Is it possible to launch and fly a paraglider from the top of the world?

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Yes!

In 1988 an incredible man called Jean Marc Bovin made the first solo paragliding flight from the top of Mount Everest.

…After an hour and a half preparation, Frenchman Jean-Marc Boivin launched a paraglider on 26 September from near the summit in a gusty 40 km/h wind to make the  “First paraglider flight from the top of the Everest”.  His flight down to camp II at 19,400 ft took just 11 minutes…

And in 2001 French couple Zeb Roche Betrand and his wife Claire Bernier Roche launched a tandem paraglider from the Summit of Everest on 21 May.

…They were extraordinarily lucky with the weather, when they arrived at the summit: “It was 8am. The view was breathtaking. Not a cloud, the wind was between 30 to 40 km/h.”

Having taken some summit photos We found a take-of spot 10 meters below the summit. We took off our oxygen masks and prepared the sail. These tasks which were so easy below were very trying up there.  It took an hour to get ready.  Then, sat one on top of the other, on the edge of the mountain, Zeb put the sail up and very quickly the wind took us to that mythical place. For a few minutes, we were birds. We got a brief glimpse of the West Face and then we headed off north, in the direction of the Chinese Base Camp.  We saw the whole route up, paragliding is magical and effortless!  The countryside flashed by. The conditions weren’t as calm as they seemed, the west wind changed our flight path.  Above the North Col, the sail started to flap violently, reminding Zeb of competition flights. We were distancing ourselves from anything which could cause turbulence.  At 10:22 AM we set down gently on the Rongbuk glacier, just above 6400 meters.”…

There is no doubt about the fact that I will have to be very lucky with the weather, if I’m successful in summiting, in order to even attempt to fly from the top.  However, it is good to know that it’s possible!

Lots of people have been asking about the thin air at the top and how this will effect the glider, so here’s a simple bit of physics that is basically correct for the heights we are talking about with Everest.

The glide angle of the paraglider is the same up high as it would be at sea level.  Vertical speed and forward speed increase by the same amount.  For example if the glide angle at sea level is 7:1 then it will still be 7:1 on the top of Everest.  The differnce is the air will be thinner so I will fall faster but I will also therefore fly forward faster.

About to go flying in my RAB expedition down suit!

As part of my paragliding training I have been doing lots of flights and just a few days ago I did a flight in my RAB expedition down suit!  This is what I will be wearing on Everest, it’s a huge down suit that will keep me warm and cosy up high.  It’s very important from a practical point of view that all my kit works together and that I can fit comfortably into my Ozone Oxygen light weight harness and fly my paraglider with my expedition suit on.  So despite looking absolutely ridiculous (and a little over dressed!) I took the cable car to the top of the slopes in Courcheval the to the take off point and tested the kit….

Checking the lines before take off

I got rather hot preparing to take off, but I was delighted with how well the harness fitted despite the hugeness of the down suit.  Taking off was no problem, I was able to run and move as I would normally so that was great…. and the final bonus was just how toasty warm and comforatble I was when I was flying!  It was like going flying in a double goose down duvet – it was bliss.  I would recommend a RAB expedition down suit to all paraglider pilots (that is if they don’t mind looking really fat and ridiculous!).

First flight in RAB expedition down suit!