Paraglider Control: Stall, Spin, Collapse!
Wings are great, until they stop working. This is often due to pilot input, which is an avoidable mistake. Sometimes you’ve just forgotten what to do. In this article we cover the most common scenarios to prepare you for your next flight with some paraglider control skills you can use when things get wild.
The manoeuvres analysed here are for educational purposes. Don’t try them on your own until you’ve gone on an SIV course, where you’ll receive a more complete theoretical framework and be shown the possible dangers you might not be aware of.
Paragliders are designed to collapse in extreme turbulence. When you understand what they will do and how to recover, it makes your flying safer and far less scary. Expect asymmetric collapses when flying in thermic conditions, downwind of any obstacles to the airflow, or when passing through wind shear layers.
The tucked wing creates drag, inducing a turn. The loss of support from the collapsed wing causes the pilot to tilt, which worsens the turn towards the collapsed wing. The acceleration due to higher wing loading (and possible turn or dive) can help to re-inflate the collapse.
How could you induce this?
By sharply pulling the A-lines on one side. As for big-ears, but just on one side, find the outer A-line and jerk it down and inwards, then release it. For a bigger collapse (not recommended outside an SIV course) gather all the A-lines on one side, jerk them inwards, and release.
There are three vital steps to collapse recovery
Check to see what has happened to your glider. The glider will want to turn you towards the side which is collapsed. Shift your weight in the harness to the opposite side, away from the collapse. Use gentle brake input on the wing which is still flying if necessary. Very little brake is needed.
Look where you are going. Pilot your craft away from obstacles such as the mountain slope and other gliders.
- PUMP OUT THE COLLAPSE
A firm, deep pull on the brake of the collapsed wing will aid the re-inflation of the glider. Not a “flapping” motion, or a pull held indefinitely: it requires a long, slow pump to full extension, taking about two seconds to complete. If the wing does not re-inflate immediately, wait for two seconds (to regain airspeed), then pump again.
The glider has been slowed by the drag of the collapsed wing, and the angle of attack has increased due to the steeper descent. By counter-steering too deeply, it is possible to stall the entire wing. It may be better to allow the glider to turn slightly, building up speed and cell pressure if you have the space and height to do so. Fine control is needed, because if the collapse is not counter-steered early enough, the glider may be turned into a spiral dive, especially if the collapse has tangled in the lines and caused a cravatte.
The front collapse will occur if you fly into strong downdraught, for example when exiting a thermal or flying into rotor turbulence behind an obstacle or during a cliff launch. This is much more likely when using speedbar. The leading edge tucks underneath, resulting in an immediate loss of lift. The wing pitches back due to the increased drag. The pilot’s momentum continues forwards and downwards, which tensions the rear risers and increases the angle of attack again. The glider reinflates rapidly, then pitches overhead and dives in front, trying to regain vital airspeed.
How could you induce this?
By pulling down sharply on both A-risers. Gather all the A-lines by hooking your thumb behind them and grasping the maillons. Yank down hard, release. Not recommended outside an SIV course.
Most paragliders recover instantly from a front-tuck, because the wing has air trapped inside it, and keeps its shape. A short, sharp pump simultaneously on both brakes will aid the reinflation by forcing the trapped air towards the leading edge and the cell openings. You can do that the instant you feel or notice the nose tucking under. If you were using your speedbar, release it!
The wing will pitch back in a big front tuck, and if you pump too hard and long on the brakes, you will induce a stall. If a short pump does not reinflate the wing, wait until you drop underneath the wing before executing a strong, deep pump of two seconds. The wing will surge forwards to recover its aispeed, allow it to do so. Only dampen the dive if absolutely necessary to prevent a repeated front collapse.
Trying to core a small, strong thermal, there is a temptation to slow the glider down. This would make it easier to stay within the thermal, but increases the risk of spinning. As you bank hard to turn in the core, the inside wing stalls due to lack of airspeed and high angle of attack, and the glider begins to spin. The glider spins on its yaw axis: one wing flying forwards, one backwards. The loss of airflow over half the wing causes a sink rate of roughly 5m/s. A rapid spin can be disorientating.
What could cause it?
Pilots who slow down too much for a slope landing and turn at the last moment. Pilots who fly into the middle of thermal traffic then have to turn really hard to avoid others.
How could you induce it?
By applying full brakes on both sides to stall point (about 4 seconds) then releasing only one side. Not recommended outside an SIV course.
As soon as you feel the wing slipping instead of turning, release the brakes. The glider should pitch forwards and recover.
