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Strong wind presents a few extra challenges

About this article
Mike Cavanagh discusses take offs, landings, rough air and using the speed bar in strong wind.

Pilot profile
Expert. Mike has held many national records. Mike was UK XC champion 2011 - 2014
and knows Cumbrian paragliding as well as anyone.

25 June 2009
Original post - CSC forum

30 December 2015
Added to the Knowledge Base with Mike's kind permission


l Take offs l
l Landing l
l When the air gets rough l
l Using brakes with the speed bar l

I have been meaning to write a little here since earlier in the season when strong Easterlies were a daily occurence. Today they seem to be here again so I thought I would write some observations that it may be worth reminding our selves. This, after all, is a sport where we never stop learning. In fact that is part of the reason it is so fascinating - one flight is never the same as the last, knowledge is gained, but for sure we learn something every time we take to the air.

Back to strong winds. We seem to have a lot of them so it is worth learning as much as you can about them. This is just aimed at strong wind on the hill, not flying XC which brings up a different set of thoughts.

Take offs

From the start we learn about wind as it becomes the mainstay of our thoughts when paragliding. We are meant to learn about assessing sites and picking the right take off to make the most of the prevailing wind. It is with us from the start and as we spend most of our flying careers in the UK in some sort of ridge lift it forms the bulk of our flying time. This is why I am always surprised when pilots fail to understand it properly and either do not fly or just make their flight that bit harder.

When I write strong wind, I do not mean too strong to fly, just a wind that makes you have to think on the ground. In some cases this means we do not fly, which is the best course for anyone with doubts. But you also often see people struggle for several reasons, but mainly pinpointed focussed on two reasons - poor or lazy skills on the ground and secondly not understanding or forgetting what they may have learnt about the wind on the hill.

We can all fluff a launch, maybe by just being lazy or nervous. To reduce the fluffs then it comes down to simple practice. In strong and in light winds a bit of groundhandling will always do me some good. Not only does it hone those launch skills, it also allows you to kite up the hill when the wind is not quite there and in general, on a breezy day, it really gives you a feel for your wing in the air and what inputs do what. Old hands, new wings, first flight of the season, first flight on your own - a bit of groundhandling will always help to give a bit more confidence at a critical time in any flight.

So we can handle our wing, but our confidence in a strong wind can be further heightened by reading the hill and the wind properly. I am always surprised by the number of pilots who will always lay out on the crest of the hill and then spend the next half hour waiting for a lull. Obviously if we are in a raging gale it is good that we are still on the hill, but often the wind is pretty perfect, it is just the pilot who is stood in the wrong spot. This may be for a few reasons - it is a bit flatter/easier to lay out, the school you learnt with always lay out there (they like space and lighter winds), it gives you maximum height if you sink out!

But if we think then the top shoulder or the crest of the hill is where we will remember that the most compression is going to be. If the wind is strong it is the worst place to be for an easy take off. Pilots who know the hill may well be taking off below you on the steeper slope where the strong wind is less and is going up rather than starting to go horizontal as it does higher up in the flatter area, especially at the top. The guys down the hill are probably no better at flying, they have just read the hill and the wind better. If the wind is strong, but not too strong for flying then just go down the hill and take off in the more relaxed conditions rather than hang on at the top getting nervous waiting for a lull.

So we can handle our wing and read the take off well. In strong winds it does not end there. If you think the wind on the top may well be a bit strong then as soon as you take off and start climbing up the hill then edge out from the hill. Don't scratch all the way up the slope to find yourself in the compression at the top and then put your speed bar on in the hope you can escape back forward. Your assesment of the wind is on-going. Get to the top slowly working out how much compression wind there really is. If you fly out too far and sink then just go back in and soar up a bit further.

You will learn a lot more about your wing, about conditions and about the site by doing this approach rather than just ending up nearing the crest with your speed bar on as you then spend 10 minutes creeping back forward wishing you were a lot further forward where you would be happily boating around.

I know some pilots who think it is boring if they are just soaring around on a hill. I must admit I don't understand that, especially in the Lakes. It has to be one of the most pleasurable pastimes imaginable.

Soaring around a hill in strong or weak wind, working it all out on that day is both enjoyable and immensly helpful to your next flight wherever that may be. All with agreat lakeland view! Patience and thought are the underlying traits of our sport and that patience and thought give fantastic rewards.

Not sure all this will be useful to anyone, I do feel that what I write we all know, just that we seem to forget some times.


And lastly since I may have got us off in a strong wind then what about landing! First thing to note is that we all know it is a lot easier when we know we are less likely to out glide our chosen spot. However remember that big wind gradients can occur so it might be quite light at the bottom, so be prepared. However if it is windy then maybe just a few easy thoughts are needed. Do not land downwind of big obstacles like trees - there could be turbulence. Make sure you get over the landing field and well in front of any trees, walls etc. so if you end up coming down just about vertically then you are in the field and not hanging your washing on the fence. Lastly get your feet down early!

Hope that all makes sense! I'll go back to wishing the wind was a bit less today.

...when the air gets rough

Although disconcerting, some mild rock and roll is always a good time to learn a bit about your wing. You do have to work the wing and for sure sitting back with your brakes in a standard safe position is not always going to work, but measuring your inputs to what the wing is doing is always good practice for your flying. This is just active flying, which I am sure you were doing as it makes your flying a lot more comfortable. However if you get the input out of synch with the wing then you can exacerbate the situation.

A collapse can occur, not just because an unexpected gust hit the top of the wing, but also because the wing was flying down some turbulence so the angle of attack was lessened. The wrong input can lessen the angle further; input such as a bit of brake, at a low angle of attack, can sometimes result in a collapse This is like the opposite effect of "reflex" that people sometimes talk about.

Reflex in PPG wings, flips up your trailing edge to always try and increase the angle of attack as the increased drag on the top of the wing helps to pull up the nose - hence making reflex wings more stable at speed. A bit of brake at a lower angles of attack, is the opposite effect and can actually push the nose down. This is why we are all advised not to use our brakes when we use the speed bar, and why comp pilots on bar use their rear risers to help control the wing at speed as it reduces (but does not eliminate) this effect.

As an aside, this was one reason why the bbHPP was so good, the pilots could use the full speed with more confidence because they could put controlling input on the rear risers, at speed, without any of this effect as they only had A and B lines. Input to the Bs just changed the angle of attack rather than deforming the wing shape.

...on using brakes with the speed bar

Never use brakes when using speed bar is one rule that is not as widely known as it should be. We would obviously test for it, but cannot eliminate the risk completely. For sure, higher end wings are more susceptible to this as they are usually less restrained on the travel of the speed bar, so have more access to low angles of attack. This is why intermediate and sports wings don't often have a top end speed that match a comp wing etc.

You just have to think on two types of active flying. When you fly the glider actively on normal trim you use the brakes. When you fly at speed using a speed bar you have to fly actively using speedbar inputs, releasing the speed bar completely when conditions merit that and changing to actively flying on brakes once the bar is released.

But back to brakes and speed bar not mixing. Putting brakes on whilst using the speed bar is not going to cause a deflation in most instances, there is just more chance that it could. And we all need to be aware of that chance. Cheers.

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