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P2 Course - Module 4 – In Flight

From Flying To Landing

Now that you have taken your first few training flights and are progressing in your ground handling skills, it will be time to take longer flights and higher flights.

Your first “high flight” is a big achievement in your training and represents the confidence that your instructor has in your ability to fly a safe flight plan, control the glider and land safely.

Getting Into The Harness

Once you are airborne and at a safe distance from the hill, you may get comfortable in your harness. There are several safe methods for accomplishing this smoothly. Be certain that your leg straps are adjusted properly – If they are too loose, it will be very difficult to get into your harness successfully.  Be sure to tighten them so you can only just fit your hand between the strap and your thigh. 

Using a foot stirrup or the one handed flying method are common. Some harnesses will simply scoop you into a seated position once you are airborne and no further action is required.

The foot stirrup method requires that your harness has a stirrup attached. Once you are airborne, while maintaining horizon reference, locate the stirrup with one or both feet and push yourself into the harness. This prevents you from having to relinquish control of the glider. Another method is to have one foot through the stirrup so that when you are airborne, the stirrup is already on top of one foot and can be used very easily.

The one handed method is less favorable in bumpy conditions because you relinquish some control of the glider. You will need to maintain a horizon reference to avoid being pushed off course and flying into the hill or other obstacles. You will need to lean behind the risers and place both controls in the same hand that you would throw your reserve with. This is to prevent you from accidentally deploying your reserve while getting into the harness. Next, reach down one side of your harness and hook your thumb behind one of the straps below your carabiner. In one motion, bring your knees to your chest and push forward with your non-brake hand. You can readjust from this position if necessary. If you find yourself drifting off course you may correct it with the hand that is holding both controls. If you are drifting left, push your control hand left. If you are drifting right, push your control hand right to correct your course.

Once you are comfortable, cross your legs at the ankles or keep them tight together. This helps dampen oscillations that could otherwise be exaggerated by your legs swinging about. When flying, you want to have a tight lower body and a loose upper body. There are some key things to remember when you are getting into your harness. Getting comfortable is a low priority and avoiding obstacles is high priority.

If you are drifting into an obstacle, encounter turbulence, or are having some other unexpected issue it is best to focus on controlling the glider and fixing the problem before getting comfortable. Flying the glider is your number one priority. Do not rush to get comfortable. The most dangerous time in a paraglider is when you are close to the ground so you need to be extra attentive when launching, landing, or flying low. Never let go of your control toggles and/or grab the risers to help you get into your seat.

Active Piloting

Once you complete the first few training slope flights, you will graduate to longer flights that will allow you to safely get into the harness. These flights will usually consist of smooth “sled rides” that are basically from the top of the hill to the bottom with no altitude gained. You will be flying the glider at trim speed most of the time which means you should feel about 3-5 pounds of pressure on the brake lines throughout the flight.

At some point you will fly in more active conditions with small thermals or other air texture that can cause the glider to move around. You can keep the glider from moving around too much through active piloting. This involves feeling a constant pressure on the brake lines and adjusting your weight in the harness to keep straight and level flight. At first you may be slow to react when making these adjustments, but after some practice it will become second nature. Remember that active piloting doesn’t necessarily involve constant action. It means constantly being aware of what the glider needs and making the correct input at the correct time. Be careful not to over control the glider – this can be worse than under-controlling.

In smooth air, you will be making minimal pressure adjustments. In active conditions you may need to make continuous and rapid adjustments. If the pressure decreases in the brake lines and the wing is out in front of you, your hands should descend until you feel pressure again and the wing is back over your head. If the pressure increases and the wing gets behind you, your hands should rise until you feel 3-5 pounds of pressure again and the wing begins to come forward over your head. The idea is to apply the brakes at just the right time to keep the glider over your head, or to stop its energy when it is directly over your head.

