Join me on my journey as I learn how to speed bar! Proper use of a paragliding speed system can unlock the true potential of your glider… at least that’s what I’ve heard… but is it true?? Is the speed bar just an on/off switch we use to speed up our gliders when we want to go fast? Or is it something more?
(opens in new tab)
How To Speed Bar
(click to englarge photos)
What’s the point of a speed bar?
Originally, I only considered the speed bar as something used to speed up your glider during XC flights, so if I wasn’t doing XC I didn’t see the speed bar as necessary for my flight! But boy was I wrong! As it turns out, this seemingly simple (and often neglected) device adds an entirely unique and effective method of control over your glider. More control = Good!! 😉
So how does the speed system work?
When using the speed bar to accelerate your glider, the angle of attack of your wing is reduced, and sometimes the profile may even flatten (depending on the glider). This angle of attack (AOA) is the angle between the wing’s chord line and the flight direction (relative airflow).
Reducing the angle of attack and/or flattening the profile of the wing will reduce induced drag and therefore have an accelerating effect. This is because the magnitude of drag generated by the wing itself will depend on its shape and at which angle it moves through the air. Easy.
Ok cool, but how does that help me?
The most obvious reason is that it accelerates your ground speed, so if you need to fly faster, you can use the speed bar to do that. For example, if you’re fighting headwinds, and you don’t want to get pinned or start flying backward!
There is also a lesser known reason, and that is the ability to match the movements of the air using the speed system. The ability to actively control the pitch of your glider in order to keep yourself centered under it is HUGE when it comes to flying efficiently and safely.
INSTALL A SPEED SYSTEM:
If you haven’t already, install the speed bar to your harness. Your harness should come pre-installed with all the necessary pulleys and holes to do this. I know, kinda obvious.. but I had to say it 😉
Adjusting length: You will most likely need to adjust the line length of your speed bar within the harness. You need to do this so you can achieve the maximum speed range: From no acceleration (speed bar disengaged) to full acceleration (speed bar fully extended). If you get this wrong the lines may be too loose or too tight. It’s best to get this done with your dealer/instructor. If you already know how to do it, then you can hang your harness up somewhere and make all the adjustments while on the ground.
- Important Note #1: If the lines are too short, you’ll always have speed bar applied (which is not good). If the lines are too long, you’ll never be able to access full acceleration when you need it (also not good).
- Important Note #2: Different wings may require different speed system length setups in order to achieve their full speed range. This is important to know if you own or plan on using multiple wings.
Connecting To Glider: After you hook up your wing in the launch configuration, you’ll need to attach the speed bar lines from the harness to your risers before you launch. Don’t forget ;
How To Reverse Launch
ACCELERATED FLIGHT WARNING:
Although wing design has advanced drastically over the years, and accelerated flight safety along with it! You should still always keep in mind that your wing is more prone to deflation during accelerated flight. Also, the additional speed will make those deflations much more violent than had you been flying at trim speed (no acceleration). So take it easy!
HOOK THE SPEED BAR:
Hooking the speed bar with your heel can be tricky at first. You need to practice this to the point where you can do it without ever needing to look down and without ever needing to use your hands. If you just can’t figure it out, you may need to look into an aftermarket speed bar option that has a wire loop.
How to Hook: After taking off, you can reach the heel of one of your shoes directly under your seat to hook the speed bar. Once you have it hooked with your heel, bring it forward and place your other foot inside. Boom.
You enter accelerated flight when you engage the speed bar. During accelerated flight, the rules change and more possibilities of performance, efficiency and safety become available to you!
Ground Clearance: Given the fact that you have a higher risk of collapse (and also stronger collapses) while accelerated, the common recommendation is for the pilot to never use the speed bar below 100m (330ft) unless you have no other option. Sounds about right.
