Paraglider equipped with Exomo electric propulsion system.
Paraglider equipped with Exomo electric propulsion system.

Electrifying Paragliding

By Bill Moore

French paraglider instructor George Blottin thought there had to be a better way to fly than a noisy, unpredictable 2-stroke engine. Electric seemed the way to go, but what was available had its drawbacks, so he developed his own paraglider motor.

Arguably, it was in France that early aviation fledged its wings. Although it was the American Wright Brothers who achieved powered, heavier-than-air flight at Kittyhawk, it is French aviators who dominate the list of early pioneers of flight.

So, it shouldn't be surprising that a Frenchman would also aim to help revolutionize the sport of paragliding by coming up with a better way to motorize these slow, graceful marriages of fabric and machine. That man is George Blottin, a paraglider with more than 25 years of flight experience to his credit. Located near Montpellier, he established the Aeronature paramotoring school where he teaches the sport.

Tired of the noisy, smelly 2-strokes that many paramotor fliers use, he turned to electric, but found the solutions offered had their shortcomings. So he recruited one of the Airbus engineers working on the e-Fan electric airplane for assistance on improving the technology. The result is the Exomo propulsion system that can be retrofitted to existing frames.

The 15kW electric motor produces power equivalent to a 20-25hp gasoline engine. That's comparable to many 2-stroke and 4-stroke paraglider motors on the market. Weights are roughly the same as well. The big differences are reliability and environmental. The Exomo has a fraction of the moving parts of, say, a Polini engine and can be turned off and on with the click of a switch. And of course, there's zero hydrocarbon pollution and less noise and vibration.

As with anyone asking about an electric car or electric bike, for that matter, the two questions of "how far" and "how fast" also come up. According to Blottin, most paragliding sessions last less than an hour, so having a battery that offers 45-60 minutes of flight time is sufficient. Exomo offers two packs: a 17Ah lith-ion battery good for about 45-minutes of continuous flying, and a slightly larger pack good for about 60-minutes of flight time. Equipped with the Exomo engine and battery pack, a pilot could fly in a straight line about 40 km in a hour or some 25 miles, so 'top speed' is about 25 mph, just slightly faster than someone riding a bicycle. But the view is incredible!

As with anything having to do with flight, the sport's not cheap. There's the parawing, the connecting and controlling shrouds, the seat and harness. Then there's the propulsion system itself: protective prop frame, propellor, motor, controller, charger, battery, etc. Blottin can sell a complete system, parawing and all for €15,000 ($16,885US). The 45Ah kit runs €10,000, while the 73Ah kit system is an extra €2,000.

If you watch any of the training videos on Youtube you see that learning to flying a paraglider isn't easy. Like flying a airplane it takes lots of practice, at least 20 hours instruction and practice to gain proficiency. Still, it could be the closest thing to man sprouting wings as evolution will ever let us have.

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Originally published: 14 Jun 2016


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