Managing Your Paraglider On Windy Launch Sites

Flying in strong winds can be really risky, so I thought I’d share with you just a normal procedure that I use when flying in strong wind. You really want to practice this in more mellow conditions and slowly build up your skill level to get into the strong stuff. Probably 90% of accidents are caused by trying to fly in conditions that are too strong. So if you just exercise caution and limit yourself on the top wind speed that you fly in you can do a lot for your safety in the sport. But hey, let’s assume the wind is strong on the launch that you’re at, and you want to get into the air, let’s check out how to do it!

[Video transcript follows]

So here we are on a windy site, I’m here on my own, and I’m just going to show you a windy setup, just to control your glider and all your kit while you’re setting up. There’s the windy site. Birds are climbing from below me; the wind is coming straight in. I’ve got this very, ah, inconvenient fence that’s just blocking the launch site so I can’t actually get down to where it’s easier to launch, so I’m going to be up here in the Venturi where the wind is the strongest, and I’m going to show you how I set up and manage everything in strong wind.

I’ve actually got into my harness already, my glider’s not even out of the bag yet. I’m in my harness, I do all my checks, make sure the speedbar is running smoothly (it’s pulling the brummels nicely there), check the reserve pins (that’s why I really like a front-mount reserve), check my legstraps, chest strap, chin strap, karabiners locked, maillons, and we’ll do the glider check as we get it out.

[It would be a good idea to put on some gloves at this point].

OK? So I’m going to get it out of the bag here. I’m keeping myself down as close to the fence as I can. What I’ll do that is maybe different to what you’re used to, is I never lay my glider out across the wind as if it’s ready to launch. What I’m going to do is lay out the glider this way, side-on or parallel with the wind, so there’s the wing there. Now even before I get going I’m getting my brakes off so I’ve got some control should things run away from me.

OK. Now what I’m doing is I’m just opening out half of the glider, so I’ve got a foot on the upwind wingtip, the other wingtip I’m just going to keep low but I’m going to tease it out, OK? Don’t open out more than about half the wing, otherwise you are going to find the wingtip there is going to start pulling. That’s exactly what I want, just half the wing layed out, I can tease out the lines, get out the worst of the tangles. I’ve got the rest of the wing here which is going to provide a little bit of resistance to the wind so it’s not going to blow away while I move.

Right, now I’m moving into position, side-on to the wing, like that. Now depending on which way you like to turn you might want to spin at this point, I prefer to be this way around (it doesn’t really matter). Now I can check that I haven’t got any twists – my A riser is running back to the correct place on that side. There’s no reason why there should be any big twists if you follow a very neat pack away.

OK, now the wing is going to start wanting to shift with the wind. So I’m going to bring it around a little bit, using the brakes and I’m just leaning back a little bit, I’m letting it fill out, I’ve got the brakes on nicely, and I move around.

Now you can see I’m not completely around because that tip over there hasn’t filled up. So I come around a little bit more, and I’m right up against the fence here, and I’m just using the brakes to keep it on the ground, not let it fly up.

Just be patient and it will fill out, you can see that tip has almost gone out, if I come around a bit more, there we go.

Allright, so this is my check, I can now check all my lines. Now remember I haven’t really done a daily equipment inspection in this situation so I haven’t looked all the way over the glider at the top, so I’m giving it a good check now to make sure.

Now you can see this glider is fighting me, it’s wanting to rise up. If I pull too much on the brakes, the trailing edge is going to start flying off the ground, you see that? That’s going to become a nightmare to control, so I’ve actually got to come off the brakes a bit, and I’m letting the wing fill up and fly itself down into the ground, it’s pinning itself down because the wind is blowing over it and I’ve got a bit of brake on but not too much.

OK now this is a common situation in strong wind conditions. You get the wing out, and now you feel like you’re absolutely trapped: you are stuck here. I’ve got the brakes on, I can’t move, and the wing’s starting to pull me more and more. If I lean back it just fights me more; if I move towards it, you’ll see that takes some of the power out of the wing. There’s a delicate balance here between going with the wing, and getting dragged.

So the next situation is I want to get the back risers in. That will give me more control. But from here, it’s quite difficult. The only way to do it easily is to wrap the brakes. I wrap the brake on that side. That allows me to come up closer to these back risers that I need to get hold of.

I want to get the back risers, one on that side, one on that side. OK? Now you can see what I’m doing now is I’m pulling the back risers and now I can let the twists on my brakes, the wraps, I can get the wraps off, because I’ve got the back risers. OK I can hold the back risers in one hand and get the wraps back off.

It gets me into a better position where I can hold the back risers, the glider really shouldn’t fly with the back risers pulled in nicely, it doesn’t give you so much of that trailing edge flying up, and if you want a little bit more pin, see what I’ve done with my hands? I’ve moved them that way on the back risers, and now I can get up to the brake line on that side, so now I’ve got back risers and brakes. You should be able to hold the wing with that combination. If you can’t you need to pack away.

