Paragliding Reverse Launch
(click to englarge photos)
The proper procedure and theory behind a Paragliding reverse launch are quite complex and difficult to master.
Critical Airspeed (Thrust): 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 does not create sustainable lift and should be avoided!
Motion Force: Newton’s second law of motion states that a force, acting on an object, will change its velocity by changing either its speed or its direction or both. If you make abrupt movements under your wing while it is inflated above your head, those forces will effect the wing. So if you want the wing to move smoothly and accurately, then you need to move smoothly and accurately.
If you want to learn more about how wings generate lift, check out this video!
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. If you plan on doing some strong wind launches, check out this article.
The next step is connecting the glider in a reverse launch position. There are a few different ways to do this circulating around the world, but I’ll give you the method that seems to work best for me.
- Step 1: Facing the prepared glider, hold the risers together and flat with the A’s facing up.
- Step 2: Flip the set of risers over 180°(upside down) in the direction that you want to turn your body later.
- Step 3: Connect the risers to your harness, making sure not to unintentionally flip either riser over.
- Step 4: Take a few steps toward the glider and lay the risers down in front of you without any twists. The brake side of the risers should be facing the wing now. (if required, connect the speed system lines at this point)
- Step 5: With the risers still hanging down and untwisted, grab the brake loops.
That’s it! You’re now connected to the glider in the reverse launch configuration! The next steps will be dictated by which grip technique you will use to inflate the glider.
This is where things get a little tricky. There are actually a few different reverse launch grip techniques. Which one you select will depend on some different factors (Wing, Wind and Personal Preference). Really, they all “work”, but some techniques have a bigger/smaller margin for error depending on these factors! I think it’s best for you to try them all out while ground handling with your glider in different condition and figure out which ones suit you best.
One-Handed: One hand holds both A’s and the other hand remains free, only holding a single brake line. *This one is a little tricky to master, but it provides a lot of potential control over the glider, since one hand is left available to use both brake lines.
Cross-Over Arms: Each hand holds an individual A riser, your arms cross-over in the same way that the risers are crossed. *I see this one used a lot, which is crazy because I would never recommend crossing up your arms between the risers and lines like that.
Parallel Arms: Each hand holds an individual A riser, your arms remain parallel to each other. *Old school technique, you have a little glider control with the A’s, but in order to get maximum control you’ll need to let go of the A’s to use the brakes.
How To Reverse Launch
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 reverse launch, you need to focus on sure-footing during this phase! Don’t trip! Losing control of the wing during inflation is unsafe.
One of the biggest benefits of the reverse launch is the ability to observe the wing during the entire inflation process. If you have any issues during the inflation (asymmetrical liftoff, tangled lines, cravat, etc) you can easily adjust or kill the glider! Awesome!
“Build A Wall” (If you can): If the headwind is strong enough, you can partially inflate the leading edge of the glider while its still on the ground. Inflating the full leading edge of the wing will make it symmetrical and more likely to inflate symmetrically when you pull on the A risers.
Brake Input: Once the glider is inflated and has started its ascent, it will need to be stopped at the optimal position directly above the pilot’s head. You can easily do this by applying a brief & very gradual brake input. Applying too much brake too fast here may create 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 your head before you rotate your body around into the forward launch position. It is only at this position that the wing is most stable and safe for takeoff. Do not rotate yourself around until you have confirmed that the wing is centered over your head!
Pilot Rotation: Once the wing position looks good, you can rotate yourself around into the forward launch position. Stop looking up at the glider, level your eyes and head, and quickly rotate yourself around. During the rotation try to keep yourself centered under the wing. Right after the moment of rotation, lower yourself a small amount to compensate for the pressure loss caused by untwisting the risers (Thanks Airie Sasha).
The pilot has rotated themselves around into the forward launch position with the wing centered above them. They must now 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). You can load the wing by bending your knees as you start accelerating, once your speed picks up you can lean further forward into the “torpedo” launch position.
Gradual Acceleration: If the pilot tries to accelerate too fast the wing will probably lag behind and then pitch forward creating a very inefficient and unsafe pendulum effect. To prevent this, the pilot needs to accelerate gradually, starting off his acceleration slowly and ending it much faster. This allows your glider to move with you, keeping it above your head in the optimal position through the entire acceleration process.
*Pendulum Effect: There a few problems associated with a launch like this. The first problem is that unless your launch site has a really steep incline, you’ll end up hopping a few times until you finally get airborne, this makes for a pretty ridiculous and inefficient launch. The second problem is especially dangerous! When your wing pendulums forward ahead of you, you’re at an extreme risk of having a front collapse right above the ground.
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!
When I think back before I decided to write this article, I remember that my reverse launches were sloppy, inefficient and worst of all.. extremely unsafe. I have been lucky though, and nothing bad ever happened, but the possibility was always there…
Over the course of writing this article, I completed roughly 300 reverse launches back to back. I tried every technique possible, with three different wing sizes: 18, 24 and 28msq. I wanted to really test all the different techniques, and find out what really works and what really is SAFE! And I think I was very successful in doing that.
From this point on, my reverse launches will be masterfully done, with a major focus on keeping things safe and leaving little to no chance for bad things to happen ever again.
Follow this article, study it and practice it, because once you have mastered a safe and efficient reverse launch, you’ll be able to takeoff with an easy mind from that point on. It is that easy mind that is critical for making the sport of paragliding enjoyable.
Happy and safe takeoffs everyone!
Enter your email address to subscribe to our monthly BigThermal "fresh" content notifications.