Critical Flying Situations

The following are situations where correct reactions are critical. There are sometimes compounding issues, but the basics remain the same. Most of these situations are included in questions on the P2 exam, so these descriptions should cover the basic concepts of dealing with these critical situations.

All student pilots are recommended to attend a maneuvers clinic to learn these techniques directly. There is no substitute for experience and practice to help a pilot’s ability to react correctly when such situations occur in the real world.

Asymmetric Collapse
Definition:   A partial collapse of the wing from turbulence or any situation where a low angle of attack has collapsed some portion of the wing.

Solution – Maintain direction with weight shift and or opposite brake, then use a slight pull on collapsed side brake to clear collapse.

Discussion - The paragliding instructors and community have long used the acronym for this – “Steer, then Clear”. “Steer” means – weigh shift and pull enough brake to maintain direction. “Clear” means – help eliminate the collapse. The reason to steer first is to control direction. For a big collapse, use a lot of weight shift to eliminate over-pulling the brake and possibly stalling the side you are pulling.

Steering is important because the wing will tend to turn toward the collapsed side as a result of drag created from the collapsed portion of wing on this side. If the wing turns toward a collapse, it can often increase progressively into a very dangerous spiral. Often, after direction has been maintained, the clearing will happen on its own. If it does not, then a light pull on the collapsed side will help to re-inflate it.

Asymmetric Collapse with a Cravat
Definition:   A partial collapse of the wing.  This results from turbulence or any situation where a low angle of attack has caused some portion of the wing to collapse.  In addition to this, the collapse includes a line that is trapping or hindering the wing from recovery.  The line causing the issue is called a cravat.
Solution – Maintain direction with weight shift and or opposite brake, then use a slight pull on collapsed side brake to clear collapse.  Normally, more weight shift is required to minimize the wing’s desire to turn.
Discussion – The primary is still the same, Steer, then Clear! With directional control achieved, then there are a couple of ways to help a cravat come out. One possible technique is to yank the stabilo line to pull the tip down and help remove it. Another is to use the split A to re-induce a collapse on the same side. Advanced and experienced pilots have also intentionally induced full stalls to fix a cravat, but this is an extreme maneuver and one must be an expert with such to try! If a glider enters a spiral with a cravat and is unable to fix such, this would be a time to consider throwing the reserve.
Full Frontal Collapse, Symmetrical
Definition: A full collapse of the wing from turbulence or any situation where a low angle of attack has collapsed the entire leading edge of the wing.
Solution – Normally, full frontal collapses fix themselves. If the leading edge remains tucked under, pull the brakes deep enough to open the center cells and the wing should re-inflate.
Discussion – When the leading edge tucks under as the result of a frontal collapse, the wing loses most of its forward velocity and lift. It then descends and this will usually re-inflate the wing. If a frontal happens with the speed bar pushed, it can be more aggresive. If a frontal happens with the speed bar pushed, release pressure from the speed bar, the pull the brakes enough to help the cells reopen.

Definition:   Getting blown behind a ridge or mountain when the winds above are stronger than the paraglider can penetrate in.

Solution – You are high above a ridge or Mountain and begin to realize that you are either moving backwards or not forward at trim. You need to immediately fully engage your speed bar.  This is the best way to penetrate forward from the ridge. If you are going forward, but are still ascending, you need to add Big Ears. A full article discusses the preferable goal of preventing this with management and more depth to the solutions.

Discussion – Keep in mind that the top speed for a paraglider is achieved with full speed bar. If you can penetrate forward, upwind of the lift band, you will begin descending.  If you continue to ascend while on full speed bar, you might consider adding in big ears.  Adding big ears actually reduces the top speed, but increases the descent rate enough to counteract the lift. In wind gradients, getting lower equals moving into less wind, and as a result, increasing your ability to penetrate upwind.

Deep, Parachutal or Constant Stall
Definition:  A stall that happens when the angle of attack reaches a point where the laminar flow over the wing is detached from the top surface.   Unlike the full stall, the wing stabilizes in this mode and descends more like a parachute.  All 3 terms, (Deep Stall, Parachutal Stall, Constant Stall) describe the exact same form of stall.
Solution – Release brakes to full up position, then lower angle of attack with speed bar or by leaning on/pulling downward on the A risers.
Discussion – The cure for a wing that has entered a deep stall is to lower the angle of attack.  Most modern wings rarely enter this, but if they do, lowering the angle of attack will help increase the air speed and the laminar flow will reattach to the top of the wing. This can be done by pushing the speed bar or if this is not possible leaning on, pushing forward or pulling slightly down on the A risers.
Full Stall Definition:   When a wing reaches an angle of attack that is so high that the airflow over the top separates from the wing.   When this happens, the pilot usually has swung out in front of the wing and the wing begins to collapse, usually sliding a little backward through the air.   Note: In a “deep stall” the wing still has some pressure in it and descends like a parachute (see above for dealing with a deep stall).Solution - If you have altitude, the primary concern is to avoid letting the brakes up immediately.  If the wing has begun to collapse as the result of a stall, letting the brakes up fully while you are forward of the wing will result in a super strong surge.  If this happens, the wing can dive in front of and below you and you can fall/drop into the sail.  This is called getting “gift wrapped” and is one of the worst things that can happen to you.  Instead, when altitude is good, you should lock your brakes under your legs and wait till your wing is above your or in front of you, not behind.   When this happens, you can then smoothly let the brakes back up to trim.  If altitude is low, throw your reserve if you are not sure of the recovery time. 

