Expect the Unexpected
Eventually every pilot will experience problems in flight – this is a normal part of your progression: flying at different sites, flying in more advanced conditions, developing more advanced skills, and building a better understanding of the behavior of the paraglider. It is very important to be aware of things that can possibly go wrong and be as prepared as possible for unexpected events during any flight.
One of the most important ways to ensure a smart and healthy skill progression as a new pilot is to participate (or have a plan to participate) in an SIV course or Maneuvers clinic sooner than later. An SIV is an abbreviation for the French term: Simulation d’Incedent en Vol – translation: simulated incidents/problems in flight. A typical SIV Course is offered either by boat tow or at a mountain site within easy glide of a body of water. Training above water provides an added layer of safety for the possibility of landing under reserve.
Maneuvers courses and Advanced Maneuvers courses are also usually conducted at a site over water and run by highly skilled instructors who talk participants through the process of simulating a variety of malfunctions and problems you might encounter while flying.
There is nothing better for your skills and confidence as a pilot than participating in an SIV Clinic or a maneuvers course with a recommended instructor.
The situations and terms discussed in this chapter are meant to be informational only. DO NOT attempt any maneuvers described in the following sections without proper supervision by a qualified instructor on radio and over water.
Prior to Flight
The conditions you choose to fly in should reflect your level of skill and experience. Look at the reported and actual conditions and make your decision to fly based on what you know and how comfortable you feel. If flying a new site, get a site orientation if someone is available to give one. If not, plan to spend some time observing the site and the weather dynamics of the area. Most pilots are more than happy to give a site orientation, especially if it means keeping you safe and following site protocols, which reduces the risk of having the site shutdown.
Once you have decided the weather and site look suitable, it is time to get your gear ready. You should be intimately familiar with your equipment and know if anything needs to be repaired or adjusted. When it comes time to hook in, you should have 100% confidence that your equipment is in tip-top shape and ready for whatever type of flying you plan to do. You may want to spend some time laying your gear out and giving it a quick inspection while monitoring the conditions. This will give you some time to relax, focus, and get a feel for what the weather on launch is doing.
The final thing to check before flying is yourself. Make sure your mind is in the right place for the task, and that you’re not distracted by personal issues. Flying will require all of your attention, you could compromise your safety, and you won’t enjoy it as much if you are mentally distracted. And lastly, make sure you are flying for the right reasons. Ask you instructor more about this if you aren’t sure what the “right reasons” are.
The first time you experience turbulence it will feel a little disconcerting. Just remember your surge and roll control and carry a little extra pressure on the control toggles, but be aware of the angle of attack of your glider. This will help you feel your glider, and help you prevent deflations.
The more you fly, the higher your ‘bump tolerance’ or comfort in turbulence will be. You will eventually become accustomed to it, and will know when it is too rough. If the conditions appear to be very unstable, you should expect a lot of turbulence and should strongly consider whether you should fly at all.
Big ears will be the first rapid decent technique you will become familiar with. It is easy to perform, stable, and gives you a moderately increased descent rate by reducing the surface area and effective lift. You accomplish this by folding both wing-tips in. While the big ears are in, the glider will have a higher “wing loading” and thus more resistant to deflations in turbulence.
To initiate Big Ears, you need to identify the outside A-lines of your glider. Take your brake line wrap out and reach up above the riser as high as possible. Grab hold of the outside A-lines on both sides and pull these out and down one at a time until your wing-tips fold under. Look up to confirm that you are pulling the tips in far enough, and if necessary, slide your hands up further and pull again. You should notice an increased descent rate. While holding big-ears, you can initiate turns using weight-shift. Turns with big-ears can develop a high bank angle that will further increase your rate of descent. Continue to hold this configuration until you reach your desired altitude.
Release your hold on the lines quickly and evenly, the tips will pop out. You can then retake your wrap. If the wing-tips don’t come out spontaneously, give your brake lines a quick pump. One danger of big ears is that you are effectively giving up your ability to actively pilot your glider, prevent surges, etc. At altitude, this isn’t a major concern, as the glider is more stable and any surges would cause the glider to dive and lose altitude. Keep in mind that your maneuverability is very limited.
