The Physiology of Paragliding Flight at Moderate and Extreme Altitudes

High Alt Med Biol. 2018 Mar;19(1):42-51. doi: 10.1089/ham.2017.0127. Epub 2017 Dec 21.


Wilkes, Matt, Martin J. MacInnis, Lucy A. Hawkes, Heather Massey, Clare Eglin, and Michael J. Tipton. The physiology of paragliding flight at moderate and extreme altitudes. High Alt Med Biol 19:42-51, 2018.-Paragliding is a form of free flight, with extreme-altitude paragliding being 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 (fR), tidal volume (VT), oxygen saturation, accelerometry (G), and altitude in 9.3 hours of flight at moderate altitudes (to 3073 m, n = 4), 19.3 hours at extreme altitude (to 7458 m, n = 2), and during high-G maneuvers (n = 2). We also analyzed HR data from an additional 17 pilots (138 hours) using the Flymaster Live database to corroborate our findings. All pilots were male. Overall energy expenditure at moderate altitude was low [1.7 (0.6) metabolic equivalents], but physiological parameters were notably higher during takeoff (p < 0.05). Pilots transiently reached ∼7 G during maneuvers. Mean HR at extreme altitude [112 (14) bpm] was elevated compared to moderate altitude [98 (15) bpm, p = 0.048]. Differences in pilots' VT and fR at moderate and extreme altitudes were not statistically significant (p = 0.96 and p = 0.058, respectively). Thus, we conclude that physical exertion in paragliding is low, suggesting that 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.

Keywords: altitude; extreme sports; flight; paragliding; physiology.

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aerospace Medicine
  • Aircraft
  • Altitude*
  • Cognition
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Gravitation
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Tidal Volume
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen