What are the limitations of our so far work?

The portable lab: Dr Matt Wilkes calibrating the Metamax
The challenges of field work: Dr Matt Wilkes calibrating the Metamax on the hill, prior to a test flight in Chabre, France.

In Phase I, we showed that pilots had strikingly high heart rates on take off but that otherwise, paragliding was much more about mental rather than physical fitness, though G forces could be high enough to cause loss consciousness and our breathing patterns remain incompletely understood.

Many of these findings were quite obvious: take-off is stressful, paragliding isn’t a primarily physical sport, oxygen systems have a way to go and spiral dives can render us unconscious. We knew most of these things intuitively before we started. However, our aim in the first phase was to start quantifying these different elements of flight. We wanted to know how stressful, how physical, where the limits and tolerances lay. That way, we could start chasing down ways to make our sport safer.

Like every scientific study, our Phase I work had limitations. The most important was that we only studied a small number of pilots, making generalisations difficult. We were limited by the complexity of the measurements, time and funding. Because we could only study a few pilots we just looked at men, to try to reduce variation in our sample as much as possible. However, we would be much happier to study female and male pilots in future, reflecting the mixed gender nature of our sport. We also didn’t include any beginner pilots but we had to be sure that of all our measurement equipment could be used safely by experienced pilots first.

As ever though, we welcome any feedback on our work.