Some instructors are hesitant to have students perform big-ears and believe they should not be used low to the ground or in severe turbulence. If not explained clearly, there is a risk of accidentally pulling the wrong line or pulling the whole A riser down causing a symmetric deflation.
However, sometimes big ears are the best way to increase your decent rate when on a final landing approach. If you are clearly going to overshoot your landing, pulling big ears for a few critical moments can save you from landing in an unsafe or undesirable location.
Symmetric and Asymmetric Folds/Collapses/Deflations
These kinds of collapses/deflations occur when the leading edge or part of it, has too low an angle of attack and is pushed down or you fly through an area of turbulence. Collapses and deflations are something you will experience if you fly paragliders for any length of time, and usually happen so fast that they are completely recovered by the time you figure out what has occurred. If the whole leading edge of your glider deflates, you would describe it as a symmetric tuck or full frontal deflation. We describe asymmetric folds in terms of the percentage of the wing that deflates. If a small part of the right side of your glider deflated, you would describe it as a 20% to 30% right asymmetric. These terms are more descriptive than the word collapse, and help others visualize and evaluate what actually happened to the glider.
New pilots tend to spend a lot of time worrying about deflations when they have no need to be. As a new pilot you should be flying in mild conditions that have a low probability of causing any deflations, however, if you find yourself in unforeseen active conditions, remember that being an active pilot and maintaining horizon reference will greatly reduce your chances of having a deflation, and help correct them when they do occur.
If the asymmetric deflation is large enough, it will alter your course. Using opposite weight-shift and opposite brake will help you maintain your heading and re-inflate the wing. Use mostly weight-shift and only as much opposite brake as you need to control your heading. If you have 1,000+ ft of altitude and the asymmetric turns you 180°, it may be a faster recovery to allow the turn and use the speed and energy of the glider turning to re-pressurize the wing. Too much brake or weight-shift can lead to problems much worse than the asymmetric, use only enough to maintain a safe heading. Be aware that when a glider experiences an asymmetric deflation, its surface area is reduced and your stall speed increases. This means that it will require less brake to stall the remaining portion of the glider. It is very important to apply only enough brake to keep your heading.
If the tuck is symmetric, you will likely feel the loss of pressure along the leading edge of your glider and in the brakes. The glider will slow down due to an increase in drag, and you may notice an increase in your sink rate. The good news is that symmetric deflations are self-correcting. When the glider slows down, the weight of the pilot continues forward, increasing the angle of attack which re-opens the wing. The glider will surge in order to resume normal airflow. Allow this to happen, only checking the dive if necessary. DO NOT add brake input when the glider is behind you or you might stall it.
Most importantly, do not overreact. If you are unsure of what to do, do nothing and let the glider sort itself out. You can make the problem worse by giving the glider the wrong input at the wrong time.
- Asymmetric Deflation/Collapse
- Cause: Too low an angle of attack on one side of the glider
- Recovery: Opposite weight shift and brake input to maintain heading
- Dangers: Over controlling the flying side may cause a full stall
- Symmetric Deflations/Collapse
- Cause: Too low an angle of attack on the middle or entire glider
- Recovery: Release brakes and wait for glider to surge
- Dangers: Applying brake pressure while the glider is behind you will cause full stall or prevent it from regaining necessary airspeed.
Stalls and Spins
Stalls and spins are situations that result from too high an angle of attack. These can be pilot and/or atmospherically induced (very rare). The most likely scenario is an atmospherically increased angle of attack aggravated by over-controlling by the pilot and exceeding the maximum angle of attack. There is NO WARNING prior to a stall or spin, so your clue should be the position of your hands. If you find yourself flying deep in the brakes, ease up slowly, and let the glider regain air speed.
