Big Ears are a descent technique where the outside portions on both sides of the paraglider are intentionally collapsed by pulling down on the outermost A lines. The collapsing of the outer portion of the airfoil reduces the area of the wing while at the same time, some drag is created from the collapsed segments of the glider. Some manufacturers recommend engaging or exiting one ear at a time, but I have not seen this to be necessary. If you are a stickler for the rules, please stick with your owners manual’s protocols.
If there was no added drag from this, the wing would fly faster as the size of the main airfoil is smaller. But there is some drag and this raises the angle of attack slightly. The net result is that the wing descends on a slightly steeper glide slope, but the overall forward speed is reduced. In situations where lift is enough that a pilot is ascending slightly at trim and need to descend, the big ears can increase the descent rate enough to help them descend in mellow lift.
When Big Ears are engaged, the pilot will need to keep the A riser or outer A lines pulled down to keep the Big Ears from re-inflating. Most late model class A or B gliders have an extra A riser that is designed to make Big Ears easier to engage. On some older gliders higher performance gliders, there are no split A risers and the pilots use the outermost A lines on the single riser to engage the Big Ears. With Split A Risers, it is easier to find and pull down the webbing than the outermost A line.
Purpose: Big Ears can be used as a way to eliminate lift and get down when ascending toward a hazard. Big Ears can also be combined with the speed bar and this will increase the descent rate and forward speed. With the addition of pressing the speed bar, the angle of attack decreases and the descent rate increases as a combined result.
Some pilots and instructors teach pilots to use Big Ears during a landing approach. Others dissuade the practice and say that active flying and figure 8s should be used instead.
My personal viewpoint is that with experience and practice with Big Ears, they can be a very useful tool. The steeper glide angle and faster rate of descent, can help pilots through the “poppy” air at some thermal sites. Despite this, I believe that each pilot needs to form their own decision of where and when to use Big Ears.
- Engaging incorrectly!
- Pulling the wrong riser can result in a full collapse or a spin. A good practice for newer pilots is to identify the split A riser with a colorful piece of electrical tape etc. that will make it easier to identify.
- Exiting incorrectly
- Most entry gliders only need the A risers released. You can just let them go. Do not immediately pull the brakes way down. Instead, give the glider a couple seconds to re-inflate the ears. After a couple seconds, pull the brakes down to shoulder height or slightly below and this should get them to come re-inflate.
- Steering with Ears engaged.
- Steering in Big Ears is limited to weight shift. Because of the reduced span of the airfoil, the weight shift is more effective. Again, practice is the key and learning the limits and how to maximize weight shift to turn the glider will both help when steering in Big Ears. If more turn is needed than weight shift can provide, you can release the Big Ears and use the brake/s to do a normal turn.
It is critical to learn how to properly engage and exit Big Ears.
Engaging Big Ears: There are differing opinions on how to handle the brakes while engaging the ears. Some recommend sliding the hands through the brakes, while others keep the brakes in the hands. Others, release the brakes entirely and just reach up to pull the Split As or outermost A lines down. Those that recommend sliding the hand through are trying to keep you from pulling the brakes as you try to induce the collapse.
Below is an instructional video showing the basics of Big Ears. The wing being flown here had the brakes set at “wrap” length. This means that the brakes have about 3 extra inches to pull before the trailing edge is deflected. Brakes that are not set with “wrap” length, generally have about 4.5 inches of pull before the trailing edge is deflected.
How to enter, steer and exit Big Ears while paragliding