I went paragliding today and it was probably the coolest thing I've ever done! I am lucky to have finished my doodle before midnight because soaring on the wind was way more important at the time than getting home to paint! So of course I wanted to find out who is the person behind this beautiful sport!
American pilot David Barish created one of the first airfoils that helped jump-start the evolution of modern paragliding. After the end of WWII, Barish left the Air Force to study aerodynamics at the California Institute of Technology, then became a consultant for NASA. In 1955, he designed the Vortex Ring, a lighter, more stable parachute with improved gliding capabilities. Then, in the early 1960s, he built on his previous work to design a parachute, called the Sailwing, to aid in the return of NASA space capsules to Earth.
Barish first flew his Sailwing (a single-surface, rectangular parachute) in 1965 from a ski resort in New York. He called the activity “slope soaring,” and in the summer of 1966 he toured ski resorts all the way to California to try to popularize the ground-skimming hobby. After NASA decided on other methods to recover the space capsule, Barish largely shifted his focus to other projects.
Around the same time, others were also furthering parachute designs. In 1964, American Domina Jalbert patented the Parafoil, a multi-celled, double-surface, ram-air type parachute. The design used the motion of air blowing through the cells to inflate the parachute, giving it an airfoil shape that allowed it to glide.
The sport of paragliding finally took off in 1978. On June 25, skydivers Jean-Claude Bétemps and André Bohn decided to try to get aloft by launching from the steep slope of Mont Pertuiset in Mieussy, France. Bétemps took off first, and they both glided to the valley below. Their flights gained attention from the media, attracting others to the sport, and Bétemps became known by many as the inventor of paragliding.
The sport grew rapidly after this flight. The first paragliding school was founded in 1979, with Bétemps serving as an instructor. In 1985, Laurent de Kalbermatten began manufacturing and selling the first wing intended specifically for paragliding, and other companies soon followed. Paragliding began spreading to the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1980s and continued to grow during the 1990s.
New paraglider pilots quickly started competing. The first Paragliding World Championships were held in Austria in 1989. The same year, Hans Jörg Bachmair set the first straight distance world record of 69.15 km that was recorded by the World Air Sports Federation (FAI). It was broken by two other pilots by the end of that year, then jumped to nearly 150 km by December 1990. Records for straight distance flown on a paraglider continued to increase, breaking 400 km in 2007. The current straight distance record of 564.3 km (350 miles) was set on October 13, 2016 by Donizete Baldessar Lemos, Rafael Monteiro Saladini, and Samuel Nascimento.