The negative spin can become violent and disorientating if you hold onto it. If the spin is released when the glider is off to one side of the pilot, it will dive and collapse asymmetrically, often forming a cravatte, which could lead to a spiral dive. Rapid spins can twist the lines together, locking the brakes up and continuing the spin. Trying to slow the outside wing (the one which is not stalled and is flying forwards) can often result in reversing the direction of spin, which lengthens the recovery time.
The wing has stalled due to a high angle of attack but the wing remains inflated due to vertical descent and resultant airflow into the cell openings. Expect a sink rate of roughly 6 m/s. It’s often the beginning of a cascade that will lead to spins, collapses and spirals.
What could cause it?
Pilots who pull on their brakes for a ‘feeling of security’. Flying too slowly in thermic conditions can cause a parachutal stall. As you enter the thermal, a gust stall can happen due to sudden upwards airflow. Exiting from a B-line stall with a gentle release of the B-risers can also result in a parachutal stall. Trying to slow the glider down as you pass into a wind-shadow. Landing on ‘big-ears’ and passing through turbulence close to landing. Executing a ‘butterfly landing’ where the brakes are pumped to reduce speed almost to stall point.
How would you induce this?
By applying full brakes to stall point (4 seconds), then 1/2 brakes held on. Be sure to release the brakes completely at any sign of the wing dropping back or the lift breaking away. Feel something funny? Hands up! The best place to practice this is less than one metre above the ground pointing into a steady breeze of 15km/h (to reduce groundspeed). Learn more about finding your stall point here.
Release the brakes! The glider should dive forwards to regain vital airspeed. Some gliders need to be encouraged with the speedbar to recover. Alternatively, the A+B risers can be pulled down.
Any asymmetric input on the brakes will result in a spin. Too much brake and you’ll enter a full stall. Do this with lots of height, or very low.
How to stay safe in rough conditions
Asymmetric collapses, frontals, spins and stalls: the combination of these four cover the most common extreme scenarios, so recognising the situations that will lead to them is a good start.
Visualising what you will do to recover from each scenario helps to prepare you and improve your reaction speed, so do this regularly.
Preparing yourself by practising the manoeuvres is ideal, so get an SIV course booked if you haven’t done one recently. After doing a course and depending on your skill level, you can practice on your own, with lots of height. This helps to develop the muscle memory so that in a real extreme situation you have the correct balance of brake input and flying speed.
Annual wing servicing gives you the best chance. A wing that has not been serviced recently can be more prone to stalling, spinning and collapsing due to out-of-trim lines. A wet wing is similarly compromised, due to an imperfect aerofoil.
Analysing why conditions are rough and responding to avoid the turbulence will make the most difference: if there’s an obstacle upwind, fly away from it. If there’s a change of weather, aim for flat ground. Moving away from the terrain gives you more freedom to focus on actively controlling your wing.
Always maintain awareness of your height. If you lose control and you’re low, don’t fight the glider to the ground: throw your reserve! If impact with the ground is possible, don’t forget to ‘assume the position’ of the Parachute Landing Fall (legs down, together, knees bent).
Watch our video of the common show-stoppers.
It can be scary when your wing stops flying, so let’s look at why it happens and what to do about it.
Here’s a common scenario, banking around in a small thermal that you really want to hold onto, but the core is pushing you out, and you’re cranking that inside brake more and more, and then … whoops!
If you shoot your hands up right away, the wing will recover on its own, with a roll then dive. Keeping your hands high allows the wing to regain the airspeed it needs.
I am pulling a bit of brake to dampen out the dive.
The slower you are flying, the worse the spin tends to be. Here I’m a bit slow to release it, and I get a big rotation, followed by a big roll and big dive. I’m dampening the dive again by pulling brakes as it’s moving towards the horizon, then keeping my hands high. This Advance Iota has very precise limits and reactions, which helps me to get repeatable results.
Here are two spins side by side. Get a good look at what the approach to spin looks like on those tips. You need to become familiar with where this point is on your wing. You can see the behaviour is very predictable, it does the same thing: spin, roll, dive.
Remember these spins are pilot induced, they are avoidable. If you lead your turns with weightshift and keep your speed high, the risk of this happening is very small.
Turbulence can knock you around sometimes. Failing to control your pitch can cause a front tuck, though it’s unlikely to be as big as this one. Don’t panic, it’s the simplest one to recover from. Most wings come back with the centre inflated – give it a few seconds to stabilise. Then a single solid deep pump on the brakes will get more of the nose open. There’s no need to do any more here, I just leave the wing to sort itself out.
