Now that you have some of the basics, we will go into detail of the next big step for your training: flying. Your instructor will usually start with small training hill flights or multiple tandem experiences before sending you on your first solo flights.
The topics in this chapter and chapter 4 “In Flight” are the most important for a successful start to your P2 training. Be sure to read through this lesson carefully and be prepared to answer plenty of questions about anything and everything you see.
Making multiple successful flights in one session is the primary goal of every school and instructor. The more prepared you are to launch, fly, and land safely… the more flying you will do, and the sooner you will earn your P2 certification.
There is so much information about weather it can seem completely overwhelming if you are new to sports that involve being outside and dependent on weather conditions. If you have any experience sailing, surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, or any sport that involves a basic understanding of the weather, be sure to let your instructor know. They can use that to help relate the most important parts of weather for flying to your personal experience.
The weather is constantly changing throughout the day everyday. Your instructors will do their best to keep you in the safest possible conditions and will be continually assessing the weather throughout each day to ensure your safety. Their conversations about the weather may sound foreign at first, but the more you listen the more it will make sense. If you notice a change, or have any questions about the weather please mention it. Ask questions! The weather is very complex, and your questions and observations may prompt discussions that will make you more aware of it and its interaction with the landscape. We will teach an entire class on the weather to cover the basics for safe flying. Come to class with some weather information every day! That will give your instructor an opportunity to talk about what you found and what you might see during the day.
There is an entire lesson later in this course dedicated to a solid set of weather information that is crucial for all paraglider pilots to have. For now, we will stick to the basics.
The first thing every pilot does when they get to the launch site is check the wind direction. Some common questions you will hear are:
Is it blowing straight in? Is it cross? How strong is it? What is it forecasted to do?
You will want at least some wind for kiting on your first days – approximately 6-8 mph is best. It is possible to kite your glider without any wind, but you will be doing most of the work with your legs and, depending on your fitness level, you will most likely end up completely exhausted from running around trying to keep the glider flying.
Once you get your P2 rating you will be able to decide if flying in thermals is part of your goals for paragliding. For safety purposes, students in training are usually kept grounded during the most active part of the day (mid-day). Depending on where you do your training, you may get to experience thermic air before you finish your certification, but that is completely up to the discretion of the school and instructor in charge of your training.
Storms Or Fronts
Before planning to spend the day training, most schools and instructors will look at the larger weather picture to see if there are any storms or fronts forecasted to pass through the area that day. Storms and fronts can produce very unpredictable wind patterns that can quickly become dangerous for any paraglider pilot connected to a glider – both in the air and on the ground.
There are lots of places online and tons of weather apps out there – everyone has their preference for which to check and when. The important thing to know is that most are fine and its a good idea to find several that you like or your instructor or school recommend, but ultimately you never know unless you go. The forecast may say one thing, but in reality the site is experiencing a very different set of conditions.
Every site is different. It is extremely important to have an introduction to each site you visit from a local pilot or guide so you can get all the critical information about the site: the primary LZ’s, best spot to find lift, best wind directions, bad wind directions, house thermal, when its best to head to the LZ, etc.
As a P2 Pilot, nearly all flying sites will require an intro and a witnessed flight by a mentor or local guide to ensure you are competent. Don’t take offense – Every pilot that has been a P2 at one point had to go through the same scrutiny. Take advantage of the local info, sometimes the smallest tip can be the difference between a 5 minute sled ride and a long satisfying flight.
Once you have checked out your gear and hooked the risers to your harness it’s time to do your pre-flight. Just like any aircraft we need to perform a check to make sure everything is in proper order. We have a mnemonic device to help us remember each item. Your instructor(s) will be watching and asking questions to make sure that you have performed your preflight check before every flight. As soon as possible you will need to take responsibility for this. To keep from forgetting any of the items, be sure you stick to the sequence and complete the pre-flight before EVERY flight!
A common mnemonic device that some schools use is: R-1-2-3-4-S-T-A-R-V-E.
Reserve Parachute – Check the handle and pins to make sure everything is secure.
1 – Helmet Strap – Check to make sure it is securely fastened. You should never attach yourself to a glider without your helmet on.
2 – Carabiners – Check to make sure that the gates are closed and locked.
