For as long as there has been Paragliding, there has been a forward launch. Even to this day, the ability to forward launch a Paraglider is a standard practice and an essential skill for every pilot to learn and master.
It sound’s simple enough… Just hook up your glider facing forward, then run as fast as you can until your feet leave the ground. Right?
Wrong! Executing a SAFE and efficient forward launch is actually a very complicated process, and requires a lot of practice to master. Read below to learn more.
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Paragliding Forward Launch
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The proper procedure and theory behind a Paragliding reverse launch are quite complex and difficult to master.
Once a Paragliding wing is inflated with air, it creates a very special shape called an airfoil. This airfoil shape is what gives the wing an ability to generate lift!
Just like an airplane has an engine to thrust itself forward during take-off, a Paragliding wing has it’s pilot.. the pilot acts as an engine, thrusting the wing forward through the power of his legs 🙂 All natural thrust!
Every Paragliding wing requires a certain level of forward thrust to generate enough lift to pick the pilot up off the ground and into the sky! Yeeehaawww!
And the Brakes?
The brakes are only there to stop the glider at the optimal position over the pilot’s head, they play no part in creating sustainable lift required for takeoff. Creating lift by jamming the brakes during the forward launch procedure is dangerous and should be avoided!
Wind Direction: If there is any headwind at the launch site, make sure to set up your glider to takeoff in that 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.
The Glider: For a safe and efficient forward launch, it’s important that you have your glider properly laid out behind you before you start, because you won’t be able to see it or what it’s doing once you start the procedure.
The recommended laying method seems to be the “horseshoe”. Lay the glider out totally flat, and then pull a bit on the brake lines to force the wingtips toward you while the center of the glider stays put. This will create a horseshoe shape with the glider and make it more likely to ascend symmetrically once you start the inflation.
Risers & Hand Position: With most modern gliders, the preferred hand/riser position is to the sides of the pilot, and held at shoulder height. This may change depending on the size of the glider or the length of the lines. For example, it’s recommended to keep your elbows against your sides when launching a mini-wing.
You’ve read the theory behind how and why a wing takes flight, you’ve prepared yourself and your equipment, and now it’s time to execute the maneuver.
During this phase of the launch procedure, the pilot initiates forward 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 glider.
How slow or fast you move forward to inflate the wing will depend on the conditions. In calm, no wind conditions, you may need to run forward to inflate the wing. In high wind conditions, you may need to only pull the A-risers a bit to inflate the wing and begin its ascent over your head.
The biggest thing you need to remember to inflate the wing safely is to stay centered under the wing. If the wing begins to drift to the left or right as it inflates, you must keep yourself centered under it by running/walking sideways in the direction the wing is drifting.
This is where the pilot stops the inflated glider directly over their head and quickly checks the lines and wing for any issues before continuing their takeoff.
Brake Input: Once the glider is inflated and has started its ascent, it will probably need to be stopped at the optimal position directly above the pilot’s head. You can do this by applying a brief & very gradual brake input. Applying too much brake too fast here may cause a sudden burst of unstable lift which could cause you to lose control of your glider.
Wing Position: The wing must maintain a position directly over the pilot’s head during the launch procedure. It is only at this position that the wing is most stable and safe for takeoff. Trying to continue a launch with a wing that is not centered above the pilot could be dangerous.
In this phase, the pilot will create thrust by gradually accelerating themselves and the glider forward. They will also want to keep the wing sufficiently loaded by maintaining a proper body position.
Wing Loading: Wings are at their safest and most efficient when loaded with weight, so it is imperative that you continuously load the glider during the thrust phase of the launch. How you position your body to load the wing will depend on a lot of different variables (wind, gusts, launch terrain, etc). But one sure-fire way to get the job done is the “torpedo” launch position. In this position, the entire body is angled forward (weighting the wing down), eyes and head are looking up to the horizon.
Gradual Acceleration: The wing needs to be accelerated to the critical takeoff airspeed in order to achieve appropriate lift for takeoff. If the pilot tries to accelerate too fast the wing could lag behind and create an unsafe takeoff position. In order to prevent this, the pilot needs to focus on developing a gradual acceleration of the wing.
So if you followed these procedures correctly, then you should have had an efficient and most importantly, SAFE forward launch!
SAFE DISTANCE: As soon as your feet leave the ground, your main focus needs to be on achieving a safe distance from the ground. Wiggling around, rocking, and pushing on the risers in order to get into your harness before you’ve achieved a safe distance from the ground is unsafe and should be avoided!
The forward launch has been around since the beginning of Paragliding, and for good reason, it’s a great way to foot launch a glider.. especially in calm or no wind conditions. And although it’s been around since the beginning, I still see a vast number of pilot’s failing to safely execute it (I’m guilty as well).
Setting up the glider properly, launching into the wind, holding the risers in the correct position, gradual brake inputs, positioning the wing directly over your head, loading the wing during acceleration and accelerating gradually all play a major part in keeping your forward launch safe and effective!
Happy flying guys! Keep it safe out there!
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