With really big blowouts, and on high aspect wings, you need to be careful that the tips don’t meet and tangle up. An immediate jab on the brakes can help to prevent that, but in this case I simply wait for the wing to stabilise again before clearing the collapses.
The most common collapse is the asymmetric, where one side folds under. Don’t panic, the remaining portion of the wing will fly fine if you give it gentle guidance. Move your weight over to the flying side, use a touch of steering control, and your wing might have already recovered.
For larger collapses, use the same procedure, lean away, steer a little and wait to stabilise, then use a deep clearing pump on the brakes.
Let’s go through the procedure again to get it hard-wired. First, check out the extent of the collapse. Then shift your weight to the flying side. Then just a touch of steering control to avoid a spiral turn or the mountain. Finally, do one deep pump to clear the collapse. It’s often not necessary.
The collapse does not require much attention, just simple timed inputs. So don’t become too gripped by it, rather check where the terrain is.
Controlling your pitch and roll all the time will reduce these collapses and make your flying more fun.
On a modern wing a full stall is unlikely, but it can happen in the rain, or on a wing that is out of trim. If there’s no wind in your face and your wing feels slippery, shoot your hands up and it will recover straight away.
If you hang on too long on deep brakes, you’ll drop into a full stall.
Easing my hands up to shoulder height allows the wing to settle in a stable ‘backfly’ position. It’s simple to recover from this by just easing my hands up and allowing the wing to pull itself forwards into the air.
Remember, the moves shown here are purely for educational purposes. Don’t try them on your own until you’ve gone on an SIV course.
Here are some simpler exercises to help you improve your wing control.
When you pull both brakes together, the wing hangs back. If you release the brakes when your toes start descending, the wing will dive forward more. Keep your hands up until your toes start rising towards the horizon again, when you pull both brakes together. This generates a big pitch, so start off gently. On the third cycle, delay your brake input and use it to dampen out the dive. That’s the corrective input you want to use all the time during active flying.
Gentle wingovers can be fun, but make sure you have at least 200m clearance above the ground. Lead with weightshift then follow with brake to turn the wing. Keep the centre of the wing above the horizon to prevent surprise collapses. The idea is to play with the energy of the wing and develop smooth coordinated turns.
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Paraglider Control: Finding Your Stall Point
If approached incorrectly, inducing a stall can be dangerous, but so is flying without knowing where your stall point is.
We’re all taught the basic principle in flying school:
Don’t stall your wing, keep your speed up for all landing approaches, and never fly with heavy brakes.
That is a certainly generally good idea, especially when learning, but what happens in an emergency?
Emergencies can happen
Imagine that a child runs across your landing path. You hit the brakes instinctively.
But how much can you slow down? For how long?
What happens if your wing stalls?
Other emergency scenarios might be:
- You’re top landing, but have overshot the safe zone and are about to fly into the cafe.
- Or you’re doing a forced landing in the street, and you’ve just seen the telephone cable looped across your flight path.
- Or an unexpected thermal pushes you towards a motorway.
You need slow flight control, FAST!
Learn about your wing’s stall point, safely
Prepare yourself by learning about your stall point.
You need a gentle slope free of obstacles, a steady wind of about 20 kph, and a pair of legs that dangle beneath you.
Being in a seated position for this (or any landing) will lead to crashing on your backside.
- Launch and glide 1-3 m above the ground (never higher than you’d want to fall).
- Flare and hold the flare, see how long it takes to stall (the first part of the stall brings you down gently).
- Repeat (always ensuring you don’t stall the wing higher than you’d want to fall).
Try adjusting your timing. See how this changes the wing’s stall behaviour.
If you swoop at the ground then flare and climb, your wing will stall earlier as it has pitched slightly behind you already.
If you keep your wing vertically overhead it resists the stall for longer.
Refine your feeling of the limits
Once you’re comfortable and consistent with timing the stall, try keep the wing low-flying as slowly as possible.
You’ll know you’re on the point of stall because the wing will begin to lose yaw stability, threatening to spin.
If you miss it, you’ll be on your feet, or bum. Assuming you didn’t do it too high, no harm done. Lesson learned.
If you’re in a seated position, when you are tipped to one side your natural reaction will be to lean on the hand on the dropped (stalled) side for balance … causing a spin.
If you’re standing upright already, this won’t happen.
‘Butterfly landing’ technique
If you release the brakes just before the stall point and rapidly reapply them, hold for two seconds then repeat, you can fly the wing very slowly yet retain just enough airflow over the wing to prevent a stall.
This is the ‘butterfly landing’ technique.
