How to Land a Paraglider
Sure you’ve probably covered how to land a paraglider in your initial training, but it doesn’t hurt to rethink and critic your landing techniques in your first couple of years of paragliding. Once you start paragliding on your own, this is where some bad habits or bending the rules can occur. Self awareness is key to becoming great at paragliding (along with many other things). And let’s face it, if you don’t get good at landing a paraglider, you might not get to fly again!
There are many factors which influence your landing such as thermal activity, wind, your wing and paraglider setup, the speed and angle you’re approaching at, and the surface you wish to land on, just to name a few. No two landings are the same, but obeying the right principles will put you in a better position to successfully land.
Plan Your Landing – Avoid Spontaneous Landings Where Possible
Mistakes are often made when pilots want to land suddenly. This usually results in overuse of braking, losing too much speed and stalling, or not properly scoping out the landing zone for hazards. The best landings are well thought out and factor in the possibility of sudden wind change, as well as hazards such as trees, powerlines or jagged rocks which could damage your wing.
The first step is to determine if there’s any wind drift, and if so, what direction it’s going in. This can be checked by visual markers at ground level such as tree blowing, wave ripples etc. Your GPS (all pilots should carry one of these) can also be used.
A common mistake is to focus mostly on the launch area and not plan the suitability and weather conditions of your landing zone. In many cases it’s safer to land on green fields, rather than near the water as the thermal conditions here may make landing a less stable experience. The weather conditions should also be considered for the time you wish to land. You may find that some areas have higher thermal activities in the afternoon and that it’s best to get your flight in earlier in the day so you can enjoy a smoother paragliding landing.
It’s important to consider the slope of the landing zone in your landing strategy. If there is a slope, combined with a tailwind or some thermal lift, you’ll need a longer final glide. If you’re planning your landing from a high altitude, you may want to do two-stages of planning, firstly by performing some figure of eights to work off the altitude and then lining yourself up and planning the second stage of landing from a lower altitude.
Keep Your Eye on the Landing Zone
Keep your eyes on the spot you wish to land on and use your knees as a sight. This helps you to concentrate and focus. If the landing zone rises up, this means you’ll land short of your target. If the landing zone drops below, you’re going to fly over and past it. Line up the landing zone early so you can avoid turning later in the landing.
Getting your legs into position can seem like a pretty small and insignificant part of landing a paraglider. But it’s one of the most common landing injuries, so it’s worth getting into the habit of always getting your legs down early.
If you stay in a reclined position until you’re ready to land, your feet will be in front of you and won’t be ready to take the full weight plus inertia. This can cause considerable force on your ankle which can easily be injured from this pressure.
Make this something you tick off your mental checklist early. Get your legs down when your about 50 feet in the air. By getting your legs underneath you, your entire feet and legs can absorb the force instead of just dumping it on your ankle.
How to land a paraglider?
Landing a paraglider can seem like a daunting task, but with a bit of practice, it can be easy. Paragliding is a wonderful sport. In this article, we’ve broken down the steps you need to take to make a safe paragliding approach, final approach, and landing.
There are a few things you need to take into account when landing a paraglider. One of the most important things is your landing setup. This includes your speed, altitude, and position relative to the landing zone.
Your speed is important because you don’t want to land too fast or too slow. If you’re going too fast, you’ll have a hard time controlling your descent and may end overshooting the landing zone. If you’re going too slow, you’ll run the risk of sinking out and ending up shorting your target.
Your altitude is also important. You don’t want to be too high or too low when landing. Again, if you’re too high, you’ll need to bleed off altitude to reach the ground. If you’re too low, you will probably find mechanical objects near the landing zone.
Wind speed and direction on approach
When landing a paraglider, it’s important to take wind direction into account. If the wind is blowing from the side, it can cause the paraglider to drift towards obstacles or other hazards.
If the wind is blowing from behind, it can push the paraglider too fast and make it difficult to control. Avoid downwind landings, as the glider will be traveling faster than you can run to decelerate the wing. In either case, it’s important to adjust your landing approach accordingly.
Ideally, you want to land into the wind, as this will help to slow you down and give you more control over your descent. However, sometimes the wind does not align with the landing zone.
