Spring Safety Message For Paragliders

You are the pilot in command.  Your safety is your responsibility.  I and others who try to help you could be wrong.  You must learn to determine for yourself if conditions are safe for you to fly. 

Spring is here and for many of us it is time to start flying.  Flying paragliders, speed wings and hang gliders is one of the most dangerous things you can do.  Here on the Wasatch we live in one of the worlds more difficult flying environments, that of the “High Mountain Desert”. 

If you really must fly here, and I must, approach it thoughtfully and with great respect.  This is NOT a stoke your buddy, high five, yahoo sport.  It is aviation and as the saying goes there are no Old Bold Pilots.

Read a lot about flying and weather, seek the assistance of professional guides, instructors and experienced mentors and take everything gradually.

Already this year, two paraglider pilots have died flying in Colombia. Let’s not add to that statistic at our sites.  Avoid flying close to the ground in thermic conditions. Look before you turn, keep your head on a swivel, frequently look around and don’t get focused on one thing for more than a fraction of a second.  

Read the Site Safety Guides for all of our sites that you fly and carefully review the flying rules for the NS and SS.  These are easily found on the club website.  Make sure you understand all of the safe wind speeds and hazards for each site as well as the ridge soaring right of way rules for our ridge sites.  Never try to force your right of way.  If a pilot isn’t yielding then get out of the way early!  It takes two pilots to cause a mid-air, don’t let yourself be one of them.  

Your Freeflight skills are probably not Current.  Utah is one of the best places to get current.  Kite a lot, both SS and NS; work up to stronger more turbulent wind.  Fly the SS early in laminar flow and tune your weight shift, independent of your left hand, independent of your right hand.  These control inputs must be able to do three different things at the same time. Muscle memory developed through hours of flying is the only way for most of us to get there.  On the SS, try to feel the differences in the air in different parts of the lift band.  It has a definite shape with a front and back edge.  When it is smooth and laminar I like to find the the back edge of the lift band and stay just in front of that edge (west-bound leg of course).  Too far forward and I go up high, too far back and I land.  Just inside the edge I can maintain a more consistent height.  Staying in that specific part of the lift band while I soar the ridge requires feeling the air and independent action from weight shift, left hand, and right hand; just like thermalling.  Begin your NS flying later in the day when conditions have settled down and progress to flying earlier with time.

Do you want to fly the Wasatch mid-day. 

A paraglider is the easiest aircraft to fly; the hardest aircraft to fly is a paraglider.  In strong turbulent air it might want one strong input one second and a dramatically different input the next.   Flying paragliders is too easy in early-day calm air and very difficult in mid-day, wind-mixed, turbulent, thermals.  You might have a several easy exciting XC flights before you get one so scary that you quit.  Skip this paradigm and enter XC flying gradually taking all the right steps.  Do an SIV, stay on a low B glider until you wear it out, begin with lots of hours on lots of days flying before noon.  Next, begin flying late-afternoon thermals and get lots of hours doing that.  With all of that behind you and with the advice of a mentor, gradually move your flying closer to mid-day until you are there.  If you don’t have 300 hours yet it might be too soon.

Flying XC mid-day in the Wasatch is a life style change.  It is not something you venture out one day from flying the North Side to “try out”.  To do it safely you must give it your all.  Meaning 100 to 200 hours of mid-day XC per year.  

Be aware of the death zone!  The death zone is about 30 to 300 feet above the ground.  In this zone 100% of your focus should be keeping the glider open, and maintaining normal flight on a straight heading either to land or to increase altitude to a safe reserve throwing altitude.

If you ever lose control at or below 500 feet immediately throw your reserve!!!  

Even if your are high, if your glider is rotating and you cannot stop it or slow it and you do not stall paragliders and you feel g-forces increasing, throw your reserve NOW!!!  You might only have seconds until you cannot!

Make throwing your reserve something familiar that becomes present to your mind each flight.  Do this with SIV, visualization, handle touches, practiced motions and actually pulling it out ready to throw while hanging from a simulator.  Learn how to properly stow your packed reserve in your harness and pull it out while on the ground a lot.  Learn all of your equipment and how to inspect it for proper condition and do that a lot.  Fly a glider appropriate to both your skill level and your flying hours each year.  For example, a high B pilot should be flying 100 hours per year in the strongest conditions he or she flies in.  Later-evening NS and SS hours may not count here unless thats all you ever do. 

My idea of the safest approach to flying our mountains follows, it is more of a description to get you thinking and asking questions than it is a flight guide:

Study the thermal cycles coming into launch; only launch when the cycles are appropriate.  Fly straight 100% focused on flying your glider until you have at least 500 ft below you.  Find a thermal and try to get high.  If you get below 500 feet don’t make circles, either fly out to gain more altitude or go and land away form any any potential triggers and upwind obstacles.  Between launch and 5000 feet AGL always have an LZ in sight.  Always approach your LZ with enough altitude to fully circle the LZ at least once before you need to begin your landing pattern.  While flying XC, fly from windward face to windward face, never fly low over a lee.  Only fly on days with light winds aloft: 12mph @ 12K,  10 mph @ 10K, 8mph @ 8K.  As you gain experience you will learn that everyone of these points has exceptions.  Don’t disregard the point without the experience to back you up.

If you would like to chat about this message or have questions, you can reach me at 801-368-7985 or neilhansen557@comcast.net.