Keeping the glider from getting out in front of you or from falling behind you is called surge or pitch control. This backward and forward rocking is one of the most common movements a glider can make. When it encounters a parcel of air that is rising it will pitch back giving it a higher angle of attack. The amount of pitch will depend on the speed and size of the parcel of air that is rising. After this rearward pitch the glider will then surge forward giving it a lower angle of attack.

You can help circumvent problems by making a few simple adjustments while this surging is occurring. When the glider pitches back it will have a high angle of attack, so we ease up on the control toggles and allow it to speed up and move forward. When you feel the glider start to surge forward and come overhead, you can add brake input to slow it down and keep it overhead. The further the glider pitches back, the further it will likely pitch forward, and the more brake input you will need to give it to control the surge. Occasionally you may encounter air that causes the glider to suddenly surge forward without pitching backward first. The correction is the same and you would immediately add brake input to slow the glider down. If you maintain horizon reference while flying, the movements of your glider will be easier to detect, and you will be able to make the correct input.

Weather conditions that cause surging can also cause the glider to roll. If the glider is raised higher on one side than the other it will create a similar tilt in your harness thus alerting you to the roll. You should also see the change in your horizon reference. To correct it simply shift your weight to the high side of the harness and force an alignment of your risers and re-center your glider. If one side of your glider rises slightly, you can add a little weight shift to that side until it flattens back out. If you get a roll oscillation and are swinging from side to side, do not attempt to correct it with opposite brake. If your timing is off it will make the roll worse. You should add a few extra pounds of pressure to both brakes and hold it until the swinging stops. You may then ease up on the toggles and return to trim speed.

Turning

One of the best things to remember when making good turns is: LOOK, LEAN, TURN. Before you turn, look in the direction you will be turning to ensure the path is clear of other pilots or obstacles. The action of turning your head will also serve as a turn signal to other pilots in the area and let them know which direction you intend to turn. Once you have determined the airspace is clear, lean and shift your weight to the side of the harness you want to turn toward. Keep looking into the turn! Shifting your weight will allow you to use less brake input and make the turn more efficient. You should use weight shift in your turns as much as possible. Once you have looked and leaned in the direction you want to turn, add a bit of brake input and hold it. The glider should come around smoothly and you will be able to adjust the turn with the amount of brake input you use. Always keep some brake pressure on the outside control toggle/brake as well to maintain active piloting and keep the glider from diving into the turn. As you reach the desired heading ease up on the weight shift and brake input to transition back to straight and level flight.

It is important to realize that you can turn your glider without any brake input at all.  You will be required to demonstrate turning the glider with weight shift only.  As pilots gain experience it is common to see less weight shift in their turns – this is not a good thing.  Always use weight shift when initiating any turn – not only will it help keep your turn more efficient, but it will also telegraph to other pilots around you what direction you are turning.

Turns are an excellent way to lose altitude. The steeper the turn, the more altitude you will lose. When close to the ground you should only make turns with a low bank angle (flat turns) to avoid losing altitude too quickly. Never make sharp turns close to the ground. Sharp turns can build up a lot of energy and speed and you won’t enjoy dissipating that energy into the ground. 

There are several types of turns, but the one you will be using most during your training are S-turns. Later you will learn figure-8 and 360° turns. S-turns are course adjustments of up to 180° though may be far less. During an S-turn you are always in a position to straighten your course toward the landing zone and into the wind. The closer to the ground you are, the shallower your turns should be. Full 180° turns should not be done close to the ground.

Figure-8 turns are very similar to 180° s-turns except you continue the turn back over a fixed spot on the ground. This keeps you from moving toward your landing area and potentially overshooting. Holding your position at one end of the landing zone may be important if you arrive with a lot of excess altitude. When you are at an appropriate level you may transition to s-turns, then shallow s-turns, final glide, and landing.

