Manoeuvres

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Even though there’s a limited amount of flying inputs initially (two steering lines, weight-shift, and maybe stepping on a speedbar), there are a whole lot of things you can do with your glider.

Everything is usually best done at first under guided supervision.

Ground handling

“An hour on the ground is worth ten in the sky.”

Every senior paragliding pilot, everywhere.

If you get bored with ground handling, you’re not challenging yourself or you’re not playing enough.

Ground handling challenges

Andre Bandarra has an excellent page called the Ground Handling Challenge with around 30 different moves (including videos on how to properly execute them). Pick a handful of them, write them down or take screen grabs onto your phone, and go play. Also available as an Android app.

Games

I like making a little obstacle course each time random things found in my bag like water bottles and snacks, scattered around the field, where I have to get to each of them in different directions (or pick them up, one by one). I also use things like benches (try to get up and down and over) and rotor obstacles to interfere with the airflow.

More links:

Launching

Forward launch

This one is usually discarded after basic training, but you might find it the only option at some sites.

Reverse launch

Pick it and stick with it. It’s all good doing a mix of different hand techniques or trying a different turning direction, but most senior pilots agree to pick one method and master it.

Cobra launch

Useful in high wind and small spaces. Looks badass. Technical. I still have to master this properly 🎦 Links: [1][2]

Big ears/elephant launch

Useful in high wind. Easier than cobra. Lift the wing on big ears, pop out ears overhead, launch, get ready for bar. 🎦 Links: [3][4]

More launching tips
Sitting down safely

Each takeoff is an opportunity to practice sitting down! Remember, your launch sequence isn’t done until you’re out of harm’s way. Don’t sit down early and don’t yank the brakes. For very thermic sites: expect a gust, collapse, or dust devil to get you and then only decide to get comfortable in your harness when you’re sure you haven’t had one, at a safe distance.

Some pod harnesses are easier to get into than others. I hate taking my hands off the control toggles, especially when in thermic conditions and when I’m close to the ground (like right after takeoff). I tied a rubber bungee cord to the inside of my harness that goes over my one foot, making hands-free entry mostly a non-manoeuvre.

Landing

Focus on doing a Constant Aspect Approach (setting up downwind vs. Figure of Eights approaches or setting up upwind) [5], it’s required in many places.

If you have to do Figure of Eights when setting up upwind, do them properly and don’t make S-curves, so you don’t inadvertently keep moving forward and risk overshooting your landing spot.

Emergency manoeuvres

Irregular landing

Problem: You’re doing cross country and need to land somewhere new (not a problem at all, most flights could be like this, but takes getting used to) or you missed/overshot your planned “normal” landing zone.

Suggestions: Find an area/field where you can land into the wind. Think about walking out (distance and terrain) back to a road. Be mindful of rotor and other hazards, especially wires and fences. See if there is a safe place away from crops (but your life is worth more than the crops) and livestock. Try to avoid landing on a downhill slope (flat landing, sideways, or even uphill are preferred).

🎦 Video: Greg Hamerton – Landing Safely on a Paraglider (no windsock!)

Pinned or parked/avoiding blowback

Problem: You didn’t pay attention to the weather, you didn’t realise you had to change your crab angle (facing more and more directly into the wind to keep your same flight path) and didn’t keep checking your ground speed and you didn’t fly out further the higher you got and now you’re in front of or above the ridge and you realise you have no forward speed (and might soon be moving backwards).

Suggestions: Progressively increase your speed with the speedbar (as much as you can safely do) with zero brake input. (Some say consider big ears and bar to get to an area of lower compression, but the additional drag could have a counter-effect). Try to make your body more aerodynamic. Depending on the wind, angle yourself so you’re not directly 90 degrees to the hill and crab to the lower side of the slope, as there will be less lift there.

Getting blown back

Problem: You can’t fight the wind with any of the methods above, and you’re going to go into the high-risk rotor area soon.

Suggestions:

  1. Turn and Burn. Could be the riskier choice, due to very fast groundspeed with the strong tailwind. The idea is to get far away from the danger zone (which is closest to, but behind the ridge). Consider this only if you’re not moving up anymore (facing into the wind), so get maximum altitude.
  2. Face it. Keep facing into the wind as you’re moving back and be ready for rotor/collapses. Set yourself up in front of something that can help catch your wing and not get you dragged (more below).
High wind landing / getting dragged

Problem: You realise that the wind on landing is a lot faster than what you’re used to and comfortable with (meaning you’re moving very slowly into the wind upon landing) and there’s a real risk of getting dragged.