3 – Harness Buckles – Give them a tug to make sure they are securely buckled.
4 – Corners – From the two A risers and two D risers follow the lines up to the canopy to make sure they are clear and there no snags, knots, etc.
Stirrup & Speed System – Check to see that your speed system is properly attached, routed, and clear of your reserve parachute handle. If you have a foot stirrup check to see that it is clear of your speed system and will be easily accessible after launch. This usually means putting one leg through/behind the stirrup bar.
Top & Turn – Make sure the correct riser is on top for the direction you will be turning after a reverse launch.
Airspace – Check the surrounding airspace to avoid collisions during launch.
Radio – Make sure it is on the correct frequency and that you can transmit and receive.
V-shape – Check for V’s between brake lines and rear risers to avoid brake line twists.
Even pressure – Ensure the tension on A-lines are even as you prepare to inflate your glider.
This is a very important part of the training program – which is why this information is being repeated. It can hardly be stressed enough!!
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 paragliding. However, as the pilot in command of your aircraft you need to be prepared to pay attention at all times. The entry level gliders that you will be flying during your training are very forgiving, up to a point.
You need to be prepared to give the proper input at the appropriate time. You will have a radio during your flights so the instructor can talk 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 to get you flying safely and confidently 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 by the glider may seem counterintuitive. Your instructor is there to help you gain confidence and develop a new set of instincts.
No competent instructor will put you into a situation where you are dealing with more demanding conditions that you are ready for, or put you on a higher performing glider until you are ready.
Keep in mind that it is OK to feel a little apprehensive. This is normal. A positive attitude will help you and the instructor stay motivated and excited. Remember that you are outside, not working, and doing something that very few people in the world ever experience. Keep things in perspective and have a good time!
Launching (Forward & Reverse)
Depending on your school program and weather conditions, you will learn one of two methods to inflate and control your glider. The forward and reverse: both have advantages and both are necessary skills for any competent pilot, and you will be required to demonstrate both for your P2 license.
The reverse is the most common launch technique because it has some advantages over a forward launch, but some of those advantages are very situation specific. With the reverse launch you begin by facing the glider which allows you to view your glider and lines during inflation. This gives you the ability to see any snags or knots in your lines and whether or not the glider is coming up correctly.
A forward launch has its advantages over a reverse in many situations as well. It can be used in light conditions, on a shallow slope, or at high altitude. Many schools requite you learn the forward inflation and forward launch first because it simplifies the launching process and can be a valuable teaching tool for proper posture and control prior to leaving the ground. As some instructors say: “All Launches Are Forward Launches” – which is true because no matter which method you use to inflate your glider, you will only launch facing forward and in good control of your glider. It is good to develop the skills needed for checking your glider as it inflates from a forward position – like checking over your shoulder to insure the wing is in a good position, and being prepared to abort any launch at any time.
With either launch style it will be important to lay the canopy out in a clean, curved or horseshoe shape so that the center cells will inflate first. This will help the glider come up straight. Prior to each launch you will want to choose a horizon reference point to help keep you on course throughout your launch.
Check out this great short video by an instructor in Spain on good forward launch technique.
Launch sites are widely varied. Some will be open and grassy. Others may be rocky, brushy, or narrow and lined with trees. Your ground handling skills will be put to the test during any launch, but especially at sites that have more challenging aspects to them.
Things to keep in mind while assessing a launch site should be: slope angle, wind, line snag hazards, obstructions, footing, and whether it will be possible to abort a launch or not. If there are rocks and vegetation that can snag your lines, be sure you double check them before launching. If there are obstacles at or below the launch be sure you choose a path before you inflate your glider.
This is especially pertinent if you are using a reverse launch. The slope angle will have an effect on how quickly the glider will load and get you airborne. If it is very steep you will probably get off the ground quickly – should the launch not go as planned you still need to be prepared to abort, regardless of the wind or situation. Aborting launches is something every pilot will do, and not something to be ashamed of. Better to be prepared to abort and walk away. Like many pilots say:
“It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, it’s no fun being in the air wishing you were on the ground.”