360° turns are useful when you have a lot of altitude to expend over your landing zone or are intentionally working lift or “thermal flying”. When making 360° turns, it is important to pay attention to your drift and be alert for obstacles. If there is any wind, it will affect the shape of your 360 relative to the ground. Your flight path will be shorter when facing into the wind, and longer when facing downwind. This is of particular importance when there are obstacles like mountains downwind of you. For this reason, you will only do a 360° when you are far from any obstacles. However, 360° turns can be useful for determining wind direction over a landing zone. By monitoring your drift over a landing zone while doing 360° turns you can determine the wind direction. You will always drift downwind. You initiate a 360° turn the same as a 180° turn but hold it through 360°. You shouldn’t need to use more than half of your overall brake travel.

As a new pilot, you should never perform 360’s close to the ground. They can burn a lot of altitude quickly and are easy to misjudge. If you apply too much brake and perform too steep a turn, you can build up a lot of speed and may become dizzy or disoriented. Too much brake input on the inside may also cause the inside wingtip’s angle of attack to become too high and stall, causing a spin (see “spins” in Risk Management). Be cautious making turns away from the landing area. If you aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to lose too much altitude and not make it back to your intended landing area.

When approaching any landing zone you will most likely have excess altitude that you will need to burn off in order to land accurately. The best way to lose altitude without overshooting your landing zone is to make turns. By adding brake input the angle of attack is increased on that side of the wing. The increased drag will slow down that side like an oar in the water. The opposite side will continue flying at its original speed, resulting in a turn. Basic turning is easily accomplished by pulling the appropriate brake until the desired rate and amount of turn is reached.

Airspeed & Ground Speed

Airspeed is the speed of the glider through the air. This is constant, unless the angle of attack changes either by the pilot applying brakes, or from a change in relative wind (see Flight Dynamics). Most gliders fly between 20 and 23 mph through the air with no brake input (trim).

Ground speed is the speed of the glider relative to the ground. Your ground speed is a combination of airspeed and wind speed. With a headwind, your ground speed is airspeed minus wind speed. With a tailwind, it is airspeed plus wind speed. The more headwind you have, the slower your landing speed (ground speed) will be. A decrease in your ground speed will proportionally decrease your glide ratio (horizontal distance divided by vertical distance), and an increase in your ground speed will increase your glide ratio. If, for example, your airspeed is 20 Mph and you have a 5 Mph headwind, your ground speed and your glide ratio will be reduced by 25% (ground speed becomes 15 Mph and a glide of 7:1 becomes 5:1).

Landing

Landing will require significant pilot input in order to touch down gently. When you are several feet off the ground, you will perform a “flare” that slows your ground speed as you touch down.

A flare is performed by smoothly and aggressively pulling both brakes down as far as you can.

It may take a few attempts to get the timing right and your landing may be faster than anticipated. However, the process and timing are easy to learn and you will be landing softly in no time. Paragliders move across the ground in no wind at about 20 Mph. If you have a headwind this speed will be decreased. If you have a tailwind this speed will increase.

You want to land moving as slowly as possible, so it is important to land into the wind. You want to land on your feet to avoid injury, not on the back of your harness. If there is a vehicle, tree, object, pilot, etc in the area you intend to land, do not focus on it/them. Look to an open area and steer yourself there.

Flare

When it comes time to land your glider, you must pull down with both hands to cause what is called a “flare.”  The forward and downward travel of your glider will be reduced and with practice you will be able to stand up comfortably with minimal running. With some practice  you will find that sometimes you can bring your glider to a complete stop and make a tip-toe spot landing.

The two most important aspects of a good flare are timing and speed.  Some schools employ a two-stage flare technique while others simply encourage students to smoothly pull the brakes until your elbows are locked and your hands are below your butt. The important thing here is that you are the pilot in command of the aircraft. Your instructor will guide you through a proper flare sequence, but it is up to you to execute a well-timed flare and land safely.

