimanjaro
The entire history of flying on the paraglider wing from Kilimanjaro can be divided into two parts: before it was officially allowed by the authorities of the National Park where the “roof of Africa” is located and after the beginning of cooperation with the authorities. The threshold is September 2011, when the first officially approved flight took place. Before 2011 there were a few isolated cases of paraglider pilots daring to fly from Kilimanjaro, and not all of them are known. However, after 2011 the flights became much more frequent and there were even large groups flying together.
Who were the pioneers?
The first pilot who descended from Kilimanjaro on a glider was Rudi Kischasi. He flew down the mountain in the 1970s Little is known about that flight, except that it was successful. But some time later, an attempt to repeat the success of the pioneer ended in a tragedy. Several months after the attempted flight of another German pilot whose name remains unknown, his body was found on a tree. It was still in the “wild 1970s” when Kilimanjaro as a national park was just being established.
If you flip through an old British magazine “Wings!” published by the British Hang Gliding Association (the word “paragliding” did not exist then), you will find other mentions of flying from Kilimanjaro. For example, in the April and May issues of 1979, there is a fascinating report by Ashley Doubtfire about how he and two other pilots made a successful flight from the top of Kilimanjaro in January ’79.
Judging from the expedition plan, the pilots stayed at one of Kilimanjaro’s oldest hotels, the Kibo Hotel near Moshi. From there they hiked to the volcano along the Marangu route, ascended the second peak, Mawenzi, and then went to the main summit, Kibo.
There were seven pilots in the team, but only three managed to take off successfully and land at the foot of the mountain. Simon Keeling landed somewhere northwest of Moshi town, Dave Kirke managed to land in the middle of a coffee plantation, and Ashley Doubtfire himself finished in Moshi, where he was immediately surrounded by a crowd of surprised locals. When asked by the approached policeman, “Where are you from?” Ashley replied, “From the top of Kilimanjaro.” This was enough to stop the policeman from asking for the pilot’s documents. By the way, the hang glider pilots got to Tanzania through the border with Kenya, knowing full well that hang gliding on Kilimanjaro was forbidden, which meant that if they flew into the country directly, they could end up in trouble.
Requirements for pilots on Kilimanjaro
The Tanzanian National Park Authority has developed a manual for paraglider pilots, which contains a strict list of requirements and rules. The first important rule is that the flights are limited to certain sites with suitable conditions for take off and landing. Here we have to remember that a considerable part of the flight takes place above a dense tropical forest. The flight altitude is limited to 6,000 meters above the ground.
The entire flight, from launch to landing, must follow the flight plan. Improvisation is not just considered dangerous and irresponsible behavior that can lead to trouble – it is forbidden. Acrobatic maneuvers are prohibited here by the national park regulations. We don’t think anyone would want to risk doing somersaults in the air while soaring over the remote high-altitude wilderness.
Pilots must of course have a valid license for paragliding, proven experience, and good knowledge of paragliding at high altitudes – the launch site is at 5756 meters. Moreover, you must have at least five years of flying experience. Kilimanjaro National Park guidelines recommend a minimum of 200 registered flights and cross-country paragliding experience. For everyone else who wants to fly Kilimanjaro, but does not yet meet these requirements, we recommend being patient and continuing to gain experience in flying a paraglider.
Mistakes should never be made. In 2019 there was an accident on Kilimanjaro – an experienced pilot-instructor from Canada made a technical mistake and crashed. As he took off, he made incorrect and dangerous movements, which led to a total loss of control of the paraglider and, eventually, to his death. The altitude does not forgive such rough mistakes.
In order to fly on Kilimanjaro, it’s necessary to be able to interpret reports of meteorological services and weather forecasts because the weather is a key factor for any safe paragliding flight. Of course, in unsafe weather conditions, flying is prohibited. These include high winds, dense cloud cover, rain, and other such factors that do not conform to Visual Flight Rules.
Paragliding in clear weather
It is obligatory to have all necessary safety equipment for paragliding: a GPS tracker, reliable gadgets for communication, a helmet, a reserve parachute, and a first aid kit. Each pilot must have medical insurance.
As far as basic equipment is concerned, for flights on Kilimanjaro we recommend paragliders of the class B (performance). Class C (competition) wings are not recommended here, because it is dangerous to use them in this area. Conservative gliders of the class A (standard) are also not quite suitable in Kilimanjaro National Park due to their limited maneuverability.
An important condition for a successful flight is that the pilot must be familiar not only with the launch site but also with the landing place. When you know what awaits you on the final stretch, how it looks, and where it is, you would feel much more relaxed.
Of course, there are also special rules that apply to everyone who visits the National Park. The rules are related to behavior in the protected natural areas, possible interaction with animals, and things like that. All the rules of the national park are usually explained at the pre-flight briefing.
How much does paragliding on Kilimanjaro cost?
The cost of organizing a paragliding flight expedition on Kilimanjaro is calculated by summing the different areas of expenses that go into it. Most of the expenses go to the organization of the ascent itself. The other part is payment for the permits and logistical costs of obtaining them since the issuing organizations are located in different cities: Moshi, Arusha, and Dar es Salaam.
Let’s see what the cost of a flight expedition is made up of in more detail. The cost of the expedition on the Lemosho route is the main item of expenditure. You can influence it by changing conditions and preferences: for example, a premium expedition will cost more than a classic one, and an expedition for two or more pilots will be less expensive per person.
Then, a permit for paragliding from the Kilimanjaro National Park Authority, KINAPA, costs $500.