A spin occurs when one side of the glider is stalled, and the other side accelerates around it, producing a negative rotation of the glider. A spin usually happens when flying the glider slow and then trying to turn the glider quickly, or when applying too much brake on the inside of a turn. A spin produces a negative rotation and should not be confused with a large asymmetric which will rotate positively towards the deflation. When a glider spins, you will feel as if you are rotating in an office chair. Immediately bring your hands back to the neutral position (trim) and let the glider dive to regain airspeed, checking the surge if necessary. Recovery from a spin, HANDS UP to shoulder level, and be ready to check the surge. By raising your hands to shoulder level rather than the pulleys you’ll be able to react faster to the surge.
Recovery from a stall can require a lot of altitude, and theories for the best way to recover change periodically. As a novice pilot, you should understand why a stall occurs and how to avoid it. Stay out of conditions that are above your skill level, have correct surge control, don’t fly deep in the brakes, and don’t over react to situations.
Again: the best way to experience these maneuvers safely is to take a maneuvers clinic or an SIV course when you are ready. A stall is one of only two maneuvers where releasing pressure on the brakes, and letting the glider recover on its own, can be dangerous. The other maneuver is a stable spiral and will be covered in a section later in this lesson.
- Cause: Too high an angle of attack, lack of airspeed, or too deep in the brakes
- Recovery: Consult an instructor experienced with coaching full stalls.
- Dangers: Releasing the brakes when the glider is behind you will result in a violent surge.
- Cause: Too high an angle of attack on one side of the glider, lack of airspeed, or too deep in one or both brakes, or one side of the glider is accidentally stalled.
- Recovery: Release brakes to unstall the stalled side and dampen the surge when the glider regains airspeed.
- Dangers: Stalling the flying side by applying too much brake or raining to release the stalled side – which will induce a full stall.
A Cravat (French for “necktie”) results from having the wing-tip of your glider drop down and get caught in the lines, resembling a poorly knotted tie. The wing-tip is then trapped in an asymmetric tuck, which, if unfixed, can turn the glider, possibly leading to a spiral dive. In the early stage, this configuration can be corrected by controlling your heading with weight-shift and opposite brake and then pulling the stabilo line that attaches to your wing-tip. The stabilo line is usually the outermost B line that connects to your wing-tip and is usually a different color for easy identification during flight. Pulling the stabilo line on the cravatted side will usually pull the wing-tip out. If allowed to go uncorrected ,a cravat can lead to a steep spiral dive. If this occurs, you can still try to slow the rate of turn and get the wing-tip released. However, if you cannot do this before the spiral dive accelerates, or your altitude is low, you should throw your reserve.
- Causes: Large, messy asymmetric wing tip deflations while thermal flying or performing wingovers.
- Recovery: Maintain heading with opposite weight shift and minimal braking. Reel in stabilo line until Cravat releases – sometimes this will require several tugs or quick pulls.
- Dangers: Large Cravats may cascade quickly into a steep uncontrollable spiral dive.
The B-line stall is a rapid decent maneuver that works well for altitudes over a few thousand feet. Some instructors may not go into detail about this tactic because recent changes in glider design are making the B-line stall unnecessary and potentially more dangerous.
By creasing the glider lengthwise using the B-risers, you can have a stable, vertical descent rate up to 1600 feet per minute (fpm). It requires some upper body strength to initiate and maintain but is not technically demanding. However, you are ‘stalling’ the paraglider so performing a B-line stall should not be taken lightly. The first step to doing a B-line stall is done in anticipation of what can go wrong. When releasing the B-line stall, it is possible that it won’t start flying again, or enter a ‘deep stall’. To correct this, the angle of attack needs to be lowered, and is best accomplished using the speed system. Thus, the first step when performing a B-line stall is to have your speed bar ready. The next step is to locate your B-risers; double check to confirm this as pulling the c-risers can full stall the glider behind you. You should firmly grip the B-risers at the metal link. Pull the B-risers down evenly until you see and feel the glider crease. It may be necessary to initiate the pull on the B-risers quickly and aggressively in order to induce the b-line stall. Once initiated, the glider will stop its forward motion causing you to briefly swing out in front of the glider. Never release the risers when the glider is behind you, as it can surge dramatically when it begins flying again.