If you flare too quickly or sharply, you may cause a gain altitude.  If you are lifted as you begin your flare do not continue the flare. Hold your hands where they are, and when you are back down to 3 feet from the ground, finish your flare. If you continue to rise more than a few feet SLOWLY ease your hands back up. If you raise your hands quickly the glider will surge and abruptly swing you into the ground. When you start to descend again treat it like another landing. If you are coming in for a landing and start to descend quicker than usual, you will need to flare earlier. It will probably still be a faster landing than usual, but you want to slow yourself as much as possible by completing a full flare. If you are landing fast, try to match speeds with the ground by running. If the landing is too fast, perform a PLF.

You will tend to land on what you are looking at – commonly known as “object fixation.” This is beneficial if you are focused on your spot landing target, but it can be potentially dangerous if you are fixated on a fence, tree, vehicle, or other obstacle. Force yourself to look at the spot you want to land on.

Whenever possible, challenge yourself to make spot landings. Spot landings take practice to master, but once you are confident you will be able to land in smaller landing zones and successfully fly more sites.

Any time you are landing, remember it is better to land safely and have a long walk than it is to try a risky landing close to your target. Spot landings are not mandatory – safety is.

PLF (Parachute Landing Fall)

If you have any skydiving experience or have watched old WWII movies you should be familiar with a PLF. It is a landing technique that involves keeping your feet, ankles, and knees tight together with a slight bend at the knees. This allows your legs to support each other and is substantially stronger than each foot hitting the ground individually.

You should use the PLF position any time you are close to the ground. As you are coming in for a landing, you should be prepared to land harder than expected, even though the need for a PLF is rare.

Landing Patterns & Approaches

Before you fly a new site, you should take time to look at the landing zone and think about the possible landing approaches. When it comes time to land you should already have a plan in mind. Think about all the possible directions you could be coming from and visualize the landing approach for each. Always make sure you will have ample altitude to reach your landing zone. Don’t count on a perfect glide. You may encounter sink or a headwind that could cause you to land short of the landing zone. Having extra altitude will give you a chance to determine the wind direction and give you an opportunity to set up a good approach pattern. When it comes time to land, you will most likely use either a T-approach, a downwind-base-final, or a combination of the two.

T-Approach

The T-approach involves drawing an imaginary T across your landing zone with the base of the T crossing the center of the field into the wind. The top of the T should be at the downwind edge of your landing zone. You should lose your altitude with figure-8 turns at the top of the T.

Once you are low enough, proceed onto your final glide down the base of the T, into the wind. You may need to do several shallow S-turns along the base of the T to lose more altitude. When doing figure-8 turns, stay focused on the target in the landing zone that you want to hit. This will help you know when to go on your final glide.

Downwind-Base-Final Approach

The downwind-base-final approach involves three steps that put you in the correct position for landing. You start with a downwind leg along one edge of the landing zone. In light  winds, you may extend this leg beyond the downwind edge of the landing zone as long as you have enough altitude to get back. The base leg across the downwind edge of the landing zone will move you to the center of the downwind edge. When centered, you will make one last turn into the wind and onto your final approach. As in a T-approach, you may have to do several shallow s-turns along the final glide to burn off any excess altitude.

Once on final glide, you will be out of your harness and have your feet and knees together in the PLF position. If you are lifted while on final glide, you may have to do several s-turns to burn off altitude. You should be constantly evaluating your altitude, the wind speed, and your glide ratio.

Basic Maneuvers

There are a few basic maneuvers you will be required to demonstrate in order to complete your P2 training. There is an official skill checklist as part of this program that you can refer to at any time to see the current progress of your training. Your instructor will talk you through the process as well as ensure a safe flying environment before initiating any maneuvers during your training.

The following list is meant as an introduction to the terms you will be hearing during your training.

  • Forward and Reverse Inflations and Launches
  • Weight shift Turns
  • Rear Riser Turns
  • 360 turns
  • Hands-off Flying
  • One-handed Flying
  • Big Ears
  • Spot Landing
  • PLF
 
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