Ground Handling and Kiting
The most important part of your first week of training is learning how to control the glider on the ground.
YOU WILL NOT FLY SOLO until you demonstrate basic ground handling/kiting skills. Most schools have a program for progressing from forward kiting and practicing forward launches to reverse inflations and active control of the glider. The sooner you “get it” and learn how to feel the glider and respond with the proper inputs, the sooner you will leave the ground.
Ground handling – also called kiting – will allow you to develop an intuitive understanding of the glider. In the air, gravity and your weight do most of the work for you. Controlling the glider while on the ground is important to develop a feel of what is necessary and appropriate to keep the glider centered overhead. The consequences of not keeping the glider under control while ground handling are much less severe than during flight. Practicing your ground handling will help you feel where the glider is without having to look at it – this is developing your sense of active piloting. When you have a better “feel” for the glider, you can anticipate what it is going to do and make an input before the glider gets too far off center.
These skills translate directly to launching and landing and will make you a better pilot. It is easy to only want to fly once you get your rating but practicing ground handling is essential for a long and safe flying career. Your ability to control the glider in a variety of conditions and situations will add to your range of appropriate launching and flying conditions as well as increase your comfort level.
If you are having trouble getting a sense of control with the glider, ask about starting with a smaller size wing. Some schools and instructors have small wings or “mini-wings” for this specific reason. The smaller gliders are less likely to drag you around and give you a chance to start picking up the muscle memory and reactions you will need to successfully handle a full size glider.
Check out this ground handling practice website:
This is a great resource – there are lots of awesome kiting drills to help build your skills!
Also check out this video by an instructor in Australia – it is a great 10 minute intro to good ground handling skills.
Familiarize yourself with the parts of the paraglider. Take time to visually inspect any glider you plan on flying. What does the fabric feel like? Does it have that “still crispy” sound? Are there any visible signs of wear on the lines or risers? You are trusting your life with this piece of gear, don’t be afraid to get up close and personal with it.
- Leading Edge, Trailing Edge – front and rear edges of the glider
- Risers – the heavy nylon webbing that connects glider to harness with carabiners
- A, B, and C Risers & Brake lines – each set of lines is connected to the quick links on the upper end of the risers
- Cell Openings – the gap in fabric at the leading edge of the glider
- Cascades – the points along each set of lines where they split
- Wing Loading – your weight and where it falls in the recommended weight range for that specific glider.
- Big Ears line – the outermost A line that is isolated on most gliders and both sides are pulled to create “Big Ears”
- Stabilo line – usually the outermost B line (sometimes outermost C) that is usually a different color and connects to the outer tip of the glider.
- Chord – the width of the glider from leading edge to trailing edge (front to back)
- Span – the length of the glider from tip to tip (left to right)
This is the first piece of gear you will interact with before every flight. Being comfortable in your harness – both standing and sitting – is an important part of getting started.
There are many different harness manufacturers with lots of different styles of harness out there and most make a solid product. Some options include different types of protection like foam protection or airbag protection, some are reversible, some are lightweight. Regardless of which company’s gear you choose to buy, be sure to understand its advantages and disadvantages for the kind of flying you plan to do.
The most important parts to be aware of for training purposes are the strap/buckle system, the speed system, if there is a foot stirrup, and the location of the reserve handle. Take a close look at the harness you will be using each day (it may be different) and be sure to ask questions if anything looks out of place.
Before you take your first flight, and usually before you ever connect to a glider, you will be fitted with a harness and given an opportunity to clip it to a simulator to ensure a proper fit and function. There are many different simulator designs out there and all serve the same basic function: to simulate being connected to a paraglider in flight.
Some instructors utilize the simulator to help new students get a sense for what flying a paraglider feels like once you leave the ground. At busy sites and schools, simulators are used on a regular basis to help pilots of all levels better understand transitioning from standing to sitting, demonstrating proper body posture and weight shift, practicing reserve tosses, and fine tuning the fit of a new harness.
A paraglider is officially an aircraft and you are the pilot in command of your aircraft. It is the instructor’s responsibility to guide and advise you during the beginning phase of your paragliding training, however as the pilot in command of your aircraft you need to pay attention at all times. The entry level gliders that you will be flying during your training are very forgiving, but they are still potentially dangerous without the right focus and attention. You need to be prepared to start learning how to give the proper input at the appropriate time.
Before each flight you and your instructor will go over a flight plan and you will be in charge of making sure that plan is followed. Sometimes an instructor can make a coaching mistake in the air over the radio, but always remember that you are in control and it is your responsibility to execute the plan and land safely.
You will have a radio during your flights so the instructor can actively guide you through various procedures such as getting comfortable in the seat, making turns, and setting up for landing. These procedures can be challenging at first, so give yourself time to relax and be patient. It is easy to get frustrated with the glider, the conditions, etc… but the goal is for you to learn how to fly safely, confidently, and intelligently for many years to come. So be patient with yourself, everyone learns at their own pace and no one can learn for you.
During the early stages of the training process the inputs required to control the glider may seem counterintuitive. Your instructor is there to help guide you through developing a whole new set of instincts. Keep in mind that it is OK to feel a little apprehensive – it is completely normal. A positive attitude will help you and the instructor stay motivated and excited throughout the training process. Remember that you are outside, not working a typical job, and you are doing something that very few people in the world ever experience. Keep things in perspective and have a good time!
Be sure to log all of your flights – no matter how short they might be. Log books will help you keep track of the number of flights you have completed, the hours you have accumulated, and skills you have learned. Any log book you keep current will be useful when working toward a new rating or skill sign-off. It is up to you to keep track of all your flights, hours, and skills. If you have no record of your accomplishments you will have to do them again.
Please use the flight log tool that is provided for you on this site. With it, you can log your flights, location, instructor, and make notes on any skills or maneuvers learned and demonstrated on your flights.
If not, it is highly recommended to use some kind of a log book, a log book app, a simple notebook, note on your phone, or anything that you can keep handy or with your paraglider gear. Carry it with you any time you plan to go flying so you can make a note of your flights they happen.
Now that you have some of the basics, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start kiting a glider – so bring gloves! There are lots of different tips and tricks for developing solid ground handling skills, but all come from lots of time spent with the glider. Nothing replaces spending time kiting your glider, the best pilots in the world have the most impressive ground handling skills.
Listen to your instructor!! The sooner they see you handling the glider with confidence, the sooner they will get you in the sky.
Bring water and food! You will be outside exerting yourself, so keep that in mind when getting supplies ready for your day. Sunscreen is usually a good idea too.
- Laying out the wing
- Clipping in to the harness
- Identifying the “A” risers, rear risers, brakes
- Forward Inflations
- Reverse Inflations
- Turning to face the glider, turning to face forward
- Maintaining good control of the glider