If the airflow is turbulent, your wing will stall sooner, so be careful when landing in constricted spaces.
Also be prepared to speed up as you drop into any wind shadow areas behind obstacles upwind of you.
Be in control, be safe
Being in control of your stall point is a vital skill for safe flying. By developing a good appreciation of what the wing feels like as it approaches the stall, you are better prepared for avoiding it during slow flight.
Finding Your Stall Point video
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Paragliding – Overview
Paragliding is a sport in which the players fly in the air using paragliders. These paragliders are light in weight and are foot launched. There is a harness in the glider on which the paraglider sits. This harness is interconnected to the glider with baffled cells. We will learn various aspects of this adventurous in the chapters that follow.
To compete in this sport, the player must have adequate license for paragliding and all other related documents present with him before the competition. The distance covered by the player is transformed into points through computer in IGC format.
A Brief History of Paragliding
The passion of paragliding was started by Garvit Sharma, who designed advanced gliding parachutes. Later in 1961, it was modified technically and soon the phase of para commander started. In the same line, sail wing was modified by David Barish which was used for recovering NASA space capsules. After 1980’s, equipment started to modernise and this sport got a new dimension.
World’s first paragliding championship (unofficial) was organised at Switzerland in the year 1987. Soon after that Federation of Aeronautic International (FAI) sport gave official nod to paragliding and organised first official world championship in Kossen, Austria in 1989.
PMA (Paraglider manufacturer association) published an interesting fact according to which currently there are 1, 27,000 paragliders all over the world. The sport has its huge fan following in Europe, followed by Asia and Latin America.
The countries that participate in this sport include Japan, Germany, Australia, France, New Zealand, Switzerland, South Korea, Brazil, China, Mexico, Taiwan, USA, India, Canada, Indonesia, Russia, Malaysia, and South Africa.
Paragliding – Environment
Paragliding demands jumping from high heels and to ski in the air for long hours. Therefore, a hill station having a stiff peak and a wide area for surfing in the air will be a suitable environment. If it will be played in any normal crowded area, then it is obvious that the user will face difficulty while paragliding.
The area must also be free from any airline path so that the player should not face any emergency landing system due to an airplane approach. Adequate safety and protection must be taken care of before flying so that player can fly comfortably for long hours.
Paragliding – Equipment
In this chapter, we will discuss about the equipment used in paragliding.
The wing or canopy of the paraglide is also known as ram air airfoil in aeronautical engineering. There are two sets of fabric on a canopy and it is connected in such a way that it forms an internal support material by forming row cells. The wings are made either of rips ton polyester or of nylon fabric.
Harness is attached to the wing through baffled cells. The pilot use the harness to stand or sit and cover long distances. Nowadays harness also work as a backpack so pilots do not have to carry one. Airbag protectors or foam is below the seat which provides protection during failed launch or landing.
The variometer helps a pilot to gain height and also to get the location of rising air when he is sinking. As pilots cannot detect the rising and sinking air, variometers can do the job through short audio signals like beep. It also displays the altitudes.
Radio is needed to communicate with other pilots and other assistants to paragliding. Different countries have different range of frequencies based on their system. In certain situation the pilots talk with the airport control and air traffic controller.
The GPS or Global Positioning System is a must in paragliding as it helps the pilot to check for the area geographically and also other pilots track the movement of each other hich helps them to track each other and learn each other movements.
Paragliding – Launching
In paragliding launching and the landing is done with the wind. The wind is used as an airstream by running, being pulled or with the help of existing wind. The pilots are moved in a place from where they can be lifted.
There are three different launching techniques: Forward Launch, Reverse Launch, and Towed Launch.
In this type of launch, the pilot has to run forward with the wings hanging behind. This process inflates the wing due to air pressure.
It is the easiest method of launch as in this case the pilot will only have to run forward and doesn’t have to look backward. He can only notice the wing when it will launch upon his head.
In this method the pilot runs facing the wing and bring it into the position of flying. The pilot then turns around to launch the glider. In reverse flying the pilot can inspect the condition and position of the wing. This method also helps the pilot to resist the force of wind during running.
In this method, the pilot gets towed while launching. The pilot will be towed and when reaching the optimum mark, the pilot will be released. But this type of launch need separate training.
Paragliding – Landing
Landing in paragliding requires special techniques and patterns of traffic.
In comparison to launch, landing needs coordination among pilots and they have to land in a group.
All the pilots land at the same time, as it is very important in the pattern. They have to follow the light path in a pattern of rectangle till the landing zone. This requires sync between the pilots as it is very important for a pilot to know what will be the next move of his fellow pilot.