Suggestions: Study the LZ and find the safest area to get dragged. Identify and avoid dangerous rotor areas. If you think you might get dragged, set yourself up in front of something that will catch your glider, like a small tree. Make sure you don’t go too far back and get pinned. Get out of your harness early, bend your legs and crouch. Concentrate on where your risers are. After touching down, immediately, turn and jump/run to the glider, while pulling hard on the rear risers. If you get dragged, keep wrapping a brake line over and over and over again until you can get to the wing. Grab the upwind wingtip and bunch the rest away.

Rapid descent techniques

Problem: You’re getting sucked up by clouds, caught in a strong thermal, a squall or rain are nearby, or otherwise you just need to get down quickly.

🎦 See THEO DE BLIC’S TUTORIAL : RAPID DESCENT TECHNICS for suggestions around:

  1. Finding sink
  2. Big ears (plus spiral)
  3. Collapse (plus spiral)
  4. Spiral dive
  5. Backflight
  6. B-line stalls

(note that some SIV instructors teach the collapse-plus-spiral above, others say that it is too risky and adds too much force on the non-collapsed lines)

Brakeless steering and landing

Problem: your brake line snaps (or more likely: the knot came undone).

Suggestions: Take your hand out of the other remaining brake line, so you don’t accidentally pull on it and spin the glider. Take the rear risers in both hands. Fly like normal to landing and steer using a combination of weight shift and rear-risers. Use rear risers to flare on your (probably faster) landing. It’s good to practice non-brake line steering often to get used to it.

Riser twists

Problem: you didn’t do proper preflight and you realise you have a twist.

Suggestions: A riser twist will probably be symmetrical (twisted on both sides). Not necessarily a huge issue, but your speed bar might not work properly. Focus on landing safely and fixing the issue, including your sloppy pre-flight.

Speed bar issues

Problem: you didn’t do proper preflight and you realise you have a speedbar line that is twisted, or disconnected.

Suggestions: I always secure my brummel hooks with a piece of tight-fitting plastic (or use a lark’s head or another knot to keep them permanently in place). If you have a twist around the risers, you should still be able to use them. Practice reconnecting your brummels in flight on calm days so you can do it when needed.

Tree landings

Problem: you are going to land in the trees.

Suggestions: Plan to land near the trunk of the tree. Get to PLF position. Expect to be swung around and use your legs as shock absorbers. Only try to lower yourself as far as you’re willing to fall, wait for help.

Water landings

Problem: you are going to land in water.

Suggestions: Think about making your post-landing options better and faster, like partially disconnecting from your harness when 10m above the water and getting your hook knife ready. Consider a normal upwind landing with a hard flare to make sure the glider falls behind and not on top of you. Alternatively land downwind, with no brakes, making sure the glider overflies you. Take a deep breath before landing. Escape or cut away as needed. If you have time, consider cutting through your risers instead of lines (cheaper to replace and a committed cut could sever the whole side in one go). Ignore your gear, focus on flotation (getting rid of shoes and thick jackets), oxygen, and escape.

Waves and surge are particularly dangerous. Every square meter is one metric tonne of water that can pull at your glider and puts you at a big risk of drowning. Don’t ever land near the waves when flying by the coast.

Hazard avoidance

Problem: You’re coming in to land but there is an obstacle or hazard: a car, a tree, some people.

Suggestions: Don’t fixate on the object, look at where you want to land. It’s called target fixation. Always fixate on where you want to land, no matter if it’s a calm day or an emergency or somewhere in between.

SIV

SIV manoeuvres

Talk to your instructor about doing an SIV course to practice these to start with (and more later).

  • Pitch control
  • Big ears
  • Big ears with speed bar
  • Asymmetric collapse
  • Symmetric/frontal collapse
  • Big ears with speed bar with collapse
  • B-line stall
  • Wingovers
  • Big ears with speed bar wingovers
  • Side collapse with spiral descent
  • Full/deep stall
  • Stall to backflight
  • Spin (recovering from an accidental spin)
  • Spin (intentional move for collision avoidance)
  • Spin to backflight
  • SAT
  • Helicopter

SIV clinics

🇲🇽 I’ve only done one SIV, with José Herrera (aka Fabul) in Yelapa, Mexico. I’ve done XC courses with Luis Yepez (of GoFly Valle) but will certainly attend his SIV courses in future.

🇿🇦 The only two SIV clinics I could find in South Africa are done by XC Paragliding and Let’s Fly.

Some operators in Europe and Turkey can also be reasonably cost-effective.

About me

Werner van Rooyen

Formerly Business Development and Marketing at Luno (where we went from eight nerds in a tiny office to hundreds of people spread over three continents) and before that Marketing at PayFast. Currently investing, paragliding, and doing research, mostly in Mexico.