Let’s say you can’t, this wing is pulling me, it’s just getting out of control, what I want to do is move around the wing so that it doesn’t pull me. So if I come around this side, like that, can you see the wing is now being blown across from the side. You don’t need too much, just get it to be blown onto itself. OK, and from here you need to run, so you’re pinning it here, like that, I’m pinning it to stop it blowing up and now I’m going to run across to the wing, so let the wing fall down, run across … and sit down on this piece.

Now as long as I am a couple of metres in from the wingtip the rest of the wing can’t pull me. So from here I can actually pack the wing away, fold it up, roll it in, put it back in its bag.

Assume you wanted to bunch from here, I’ve got my foot on the wing, and I start gathering it in. Now it’s going to start pulling there, so I need to move downwind as I’m bunching it in, I need to be moving this way, keeping it low. If I’m going to pick the wing up, I want to make really sure that nothing is going to open up into the wind, so I’m hooking a bit of the glider there, I’ll keep it on the upwind side of me, and now I can move wherever I want to (I’m moving straight into wind).

Now we’ve got our lovely situation (not) where the wing is upside down. OK. So what you want to do here is just be patient and … let the wing turn over. What I did there was just use a little bit more brake on one side than the other side. So now I’m going to go back to my back riser position … one, two … I didn’t need to wrap the brakes there because there was a lull (less wind).

Now I can use the back risers just to tease this cravatted tip out. Don’t want that! A little bit of air in the glider makes it easier for the tip to come out. This wing is particularly prone to doing these sort of cravattes, because it’s so high aspect and light.

Just take your time, if you’re on your own there’s no real option apart from getting the air in the leading edge and pulling it back down again.

[edit: pulling the stabilo line is very effective at removing cravattes, on the ground and in the air. It’s usually a unique colour.]

It’s slowly coming out. I’m going to come around and let the wind help me a bit. It’s almost there.

Right! So now we’re back in a nice position. I’ve got the back risers. I’m going to get the brakes, now it’s pulling me it’s not so easy. Brake, brake. Hands out, and there we go!

Now we’ve got it nicely pinned. Flying up a little bit so a bit less brake needed. So now the wing is there, I’ve got the option to run around it (left) and stop flying if I want to. If I’m going to stand here for a while, and wait for the wind, I usually come off the wind slightly, not enough that it’s blowing in on the tip because then I get that cravatte problem again, but it just gives you less of that ‘bounce and pull’.

Oh, it’s blowing across, so I don’t want that, I come back into the wind, let this side fill up a little, use that air to fill the wing out, see that’s the best way, it’s filling out without getting a cravatte, I’m just walking across the wind and letting it fill up. There’s a little more space there.

Be careful of that line over there. Pulling on the brakes. And now we’ve got that horrible big messy roll over … and that’s because it rolled up so much when we packed the glider away, so I should have rolled that out when I got to the wing!

We move the wing around this way, get the wind into that corner, there’s half a chance we’ll get this out. There we go.

While I’ve got a chance .. no, I need to wrap, just to keep it pinned. I can now go back riser, back riser, get them together into one hand, get rid of my wraps, back onto the back risers, pull them in, reverse my hands, finger finger, and … not too much. And I can just hold it there.

Right, so we’re ready to launch. Wait for a lull, let it come up. OK? Off we go!

It’s pretty windy on the ground, so I’ll run across to get to my control position, I’m going to get the back risers in before I’m even getting pulled, you can see I’ve got a big area that is potentially going to cravatte there, try and get that out if I can … come on little wing!

Let’s use a bit of brake to flip that over. Got it. OK. So that’s quite nice, I’ve got the back risers again, I’ve got the brakes, I can just wait until it’s not absolutely hammering through, then I can pull up. From here it’s going to pull up pretty hard, so I might want to go right across to the side and let it pull up to the side, it really just depends on the slope and the situation. But I’m pretty chilled out here, you know, the wind is howling, but as long as you’ve got the right balance of the back risers and the brakes, this glider’s not going anywhere.

I lean towards it, takes all the power out of it, if I lean back, it puts a lot of power into the wing, so that’s really what I’m controlling it with, just the lean back and forwards. The more I go to the right, the more that side lifts up and it’s going to want to shoot across. If I’m wanting to launch it skew on the wind, like a cobra launch, I’ve got to go a lot around and let that wing be the one that rises first, I’ve got to come right around like this, it’s quite difficult to do in strong wind, it needs a lot of practice to get this right, but I’ll be about there, letting the wing come up. It’s only slightly effective, it’s not going to get rid of trouble. So there we go. Decide it’s good, and off we go!

Ahey hey hey. Happy days!