If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, from behind you, it can make landing difficult or even dangerous. To land safely, you’ll need to know how to read wind direction and use it to your advantage.
There are a few different ways to determine wind direction. One way is to look at the flags at the landing zone, on top of buildings, or if there is a lake or pond nearby, study the direction of the boats and ripples on the water. Typically, we rely on the windsock in the landing zone, unless there is no windsock.
Another way to measure wind direction is by using an anemometer or a check your GPS ground speed. This is a device that measures wind speed and direction. Measure your upwind legs vs your downwind legs. This will give you an indication of the prominent direction and help you understand if there is a tailwind.
Boxing the field
To do a boxed landing, you need to have lots of open space with plenty of room to do this maneuver. It is good practice to go straight down the landing zone at a high altitude. This action, like in piloting a small plane, signals your intent to land. Turn upwind along the sides of the landing zone and head back to the beginning of the landing field. Keep to the sides of the landing zone as other pilots may enter this airspace. This is the preferred approach pattern for landing zone’s with lots of pilots landing as you are not making your descent in the main landing zone.
Extend the upwind or downwind leg as you begin to descend. This allows you to dial in your landing.
You will begin by slowly losing altitude until you reach about 100 feet above the ground. From here, you can make your last turn into the landing zone. Do not make your last turn under 100 feet as you will lose too much altitude. Square up your glider with the center of the runway and prepare to land.
Figure eights to lose altitude
The boxed approach pattern typically requires some altitude adjustment. If you need to bleed off altitude the best method is to start flying parallel to the landing zone in a figure-eight pattern. The trick is to always be facing the landing zone – never take your eyes off of it. Depending on your altitude and lift near the landing zone this could take 10-20 minutes.
Once you are at 100 feet, make your last turn into the landing zone and finalize your approach pattern.
Setting up for the final approach
So the final approach is what it sounds like – you enter the landing zone with enough altitude and turn to line up the centerline of the field adjusting for the wind direction. At this point, you need to transition your thinking to your body position, brakes, your flare timing to not face plant.
Acing the landing
The following is a simple list of actions that need to be taken while you are on final approach to ensure a soft landing:
- Start to get out of your seat in the upright position – your legs are your landing gear
- Take a wrap of the brake lines
- Gage your forward speed, vertical speed, and horizontal speed
- Begin braking, or apply enough brake to test your descent rate (do not use the brakes to stop – you are gliding at this point)
- Add more brake pull or brake pressure to compensate for wind drift (you should be halfway into the brake pull)
- Move your legs as if you are running – this reminds your brain that you may have to run once your feet touch during a nil wind landing
- At about 6 feet off the ground and at just the right moment, flare hard by adding full brake pressure
- You are now at the wing’s stall point. The leading edge of the wing should tip up and you have completed the flare.
- Forward momentum is now stopped and you are on the ground.
This is easier said than done. Expect your first flare and landing to be a hard landing. By hard landing, we mean, it was not a good flare and the timing was off, your distance from the ground was off, and you landed on your harness seat, not your feet.
Collapsing the glider
The following are the ground handling techniques that you need to take after you have touched down:
- Start by collapsing the glider.
- Turn around toward the canopy
- Grab the “C’s” and pull down
- Take four steps towards the wing
- In high winds, run towards the glider wing tip to gain control
- Announce over the radio your last name, that you have safely landed, and add the name of the landing zone.
What does a great landing flare look like?
A great landing flare looks effortless. Pilots will tell you that 90 percent of your landing is in the flare timing, which means this is where you need to put in the practice. Any good instructor will tell you that flare timing is the one common mistake beginner pilots make.
The landing comes up on you fast, the pilot is struggling to get out of the harness and not in the upright position, looking for the brakes, bobbling the glider – at this point, the pilot has run out of time to dial in the precise moment for the landing flare.
A good flare starts long before the landing. As soon as you are at 100 feet and make your final turn down the landing zone, you need to be thinking about your flare. Typically, the closer to the ground the lighter the wind. Your vertical speed drops, your horizontal speed drops, flying becomes different as the ground looms upon you.