Discussion – Full stalls are not all about low speed.  Stalls are directly related to angle of attack.  They happen when a “pitching moment” occurs.   This is a sudden increase in the angle of attack.   When entering a thermal, for example, if you pull the brakes down to Minimum Sink speed just as the front of the wing has begun rising and the wing is slowing, you will be tempting a full stall.  Instead, when you first feel the front of your glider rise and your wing slow when entering a thermal, let your hands up to allow the wing to get back all the way above you.  Then, you can slow to minimum sink.   Also, you should not fly slower than Minimum Sink speed or pull the brakes down fast in most flying situations.

Glider has entered a SPIN
Definition: A spin is an asymmetrical stall of the wing.   In a spin, the glider remains overhead but rotates above the pilot with the inside wing stalled and the outside wing flying.  The center of rotation is usually inside the span of the wing.
Solution – Un-stall the wing by making sure both brakes are released all the way up to the pulleys.
Discussion – Spins are almost always pilot induced.   This means that the pilot has usually pulled one of the brakes too strongly and has caused the inside wing to stall.   By releasing both brakes all of the way, most wings will begin recovery on their own.   In some situations, the spin can continue and this might mean that the pilot may have to apply some outside brake (If this is done too aggressively, a spin in the opposite direction can occur!).
Recovery from a spin that has not recovered on its own takes more skill and quicker decision making.  Acro pilots will sometimes use a full stall to “reset” their wing.   Lesser pilots might be better off throwing a reserve if a spin does not come out.   Better than all the solutions, learn to fly in a correct fashion and not stall the inside wing.
Glider is in a SPIRAL
Definition:  A spiral is a steeper banked turn where the glider points downward and the descent speed is very high and G forces increase.
Solution – Let inside hand up smoothly and remove any inward weight shift.
Discussion – Normally a spiral happens with inside weight shift and lots of inside braking. By removing both of these smoothly the glider should exit a spiral. Gliders will tend to surge a bit on the exit from a spiral. It is best to exit slowly and the surge will not be strong. If the surge is strong, use active flying to manage.
Rarely, some gliders can get into a locked in spiral.   The symptoms of this are that after the inside brake and weigh shift have been removed, the glider continues to spiral.   In this situation, the brake pressure on the outside brake might be extremely high, but pulling this to exit the spiral should be attempted.   If altitude is low, with this situation, I would recommend to just throw the reserve.
Tree Landing
Definition:  When a situation develops where there are no areas big or safe enough to land your paraglider in.
Solution – If you have no choice but to land in a tree, it is best to use the tree to try to land in the center and top of the tree to prevent yourself from falling to the ground.
Discussion – The concern here is to make it clear that landing between trees might seem like a possibility.   But, when a paraglider grazes or settles between trees, collapses will likely occur.   Falling through trees and impacting the ground is much more dangerous than landing in the tree and being away from the ground.
There are different kinds of trees in geographic regions and different flying areas.  With bushy trees, you might be able to flair into the top and center of the tree and then release the flair to drape the wing over the tree.  With pointy trees, you will have to make decisions based on your ability and how much room is between the trees. If you do try to land between trees, if some of the wing hits the tree, you might fall or spiral to the ground.   If possible to fly into, possibly flair and catch some branches, this might be the best you can do.  Some trees, tall, skinny pines for example, are not at all landing friendly.   In such a situation, another consideration might be to throw the reserve and it would be less likely to collapse during the descent into the trees.   There is never just one answer for such a situation, better than all of the above options is to not get into a situation where you cannot reach a safe landing area.
It is also good to have at minimum some dental floss or a length of thin cord in an accessible pocket on the harness.  If you ever end up suspended in a tree following a tree landing, either of the above can be used to aid the Search and Rescue or friends trying to help you out of the tree.  The dental floss or cord can be lowered down to the help and they can tie a rope to such to get it up to you.   There are some kits that are “self rescue” systems.    Some clubs and groups, especially those that fly in regions with lots of trees near the flying sites offer training in self rescue.   Getting this training can make it much easier if you ever end up in such a situation.
Water Landings
Definition:  When you land either in water or even ankle deep next to water that is moving (has waves or current).
Solution - If you have somehow landed in or even near water, the first thing to do is to free yourself from the harness and get clear of the lines. If you are in moving water, also try to swim upstream of the lines. Make sure that your hook knife is always on your harness, ready for use and is attached to the sheath or harness with a lanyard.  If detaching from the harness is difficult, use the hook knife to either extract yourself from the harness or to cut the risers of the glider to be able to get away from it.


Discussion –
Water landings can cause drowning. Still water like a lake is much less hazardous than Surf or Streams or Rivers, but line entanglement and the fact that harnesses tend to float in the back (because of foam or airbags tendency to float) can make swimming extremely difficult.   Moving water (i.e. surf or water with a current) is super powerful.   It can quickly overpower you and is likely to drown you.

I have taught next to the Pacific Ocean for many years. I use the expression, “It is better to crash downwind into the beach or cliff, than to land calf deep in the water”. Rescuers can get a crashed pilot off the cliff, but may not be able to assist a pilot in the water.

If you are in a situation where you know you will be landing in water, you can prepare yourself by doing the following:

  • Unbuckle one leg strap (leave one secured to make sure you do not fall out of the harness prior to landing in the water), your chest strap and even your waist strap.
  • Be ready to use your hook knife to cut risers or lines to clear yourself from your glider should you be unable to unbuckle all necessary fasteners.
  • Once in the water, use whatever means you have at your disposal to get clear of the harness and wing.   This includes squirming out of the harness or cutting the risers or lines with the hook knife.




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