Gradual/Smooth Speed Bar Control: If the pilot tries to jam the speed bar on too quickly to accelerate the glider the wing will pitch forward ahead of the pilot. This is because it takes more time for the pilot to match the speed of the glider. The same thing goes for the opposite direction; if you let off the speed bar too aggressively the wing will pitch behind you. You need to focus on developing quick reflexes but with a gradual/smooth use of the speed bar.
Mid-Air Pendulum: The safest and most efficient place for a glider to be is directly over the pilot’s head. So initiating a pendulum is always a bad idea. It becomes an especially bad idea to have the wing pitching forward when you’re jamming on the speed bar and reducing the angle of attack of the wing, this creates a huge frontal collapse risk.
Accelerated Steering: Applying the speed bar will change the angle of attack of your glider, so using the brakes while the leading edge is pointing down could create a drastic change to the camber of the wing. The resulting change in camber could create unbalanced lift (more lift in the trailing edge than the leading edge) which would result in an even higher risk of frontal collapse. No thanks!!
Luckily, you can still steer your glider while fully accelerated. You can steer it by weight shifting, which will apply an equal amount of force to one side of the glider without affecting the shape. You can also steer via the rear risers, which will have less effect on the camber of the wing but still provide sufficient steering ability. Manufacturers like NOVA have even developed special “speedbrake” risers for rear-riser steering which reduce the change in camber to almost nothing.
You can use the speed bar dynamically to control the pitch of your glider and also dampen the surging caused by strong thermals. Dynamic use of the speed bar means that you will actively and constantly adjust the amount of speed bar you use during your flight to match the movements of the air! Yes!! Something for our legs to do!
Surge Control/Damping: Often when you hit a strong thermal, your glider will surge upward, causing it to pitch back behind you. You can offset this thermal surge by pressing on the speed bar depending on the strength of the surge. This is an effective way of keeping the glider in the “sweet spot” centered over your head during thermalling.
Pitch Control: In turbulent air, your glider may pitch back and forth over your head. You can offset this by actively using the speed bar. When the glider pitches behind you, you can speed it up by pressing on the bar, if it pitches forward you can let off the bar to slow it down. When all the controls are combined, you should have no problem keeping the glider in its safest and most efficient position.
So if you weren’t already sold on the speed bars amazing ability to control your glider, it can even be used as an additional safety device! This fact alone makes it an absolute necessity for every flight. Every. Flight.
Accelerate To Escape: You can use the speed bar to accelerate out of cloud suck. If you find yourself getting sucked up into the center of a cloud, you can point your glider to the shortest escape route, throw on the speed bar and accelerate out of the side of a cloud. If your glider is capable of it, you can even use the speed bar while in the “Big Ears” descent configuration. So you can escape out of the side while also reducing your lift. Double safe!
Accelerate To Avoid Rotor: You may find yourself on the leeward side of a hill or ridge. You know that if you get any lower, the venturi effect flowing over the top of the hill will cause you to lose all ground speed and maybe even fly backward into the dangerous rotor below! If you’ve remembered to hook up your speed system, then you can simply accelerate through the leeward sink, fly over the top of the hill and enter the lift band on the windward side of that same hill. You turn a terrible situation into a win with a simple push of your legs. Winning!
WOW, so there you have it, folks.
The speed bar is clearly an essential piece of equipment for any and all types of flying. I will admit that before doing all the research for this article, I completely overlooked the speed bar, and only considered it as something “extra” that you could throw on when you might need it… but I was completely wrong. The speed bar should always be attached, always be ready and always be used. It’s just that good…
From the speed system basics, hooking in, understanding accelerated flight, dynamic acceleration and even the ways that the speed bar can keep you flying safe, I hope everyone who reads this article can learn just as much as I did while writing it.
Follow this article, study it and practice it, because once you have started using the speed bar effectively, you’ll forever be a better and safer pilot for it.
Happy and safe accelerations everyone!
Enter your email address to subscribe to our monthly BigThermal "fresh" content notifications.