The best idea is to compress a series of steps into one large step. In one motion, get out of your harness and wrap your brakes and at the same time stabilize the glider. Start applying the brake. You don’t want to apply more than half brake pressure.
How to do a no wind landing
The best advice here depends on your situation. If you are moving fast, and have a long landing zone, use the speed to your advantage. Go hands up and let the paraglider fly on its own, be prepared to run fast, be super-human and flare hard when the time comes. You may pop up in the air about 10 feet, but that is considered a win and avoids a hard landing.
If you have a modern glider, apply brakes like in a sailplane and bleed off speed, but be prepared to run it out. Ease up on the brakes causing a slight swoop. You will ride up. Add more brake like a normal landing. When near the ground, go hard on your final flare.
How to do a downwind landing
Downwind landings, while ill-advised, never end pretty. They are very common when coastal ridge soaring. Luckily, no one gets hurt when pounding into the sand.
First, when flying downwind, you have to remember height is your friend. One turn, a loss of elevation, and you are on the ground. Make your last turn while you have the elevation.
Understand that you will be moving faster and sinking faster and will be on the ground in seconds.
You need to get your reaction timing up and be prepared to run it out. Get vertical in your harness.
You will need your feet under you and moving. You can try the swoop landing by flaring prematurely to get a pop upwards. Regardless, be hard on the flare. It’s all about the flare.
Bury the brakes and be prepared to be lurched forward from the wing passing over your head.
Landing on slopes
There are three types of slope landings. The uphill landing, the downhill landing, and the slope-side landing. Each can be tricky with some safer than others.
There are several things to consider when landing on slopes, such as the angle of the slope, varied ground cover, and obstacles.
The angle of the slope is important because it will affect how you approach and land on the slope. If the slope is too steep, you may not have enough time to make a safe landing, which could result in a crash.
With all slope side landings, you must land on the upwind leg. The wind is your friend, it slows your ground speed. You can crab until you are almost touching the ground, close to the stall point.
Remember to flare as your feet almost touch the ground, this allows you to kill the wing and any remaining momentum. It also keeps the wing from thrashing and re-inflating.
How to do a downhill landing
Landing downhill is like landing with the wind at your back. Your landing skills must be spot on. To achieve the best outcome, glide down the hill at as close to the ground as possible.
If you have room, extend your flight. Pick a safe landing spot. Tap the brakes if you are running out of room.
The looming effect will be even larger in this situation. You are close to the ground and it is quickly moving towards you. In reality, it is still a distance away. Be prepared for a hard flare and to run it out.
How to do an uphill landing
Uphill landings are the most dangerous landing types and should be avoided at all costs. If you have the option, you will fare better in your flight by trying a slope side landing.
With an uphill landing, you do not have a lot of speed retention that can be used to glide up parallel to the slope. If you you have to land uphill on a ski trail, opt for a quick turn and covert it to a slope side landing.
How to top land
Top landing is usually relegated to hills and coastal sites. By nature, these sites have the correct geographies and air flows to achieve a successful top landing. Dunes and hills have less rotor in the launch area, and that’s the best place to do your paragliding top landing. And, the wind is in the perfect direction.
Getting the top landing right is about practicing the approach pattern. This approach is different from any other approach patterns we have discussed.
First, start your paragliding flight by making turns over the launch area. See if you can maintain 100 feet above launch, then gradually dropdown. Get to the point where you can do a fly-by.
Once you are comfortable with the fly-by, try the touch-and-go. Practice these at least 30 times as gusts, and wind velocities in the compression zone constantly change.
Start your next paragliding landing by adding brake inputs. Use the butterfly technique as you approach the landing area. Tap on the brakes to descend. Tap more to increase your descent rate.
Once landed, begin ground handling. Quickly turn, grab your “C’s” and walk towards the wing to de-power the canopy.
About the author.
Damien Mitchell is a USHPA Advanced Instructor, and APPi Trained Instructor. He has over 10,000 flights and has been instructing paragliders for 15-years. He has been flying for almost 25-years. He is originally from Utah.