When you reach the desired altitude, above 800 ft is recommended, quickly and evenly raise your hands while releasing the risers. The glider should dive slightly to regain airspeed, allow this to happen. If you are not certain the glider has regained normal flight, then give the speed bar a push to regain normal airflow. If you didn’t have the speed bar on your feet already, don’t reach down for it if you suspect a deep stall, or you could load one side of the glider and cause a spin. Instead, you can ‘tweak the A’s’, another way to lower the angle of attack. This requires grabbing the A risers just below the metal link with your palms forward and pinky fingers up. Rotate your pinky fingers forward to pull the A’s slightly down. The glider should begin flying immediately.
- Entry: Pull B-risers down quickly to chest level.
- Exit: Release B-risers quickly and wait for slight surge.
- Dangers: Releasing B-risers while glider is behind you (during entry) will cause a large surge. Releasing B-risers too slowly will cause a deep stall.
A spiral dive allows for a very rapid controlled descent. Using a steep continual 360° turn you can achieve descent rates of 1600-2000 fpm, with up to 4000 fpm possible. To begin, a pilot applies weight shift and brake input in the desired turn direction and gradually increases the control pressure, keeping pressure on the outside wing as in any turn. After a few rotations, you should start to feel the G-forces press you into your harness. You can maintain the dive at this point by holding the brake input, or you can exit.
To exit a spiral dive, ease up on the inside control and start to lean out of the turn. The glider will start to decelerate and will want to climb up to expend the excess speed. You can avoid this climb and have a smoother transition back to level flight, if you continue another turn as soon as you start to decelerate. This takes a little practice to perfect but shows control and understanding of the energy in your glider. It’s important to have a few thousand feet to experiment with spiral dives. A maneuvers clinic is the best choice, but you can learn them on your own, or with instructor supervision.
The risk involved with spiral dives is unintentionally entering a stable spiral, where centrifugal force exceeds the force of gravity. Prior to this happening, if you were to let up on the controls, gravity would pull you back under the glider, and you would resume level flight. In a stable spiral, centrifugal force takes over, and releasing the controls allows the glider to go faster toward the ground. A stable spiral can take a lot of altitude and aggressive control input, possibly a full flare, to slow down enough for gravity to pull you back underneath the glider. At this extreme descent rate, you may not have enough altitude to recover in time and will have to throw your reserve. You may also experience dizziness or loss of blood to your brain in a stable spiral. Stable spirals should not be attempted without instructor supervision.
- Entry: Weight shift and brake input in direction of desired turn.
- Exit: Release inside brake and cease weight-shifting.
- Dangers: In wind you may find yourself drifting downwind toward obstacles. In steeper spirals you may become dizzy and disorient- ed. In stable spirals releasing brake input will not exit. You may become dizzy, disoriented, and eventually black out.
Asymmetric Spiral Dive
An alternative to the standard spiral dive is the Asymmetric Spiral. The asymmetric spiral requires supervised practice, but is considered by some to be a safer alternative to the standard spiral dive. An asymmetric spiral utilizes a series of brake and release inputs that results in a rapid descent without running the risk of entering a stable spiral dive. Supervision at a maneuvers clinic is strongly recommended for learning this or any rapid descent method.
- Entry: Enter spiral, then exit, and repeat for practice.
- Exit: Remain in exited stage of asymmetric spiral.
Wingovers, while they look like a series of simple and alternating turns, are an advanced maneuver and should only be attempted after proper instruction. It is very easy to build up an enormous amount of energy very quickly, and if your timing is incorrect can result in massive asymmetric deflations, cravats, deep spirals, riser twists, or launching into your glider and becoming enveloped by it – or “gift-wrapped” (very bad).
- Entry: Alternating turns with brake and weight shift.
- Exit: Cease brake and weight shift input.
- Dangers: Being pitched over your wing and having the lines go slack resulting in large asymmetric deflation and often cravats and spirals.
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