The paragliding strong wind launch technique, sounds easy enough right? If a little bit of headwind helps you launch, then a lot of extra wind must make it even easier, right? Hmm…
Not quiet 😉 The handling and launching characteristics of your wing will change dramatically in strong wind conditions. So if you want to keep things safe, then the whole situation needs to be handled much differently than normal.
Learning how to launch in high wind is super important if you still want to be flying in anything other than calm conditions, so let’s explore some of the best ways to do it!
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Strong Wind Launch
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A typical launch in calm wind conditions is all about controlling your wing efficiently and accurately, but the strong wind launch technique is more about manipulating the power of the wind and using it to get yourself airborne. The term “strong wind” is a pretty subjective term, because different pilot’s of different skill levels may have a completely different idea of what conditions are considered strong. I will write this article assuming that the conditions are strong wind conditions when the glider starts wanting to control you instead of the other way around.
Wing Energy: One of the most important things to keep in mind during the strong wind launch, is that the wing is going to hold a lot more energy than usual. It’s the pilot’s job to manage that extra energy with caution and keep it from getting so strong that it starts pulling them around or picking them up.
Don’t Fight It: Launching in strong wind conditions is all about moving in harmony with the wind. You need to imagine that you, the wing and the wind are all connected here. If you don’t move in sync with the wind and you try and fight it tooth and nail instead of making the right inputs, then the wind is going win.
Exaggerated Inputs: In high winds, all of your inputs will be exaggerated. Pulling up on the A’s or pulling down on the brakes in strong wind conditions will have a much more dramatic/dynamic effect than it would in calmer conditions.
Wind Direction: In strong wind conditions, it’s absolutely imperative that you set up your glider to takeoff directly into the wind direction. Even if that means you won’t be running directly downhill. Trying to force your glider to fly in a different direction could be dangerous and may result in a wing deflation during takeoff.
Launch Site Location: If your launch site has a steep dropoff, make sure you setup your wing right at the edge of that dropoff in strong conditions. You do this because directly after the strong headwind accelerates over the lip of that dropoff it will create turbulence on the leeward side due to the “venturi effect”. So the idea is to position yourself and the wing right before that turbulence.
STRONG WIND LAUNCH TECHNIQUE:
I would say that the entire world would agree that the reverse launch procedure is the best for strong wind launching. The main reasons being that you’re facing your wing, and you can react much faster what it’s doing while in this position, and during a strong wind launch, the wing can move very fast unexpectedly… you wouldn’t want it to do that while you’re facing forward.
Surprisingly, this is another big factor. In most reverse launch grip techniques, the wing form stays fully intact for inflation. Which is great if you’re taking off in calmer conditions, because it inflates the wing efficiently… but in strong wind conditions, you already have more than enough headwind to inflate the wing extremely fast. So what should you do?
The idea behind many of these techniques is that they are intended to either A: reduce the wings surface area, or B: partially destroy the complete form of the wing.
So Let’s dig in..
Mitsos (A & C/D hold): One hand holds both A’s and the other hand holds both C’s (or D’s). This will effectively destroy about 1/3 of the wing’s surface area when you tug on the C/D risers. Giving you excellent control over the wing’s energy during inflation.
Big Ears Inflation: You inflate the wing with Big Ears already engaged! Once it’s over your head you can release Big Ears and launch as per normal. This will effectively reduce the wing’s surface area and hence reduce its energy and lift. (video credit: HERE)
Cobra Launch: Inflate the wing sideways. The wing will ascend wingtip first, and the rest of the glider can slowly unfold from the ground as it goes up.
Center A’s Only (Split A Riser): I wanted to put this one here because some people may not realize they can do it, but this technique works well when the conditions are a little bit stronger than normal. Pulling only on the center A’s of a split A riser will force most of the wing energy into the center of the wing and out of the wingtips.
Lean Back Inflation: I figured i’d put this one here just for the people that don’t realize it. You don’t always need to tug on the A risers to bring your wing up in strong winds after building a wall. Sometimes you only need to lean back into the harness and the wing will ascend, this may help people who are too heavy-handed on the A’s in strong conditions.
How To Launch In High Wind
During this phase, the pilot initiates reverse momentum while pulling the leading edge of the glider up with the A-risers. This process will inflate the wing’s cells with air and form the complete airfoil shape of the wing. During a strong wind launch inflation, you need to focus on reacting quickly and correctly to the wings behavior here.
“Build A Wall”: In strong wind conditions, the headwind should be strong enough for you to partially inflate the leading edge of the glider while its still on the ground. Inflating the full leading edge of the wing will help the wing ascend symmetrically when you initiate inflation. This is really important in strong conditions because the wing will react so fast and with so much energy that you may not have time to correct an asymmetric inflation.
Pull-Up Speed: You need to focus on pulling the wing up smooth and controlled, even in strong wind. If you pull the glider up too fast, it will probably pick you up into the air. If you pull it up too slow, it will probably start to drag you. The point is to find a happy medium between these two problem areas so you can bring the wing up without it lifting you into the air or dragging you.
During this phase, the pilot will stop the inflated glider directly over their head and rotate their body around into the forward launch position. Special care needs to be taken in strong conditions.
Killing Wing Energy: Depending on the strength of the wind, you may need to kill the extra wing energy so it doesn’t get so much that it ends up launching you up into the air at the end of the inflation. You can do this by running toward the wing as it ascends, this will effectively kill any extra energy created by the strong conditions. Instead of waiting for the glider to come up over your head with a bunch of extra energy, you simply run underneath it instead.
Should I Use The Brakes?: This is going to depend a lot on how strong the wind is, and which grip technique you decide to use during the inflation. The issue with using the brakes is that the wing form stays complete, and the brakes will only change the camber of the airfoil. Increasing the camber of the airfoil will generate more lift (as seen in this video), this explains why when you yank on the brakes during inflation the wing can pick you up off the ground. Now apply this same principle in strong wind conditions and you have a recipe for disaster, because even a small camber change could result in a massive increase in lift. This scenario could play out as follows:
- The pilot starts inflating the glider in strong conditions, the glider begins to shoot up & forward with increased energy.
- The pilot runs forward and uses the brakes to stop the wing from shooting over his head.
- Using the brakes bends the airfoil shape and increases the camber of the wing. This results in a sudden massive increase in lift.
- The pilot is lifted into the air with forward momentum right at the moment of using the brakes and now begins to swing under the wing.
- Because the pilot is now swinging toward the back of the wing, the wing has a frontal collapse. Which is not something you want in strong conditions.
So What Should I Do?: It’s simple really, use the A & C/D grip technique in really strong conditions. Instead of increasing the camber of the wing, yanking on the C/D riser will destroy a portion of the airfoil, which will completely kill part of the lift rather than creating more of it!
If the conditions are really strong, then you probably won’t be doing much acceleration, if any… a little wing loading and a couple steps should have you airborne. If the conditions are not very strong, then you’ll still need to do the normal steps for a safe acceleration, which are outlined here on the reverse launch article.
I’ve seen it in the eyes of other pilots, and even experienced myself many times… the scariness that is involved with doing a strong wind launch. Mother nature is very powerful and that power is fully translated to you through the wing during a strong wind launch.
But even though it can be scary… it can also be managed safely and effectively, with the right understanding, execution, and discipline! Wohooo!
Follow and understand these simple rules, go out and practice them in a safe area, and then practice them some more! The better you are at these techniques, the safer you stay. And feeling safe is the number one priority in a sport like this.
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