If the slope is shallow and the wind is light you will have to generate enough airspeed to get airborne, and you may have to run farther than expected. The addition of an up-slope airflow will lessen the speed at which you have to run. Too much up-slope airflow will make it more difficult to manage the energy in your glider and more difficult to launch. In higher wind conditions, it may be necessary to de-energize the glider by stepping toward it and using the rear risers. It is important to assess the conditions and have an adequate technique for each launch situation. Visualize the technique and energy that will be required to get the glider overhead and smoothly transition into flight.
The torpedo position is the most common way to successfully and safely launch and drive your glider off the hill. It gives you the ability to accelerate your glider and transfer that energy into flight. The actual moment you assume the torpedo position is slightly different for reverse and forward launches.
When using a reverse inflation you will turn to face forward once the glider is under control – at that point the glider is overhead and you are facing down the slope, you will want to assume the torpedo position (chest & head forward with arms back). You should be leaning and looking forward, feet behind you, arms back and up, and driving forward with your legs. This keeps the glider “loaded” and your legs positioned to run.
When using a forward launch, you will assume the torpedo position sooner in the process – as soon as you start running to bring your glider up.
When standing upright it is easy to get lifted and have your legs swing forward which usually results in an abrupt landing on your harness. Keep yourself in the torpedo position until clear of launch.
Forward inflations in higher winds generally don’t work. As you move forward the glider comes up behind you, enters “drag-chute” mode, and drags you backward. It is very difficult to run backwards to de-energize the glider and almost impossible to reach the rear risers to disable it.
When launching in gusty air you will want to be careful to look down the slope before launching to see what is coming up at you. If you launch into a strong parcel of air you may be picked up unexpectedly while still in a reverse position. If this happens, DO NOT put your hands out for balance. You will initiate a sharp turn close to the ground and run the risk of being flung into the hillside. Instead, keep your hands up where they should be for flying, since that is what you are doing, and allow the risers to un-twist from the reverse position without making any sudden inputs. If you are confident you can abort the launch you may do so, but this usually requires a high level of ground handling skill. Even advanced pilots will generally fly the glider away from the hill if they become airborne while reversed.
Note: On the first few flights you will remain upright, NOT sitting back in the harness. Once you have had a few flights and have gotten your flare timing correct, you will learn to get seated properly.
For your first training hill flights you will remain in an upright position and probably will not have time to sit into your harness. Your feet and knees will remain together during flight and the initial landing stages. Your hands are now part of the aircraft and must remain on the controls (brakes/toggles). Everything you do with your hands will cause the glider to react. Everything you do to the glider via the controls or weight shift, the glider will respond to. Smooth and subtle movements will cause the glider to react smoothly and subtly. Large, sharp and jerky movements will cause the glider to react quickly and sharply. This means that you must not reach your arms out for balance, adjust the harness, or grab harness straps to get comfortable.
Once airborne the controls are very easy. Pulling gently on the right control will cause the glider to turn right. Pulling left will cause a left turn. However, proper technique for turning safely will be discussed in the next chaper – “In Flight.”
You should have your elbows bent with your shoulders, elbows and wrists relaxed. Your hands should hang at about shoulder level with 3-5 pounds of pressure on the brake lines – which is about the weight of your arms. You may need to do several shallow and gentle turns to set up for a landing. Your instructor will talk you through this process on the radio – pay attention and make your inputs smooth and controlled.
Do not under any circumstances pull the brakes all the way down while you are at an elevation higher than 3 feet above the ground. Doing so may stall the glider and stop it from flying. Throughout the flight you will maintain your horizon reference and maintain your intended flight path.
For your first few flights it is important to remember that you are still the pilot in command of your aircraft – which means it is your responsibility to land safely as well. Usually, your first flights will be short and near the ground so that you can start to learn good timing for your flare. The most important part of the landing sequence is a well-timed flare. A Flare is when you pull both brake toggles down simultaneously which reduces your forward speed and slows your decent rate. Your instructor will go over the sequence for properly timing your flare – be sure to listen and ask questions if something doesn’t make sense. The Flare will also be discussed in more detail in the next Chapter – “In Flight.”
- Gearing up and clipping in
- Preflight Sequence
- Reverse Inflation Launch
- Forward Inflation Launch
- Maintaining control of the glider through the launch sequence
- Launching and landing safely
- Developing a sense of good flare timing
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