How fast is it? How we test paraglider speeds
Measuring the performance characteristics of a paraglider, including paraglider speed, has always been notoriously difficult. But new tools are allowing pilots and manufacturers to do just that. Cross Country’s Hugh Miller reports on speed tests he’s been carrying out for the last year
Flymaster’s True AirSpeed (TAS) probe
When Flymaster’s new True Air Speed (TAS) probe was released a couple of years ago we started to measure the trim and top speeds of the paragliders we review. However, we’ve been very surprised by the results. In short, paragliders really aren’t as fast as most pilots – and manufacturers – believe they are.
First, a bit of science. It’s obviously important for powered aircraft pilots to know their exact speed. However, despite any effects of wind, planes go faster at altitude than at sea level due to the lower air pressure – that’s why passenger jets cruise at such high altitudes.
Their instruments rely on pitot tubes to measure what’s known as their ‘Indicated Air Speed’ – which gives the same speed reading regardless of whether the plane is flying at sea level or 30,000ft. When a pitot tube freezes up, it can have disastrous consequences, as the pilots lose any indication of their stall speed. This is what is thought to have contributed to the Rio-to-Paris Air France flight 447 crash in 2012.
Explaining the instrument
In paragliding and hang gliding, we’ve long relied on propeller-based air speed indicators and GPS figures, to give us our speeds. But neither of these are accurate. In fact, the effects of altitude alone will mean that in still air, a paraglider flying at a top speed of 51km/h at just above sea level would be flying at 58km/h at 3,000m. You just go that much faster in thinner air and propeller-based air speed indicators don’t compensate for this.
Obviously you don’t want to be re-working out the stall speed of your Boeing 747 at different altitudes, hence the importance of indicated air speed, measured by pitot tubes. A GPS speed figure doesn’t make this compensation for differences in temperature, density and pressure – and of course doesn’t factor in wind speed and direction, either. GPS is great for accurate ground speed, but useless for air speed.
The boffin test … Our speed probe in Oxford University’s wind tunnel
Anyhow, we were so surprised by the low readings our Flymaster TAS probe gave us that we sent it to Oxford University to be checked against their calibrated hot-wire anemometer. Hot-wire anemometers have been used for many years in the study of fluid dynamics. They are extremely sensitive and are almost universally employed for the detailed study of turbulent flows.
Adrian Thomas, a former British Paragliding Champion and regular contributor to Cross Country, ran the tests in Oxford University’s wind tunnel – where normally he tests the aerodynamics of small insects.
“A pitot tube like Flymaster’s gives you a reading that reflects the forces acting on the pitot tube, and those vary in exactly the same way as the forces acting on the wing”, Adrian explained.
“The Flymaster TAS probe gives a nicely linear result”, he told us. “It slightly over reads – the real air speeds are consistently a fraction lower than the given figures across the 20-60 km/h range.”
“All pitot tubes need regular calibration, and it’s something sailplane pilots put a lot of effort into. NASA have also developed a calibration system between GPS figures and pitot tube figures, and it would be easy technology for instrument manufacturers to bring into paragliding”, he explained. Current methods used for aircraft pitot tube calibration include trailing cones, tower fly-bys, and pacer aeroplanes, which are all obviously time and cost intensive. The NASA method could actually be incorporated into paragliding instruments in the future.
Following the wind tunnel tests Adrian gave us a recalibration formula to calculate precise indicated air speeds which match GPS speeds at sea level. Going forwards, we will be using these results to inform our glider reviews, recalibrating our Flymaster TAS probes at six-monthly intervals.
To be absolutely sure that we can have faith in what our calibrated TAS probe tells us, I spent a day cycling up and down the seafront with the TAS probe and three GPSs. The TAS was wobbling a little on the shorter string dangling from my handlebar, but its reading was steadily consistent with the GPS ground speed.
It is worth noting that most manufacturers obviously don’t go through this whole rigmarole – they just compare their new prototype paragliders against their previous models, and measure what’s known as the ‘delta’ – the difference between trim speed and top speed. For CCC class, they report the speed system travel associated with that delta. So, for example, the Boomerang 10 has 15cm speed system travel, and a delta of 18km/h.
