The physiology of paragliding flight at moderate and extreme altitudes

Matt Wilkes, Martin J MacInnis, Lucy A. Hawkes, Heather Massey, Clare Eglin, Mike Tipton

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Aims - Paragliding is a form of free flight with extreme altitude paragliding an emerging discipline. We aimed to describe the physiological demands and the impact of environmental stressors of paragliding at moderate and extreme altitudes.We recorded oxygen consumption (VO2), heart rate (HR), respiratory frequency (ƒR), tidal volume (VT), oxygen saturation, accelerometry (G) and altitude in 9.3 hours of flight at moderate altitudes (to 3,073 m, n=4), 19.3 hours at extreme altitude (to 7,458 m, n=2) and during high-G manoeuvers (n=2). We also analysed heart rate data from 17 pilots (138 hours).

Results - Overall energy expenditure at moderate altitude was low (1.7 (0.6) metabolic equivalents) but physiological parameters were notably higher during take-off (p < 0.05). Pilots transiently reached ~7 G during manoeuvres. Mean HR at extreme altitude (112 (14) bpm) were elevated compared to moderate altitude (98 (15) bpm, p = 0.048). While VT were similar (p = 0.958), elevation in ƒR at extreme compared to moderate altitude approached significance (p = 0.058).

Conclusions - Physical exertion in paragliding appears low, so any subjective fatigue felt by pilots is likely to be cognitive or environmental. Future research should focus on reducing mental workload, enhancing cognitive function and improving environmental protection.
Original languageEnglish
Journal High Altitude Medicine and Biology
Early online date21 Dec 2017
Publication statusEarly online - 21 Dec 2017


  • paragliding
  • altitude
  • extreme sports
  • physiology
  • flight


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