The technique of landing comprises of approaching the wind and at the point before touching down, the wing is flared to minimize the speed from both axes. Before arriving on ground, the brake is shifted from 0% to 100% before touching the ground.
When the wind is light then landing can be done by running mildly. In faster wind landing is done without the forward speed and sometimes the pilot has to go backward.
Two methods of landing are flapping the wing to lose the performance and descend faster by using alternate braking. It is a professional technique so should be used only by experienced paraglider. Second method is collapsing the wing at the moment of touchdown.
Paragliding – Control
The pilot hold the brakes in his hand and it is connected to the edge of the trail on the both sides of the wing. They provide the control in paragliding as controlling is the most important part when it comes to aerodynamics. These brakes are used to adjust the speed, shifting weight, and also helps in flare during the landing.
Apart from manipulation of the brakes, the pilot has to lean to steer the paraglide properly. Such shifting of weights helps in eliminating various moves when brakes cannot be used, which eventually helps in limiting the steering. Weight shifting is also helpful during controlling all advance techniques.
Speed bar is the word as similar to accelerator. It is a type of foot controller attached to the harness through which a pilot takes the paraglider to a new speed. It decreases the angle of attack of the wing which gives the paraglider a boost of speed. One can’t apply brakes as it will slow down the wing.
Some of the advanced move is to manipulate the risers of the paragliders. By using the BIG EAR technique, which involves the rate of the descent can be increased by folding under the wingtips by inducing the wing’s leading edge with the line connecting on the outermost of the par gliders.
Paragliding – Fast Descents
Fast descents are the condition of getting down during unexpected change of weather or when the situation of lift is very good. There are three types of fast descent methods.
In this technique the out A-lines are pulled out when there is no acceleration, the flight will fold the wing in an inward manner which will then reduce the angle of glide while mildly decreasing the forward speed.
As the wing area gets reduced, the loading of wind increases and then the wing becomes more stable. But this method will increase the angle of attack and the craft will go into a stall speed and it will then increase the descent rate but that can be rectified by applying the speed bar which will help the descent rate to increase and the wing will re-inflate.
In this method, the riser of the second set is pulled out from the leading edge or the front of the B-lines independently from the others. It puts a crease in the wing and then it separates the airflow from the surface of upper part of the wing. It reduces the lift which were being produced from the canopy and increases the rate of descent.
This is the most fast and effective method of fast descent. It can give up to a sink rate of 25m/s. This method holds all forward progress and left the craft to air down and then the pilot pulls the brakes and shifts his weight on one side and then take a sharp turn. After few turns the wing reaches pointing directly towards ground. When the driver reaches his desired height, he then slowly pulls the brakes and shifts his height towards outside.
Paragliding – Flying Types
In this chapter, we will discuss about the types of flying in paragliding.
This kind of flight is done with the help of wind which is directed upward with the help of a fixed object like ridge or dune. In this kind of slope soaring, the pilot flies by help of air lift. The pilot flies along with the slope and the lift is being provided by the air. Slope soaring totally depends upon the steady wind along with the speed of the wind and the skill of the pilot.
Cross-country flying is moving from one thermal to the next available thermal. A pilot has to recognize the thermal by the land features and also by identifying a cumulus cloud where humid air reaches and cumulates to a cloud.
Cross-country flying needs extreme knowledge of air law, flying regulation, and aviation maps which show any restricted airspace etc.
The ground and the surrounds becomes hot due to sunlight. These surroundings include buildings, rocks, and many others. Due to this, the thermals are set up which rise with air. While rising, these thermals are detached from their source and form a new thermal. These thermals help a paraglider to fly in circle and tries to reach the center of the circle as the speed of wind is faster at the center. This speed helps a paraglider to rise.
Thermal flying is a technique which needs precision, persistence and time to learn. A good pilot can fly with the core up through the cloud.
Paragliding – Championships
Federation of Aeronautic International (FAI) is the governing body who conducts fair play of this sport all over the world. In the same way, all participating nations have their own governing body too those who organise championships within their nation.
Some of the major championships of paragliding are −
- FAI World Paragliding Championship
- European Paragliding Accuracy Championship
- British Paragliding Competition
- Australian Paragliding Championships
- Swiss Paragliding Championship
Players such as Frank Brown from Brazil, Nevil Hulett from South Africa, Aijas Valic from Slovenia, hold world records in paragliding. Peggy McAlpine is the oldest paraglider who glided from 2400 ft. at the age of 104.