Paraglider brake usage

by Had Robinson

Here is a 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.  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 too much brake, to say nothing of scratching for lift near the terrain.  Constantly having more than a few inches of brake means that the glider has less energy which means it has a poor response to inputs, including being closer to stall.

Some suggest this, " is always safer to have some brake while flying because it increases the pressure inside the wing and helps it not to collapse."

As Bruce Goldsmith remarks in his book, "50 Ways to Fly Better", keep the hands up with a finger on the brake line, like when fishing.  This will help the pilot feel changes in the glider and then, if he is trained well, he will know what to do.  If you do not know what to do it is better to keep your hands up (less than a few inches of brake).  It is better than giving the wrong kind of input.  In addition, fly only low EN-B or EN-A wings which have more passive safety.  Many expert instructors including Jockey Sanderson note that pilots take much unnecessary risk flying high performance gliders that yield little but more speed and slightly better glide.

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" or "hands up" is 1-4 inches away from the riser pulley, just enough so you can feel input from the glider.  All gliders give input.  An EN-A glider gives very little input because of its high passive safety.  An EN-D glider gives lots of input to the pilot because of its high aspect ratio (and lack of passive safety).  However, it is more important to be aware of what the glider is doing over your head.  Where is it?  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 careful applying brake below 150' 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 above was scratching (turning) for lift right off the deck.  This can be dangerous, especially if there are thermals present, as there was when he stalled his glider.

I am sorry to say that yours truly once applied too much brake near the terrain, trusting in my skills.  The wind quickly switched and my glider stalled.  As a result, I was injured (not badly) but it was embarrassing because I am an instructor.  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 by a dust devil 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.  Had I been in a hands up position, I probably would have not been dumped as badly.  We all need to have much greater fear of applying the brakes at anytime near the terrain.

C. Turning

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.  The pilot did not know how to safely change the forward direction of a paraglider. 
  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 slow down and 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 any brake at all.

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