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Paraglider brake usage

by Had Robinson

Here is an outstanding YouTube video of how not to use the brakes.  Watch the pilot's hands closely and how he turns.  The pilot's errors resulted in a stall and he was very fortunate he was not hurt or killed.  I wondered where he received his training, if any?  If he was trained formally, his instructor was incompetent, at the worst, or the pilot did not pay any attention to his instructor, at the best.  The video caught the left riser and lines going slack at the time of the stall.  There is NO WARNING whatsoever that a glider is about to stall.

A. Excessive brake

Throughout his flight, the pilot had way too much brake.  Every inch away with the brake from the riser pulley means that the glider is just that much closer to stall.  I continue to be amazed at the Internet and blog rumors that continue on and on with this dangerous advice, "...it is always safer to have some brake while flying because it increases the pressure inside the wing and helps it not to collapse."  This is untrue.  As Bruce Goldsmith remarks in his book, "50 Ways to Fly Better", keep the hands up with a finger on the line, like when fishing, which will help the pilot feel changes in the glider and then, if he is trained well, will know what to do.  If you do not know what to do: KEEP YOUR HANDS UP AT ALL TIMES.  It is safer than doing the wrong kind of input.  Also, fly only low EN-B or En-A wings.

The reason all of us naturally apply way too much brake is that it gives us a false sense of security when "...we have this wild mustang under our control by pulling a good bit of brake!"  If I were flying a horse, this might be true.  It also could apply to riding a bicycle down hill.

 "NO BRAKE" is 1-4 inches away from the riser pulley.  However, it is far more important to be aware of what the glider is doing over your head.  "Where is it?"  We might use the brakes if it is not where it is supposed to be.  The right amount of brake while flying is NO BRAKE except for these situations:

  1. Flaring when landing
  2. Turning hard while coring thermals (500'+ above the terrain)
  3. Minimum sink (min-sink) (500'+ above the terrain)
  4. Recovering from a sudden forward pitch of the glider
  5. At those times during the day when there is no possibility of thermic conditions.
  6. Turning when flying PPG below 500' -- It is difficult to weight shift with a motor but pilots must be exceedingly careful applying brake below 500' AGL.

Generally, if a pilot is 1,000' or more above the terrain, he can do anything he likes -- but should be certain that he can recover from a possible stall or collapse.

B. Doing any sort of maneuver or turn near the terrain

The pilot in the video was scratching (turning) for lift right off the deck.  This is exceedingly dangerous, especially if there are thermals present, as there was when he stalled his glider.

I am sorry to say that I, an instructor, have applied too much brake near the terrain, trusting in my skills.  As a result, I once was injured (not badly) but it was very embarrassing.  The only comfort was that I was attempting to help other pilots fly a difficult site.  A second time, I was landing in a small and turbulent site that had trees in front.  I made a somewhat sharp turn just before landing and got dumped out of the air at about 8'.  It was a field of tilled dirt so the landing was benign, thankfully.  I also discovered the taste of fresh dirt for the first time.  We all need to have much greater fear of applying the brakes at anytime.

C. Turning

The pilot did not know how to safely change the forward direction of a paraglider.  The correct way is simple:

  1. LOOK where you wish to be going -- there could be someone else or some object in your way.  Do not do what this pilot did....
  2. LEAN in the direction of the turn -- this means to stick your head OUTSIDE the inside riser and as much of your body as possible to the inside e.g. cross your outside leg over your inside leg, if you can.  Leaning increases the weight load on one side of the glider and results in more drag on that side which causes the glider to turn.  Increasing the weight load on a glider when leaning increases the stall speed slightly but it does not distort the trim shape of the glider as happens when brake is applied.
  3. BRAKE -- if a pilot leans adequately, he may not need apply any brake at all.

The pilot in the video either did not know how to turn or was lazy.  Lazy pilots are more likely to have accidents.

Conclusion

Keep your hands up (1"-4" of the pulleys) except as noted in paragraph A above.  Practice turning without using any brake.  Do not be in a hurry to change direction.  All aircraft do not react well to sudden changes of any kind.  Do not fly near the terrain when thermals are present (middle of the day).  Do not be lazy when turning your glider.  NEVER YANK ON THE BRAKES OR ANY OTHER LINE WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE STABILO.  The stabilo line is specifically designed to help the pilot clear a cravat.  If you are not away from the terrain, the glider is flying, and has a problem, do not try to fix it, apply as little brake as possible until the flare -- land as soon as possible.

vulture