Does it matter?
Does top speed really matter? In competition, of course it does. Some test pilots claim the latest CCC wings are capable of 67km/h. In our view, this is an impossible Indicated Air Speed figure. We’ve tested the Ozone R11, widely regarded as the fastest paraglider ever made, and recorded a maximum of 65km/h. The R11 we tested featured standard risers, not extended risers which allow even further travel. CCC wings don’t feature trimmers like the R11 and have necessarily been restricted.
“I hardly ever see ground speeds consistently in the 60s, and I use full bar a lot”, said Adrian, who flies a Boomerang 10 and is also involved with glider development at GIN.
“On the other hand, I go as fast as anyone else so what does it matter?” he asks. “There is a little maturity appearing in the comp scene. Pilots have realised that trimming their wings fast means they lose out on climb and particularly on the gains you get going straight in lifty air at trim. At the most recent Superfinal, the wings that were checked were all within millimetres of manufacturers’ defined trim settings.”
We measured the top speed of some of the hottest three-liners: the UP Trango XC3, Ozone’s M6 and the GIN GTO2. Using the Flymaster TAS probe, we measured a top speed of 50-51km/h for all three wings, flown at 3kg below the top of the weight range. The new 777 King is a little quicker. This is indicated air speed, and should be the same at sea level as at cloudbase.
Try telling an EN-D pilot that though, and they’ll likely be a little shocked. They may also say they have recorded a GPS speed of 55-56 km/h when flying in the still evening air in the Alps. Both of us, however, are telling the same story.
Problems with measuring speed
However, obtaining accurate results using a TAS probe still isn’t easy. Thermik magazine editor Norbert Aprissnig told us: “We too have looked at providing accurate speed figures for our reviews but it has been a learning exercise in just how difficult it is to get accurate figures.”
He added: “Although modern TAS probes allow for automatic compensation for temperature and altitude, we still have to make sure the wings are in stable flight before taking measurements. Air movements cause fluctuations and we as test pilots end up filtering the data as best we can.”
Also worth noting is the instrument’s wind-speed indication. Most instrument systems, including XCSoar and the Oudie, provide information on wind direction and strength, but as you’ll know if you’ve ever used them much, the figures fluctuate enormously. You have to be flying consistent circles for the instrument to generate an approximate calculation. However, a pitot tube system like the Flymaster TAS is the only way to obtain accurate wind information as it will run a precise comparison between your aircraft speed with your GPS speed.
Finally, just to confuse things a little, Flymaster’s TAS probe stands for ‘True Air Speed’. From an aviation perspective, this is misleading, as ‘true air speed’ is different from the ‘indicated air speed’ that we’re interested in – the bald, pressure-based truth of an aircraft’s speed irrelevant of altitude.
What does it all mean?
Perhaps unsurprisingly the figures reveal that as a sport we have regularly over-estimated the speed of our wings. Just as one example, some pilots claim their paragliders have a trim speed of 40km/h. Meanwhile, Moyes states a trim speed of 35-37km/h for their Litespeed RX competition hang glider. Spot the difference.
Let’s face it, pilots are loathe to be told their ‘60km/h’ wing only really hits 51km/h, and manufacturers understandably don’t want to publicise potentially slower figures. No one wants to be slower than the next pilot, or their manufacturing rival. But our testing has shown that most ‘mid-B’s can get to around 44-45km/h accelerated, while ‘hot’ EN-B wings and many C class wings have a top speed of 46-48km/h. Only EN-Ds and a handful of the very fastest C’s make it beyond 50km/h.
Of course, top speed in still air means nothing if the leading edge is too fragile for the speed to be usable in real life conditions. So let’s not get into a bidding war for the fastest wings on the block. In our reviews we will continue to focus on a wing’s usable speed range, accelerating through turbulent air to test its rigidity and cohesion, as this will always be a better indicator of a good, fast wing than any number.
This article was first published in Cross Country 172 (August 2016). Hugh Miller is a review pilot for Cross Country Magazine and UK XC League Champion 2016. If you enjoyed this sample article, perhaps you’d consider subscribing and supporting the world’s only international free flying magazine?
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