Returning to the ground in a paraglider is not complex. The primary factors involved are airspeed energy and timing the pull of the brakes to match the energy dissipation. The below article describes a system that I developed to simplify the conversion of technical understanding to feel during the flare. When you first begin landing, the feel will not have experience, so using the two stages based on height will help you develop the feel that will take you past the analytical side of landing. With all aspects of paragliding, feel and light touch are better than stiff controlled movements that happen when you have to think about all the factors.
I teach a two stage flare that I call the 7 – 5 – 3 technique.
In all of the following discussions, the height is estimated from the feet to the ground. So, 7 feet is when your feet are 7 feet above the ground etc.
7 - Represents the minimum height in feet, that the feet are above ground, when you begin the initial pull of the brakes. Although I use 7 feet in the description, the beginning of this can vary between 6 and 9 ft above the ground. If you are better with Meters, you could use 2 – 3 meters for this.
In this photo, the brakes are just beginning to be pulled downward.
The glider is just below the 7 foot threshold.
5 - Represents the height, in feet, that the 2nd half of the flare begins. In this phase, the pilot should be sensing the energy of the wing (how much airspeed there is). If the glider climbs at all during the initial pull of the brakes, pause and discontinue pulling any further until the glider begins to descend again. If the glider continues to descend when the brakes are pulled to chest height, the pilot will need to continue towards a full pull to finish the flare at 3 feet. This phase is the key to timing. The following finish is really the result of good timing during the pull between 5 and 3 feet. The goal is to have a full flare not much lower than 3 ft over the ground ( target 2 – 3 ft ).
Here the pilot is in the middle stage, waiting for his height to
drop below the 5 ft threshold before executing the 2nd half of the flare.
3 - Represents the height you should have a full flare completed or mostly completed by. Please note, in windier situations, a full flare might be just slightly more than the first half of the flare.
This Pilot is below 3 ft and has a full flare completed or nearly completed.
If the wind moderate or stronger, he might not need to pull down all the way.
Approaching the Flare:
When gliding in on final from your approach pattern, make sure that your keep your airspeed up prior to the following flare stages. Having airspeed (energy) in the wing will help your round-out be smoother and as a result your landing will be softer. No sharp turns should be done below 25′, turns like this can leave the glider low on airspeed or can create a descent speed too high. It is more important to have higher speed when in light or variable winds.
Your legs should be down prior to all of the above and you should have your legs running during the flare. Running ensures that your legs are below you and keeps the knees flexed to absorb some downward movement.
Stage 1 (Testing the wing’s energy):
As you approach the ground during your final glide, begin pulling the brakes down from trim or near trim speed between 6 and 9 feet. Start out with a nice smooth pull to the shoulders. If the air was always smooth and there was no lift or gusts of wind when you land, flares would not require much adjustment. In the real world, thermals, gusts and different wind speeds make each flare unique. This is why you need to test the energy with this first part of the flare.
- If the glider climbs or stops descending when you have pulled the brakes to the shoulders, you need to pause the flare immediately at this point. Do not raise the brakes back up to trim. Instead, just keep the brakes at shoulder level (where they were). If there is more airspeed, the wing will slow its descent quickly and it might even stop descending or climb a little. When there is good energy in the glider, slow or pause the flare until it begins to descend. This is where the balance between feel and pull blend together to make for good flare timing.
- If the glider continues to descend, continue pulling the brakes downward. If the glider’s descent does not slow much, you will need to be ready to increase the pace of the flare in stage 2. This can happen when there is a stronger wind gradient (less wind as your wing gets closer to the ground). It also happens when your wing flies through and out of a gust just prior to the flare. At the end of a gust, the wing will be left with low energy as the gust dies.
If you sense good energy in the glider when you reach mid-chest height, pause your flair until you descend smoothly to about 5 feet. If you have reached mid-chest height and the glider continues to descend and does not show good energy, continue into the second stage of the flare.
Stage 2 (Finish the flare 2 to 3 feet above the ground):
During the second half of the flare, with good feel you can adjust the pacing. The speed needs to be adjusted to the rate you are descending. If you are coming down slowly, you can pull very gently downward as you finish the flare. When coming down faster, you need to increase the pace of the flare.
The goal is to finish of the flare to about 2 to 3 ft above the ground. If you finish a flare in this range, you will have consistently good landings. With time and good feel, you will gain the touch that lands you smooth and graceful on every landing.
Landings vary based on the wind and conditions. In light or no winds (less than 4 or 5 MPH), completing a full flare at 3 ft. above the ground will achieve nice and easy touchdowns. On such landings you should always have your legs down from 30′ or higher and get the legs moving when below 10 feet. The full flare will help to minimize the speed at which you will need to run as you touch down. Do not make the mistake of flaring to minimize your forward speed. The focus should always be on flaring to minimize vertical speed. You can always run, but if you come down vertically fast, it can be much more dangerous.
In stronger winds ( 8 MPH or stronger ) pulling the brakes all the way down could pull you backwards and cause the wing to drag you after you flare. Instead of executing full arm extension in the flare, pull the brakes down just as much as needed from the chest position. As you practice, you can fine tune your feel to adjust how much brake to pull to adjust the rate of descent. In winds like this, you will not need to move much faster than a trot on landing and often will not have any forward speed at touchdown. As with all other aspects of flying, practice will help polish the techniques and feel.
Dividing the flair into two stages makes it easier to learn the timing. After you learn the feel and get familiar with the flare speed and descent speed management, you will not have to think about the specific feet anymore. As you practice landings, the flare will become fluid and will become one motion (Slower pull at first with a slightly stronger pull at the end – progressive speed) with varying speed throughout the flare. However, timing will vary based on the conditions. The factors include the following: thermals, wind gusts, density altitude, and how much airspeed the glider had on approach. You will also learn how far to extend the flare with regard to wind conditions (less pull in stronger winds and a full flare in any light wind situations).
If timing goes wrong:
- If you realize that you have started your flare too early:
- If you are below 10 feet, hold the flare. If you let the brakes up after a full flare, the wing could surge forward and swing you into the ground. This has potential to be even worse than a full stall from this height. From 10 feet, most entry paragliders will go into a parachutal mode and the descent rate will be manageable. Make sure your legs are bent and be prepared to go into a roll onto the ground to absorb some of this extra vertical speed.
- If you are above 10 feet, let the brakes smoothly back up to chest height. This will aid in prevention of a stall and help the glider maintain airspeed for flair. You can then do a finish flare again when you descend below the 5 ft level.
Common Flare Issues:
- Waiting too long to begin the flare can force a flare that is so fast that it is less efficient. The flare should be pretty smooth. If you do wait to long to begin the flare, pulling the brakes faster becomes necessary to finish at 2-3 ft above the ground.
- Pulling the brakes on descent prior to the flare can leave the glider with a deficiency of energy that will make the flare have no teeth to bite with. It is good to keep the brakes at shoulder or higher as you descend to the flare threshold. In strong and steady winds, advanced pilots will come in slower than this, but all pilots should have airspeed up near trim for landings in light and variable winds.
- Brakes raised just prior to the flare If a pilot begins a flare and the wing climbs because of a gust, thermal or good energy in the glider, the pilot should never let the brakes back up to trim. If the pilot does, the wing can surge in front of the pilot. Now the glider will be diving a little at the ground. The natural and only reaction to this is to flare. The problem with this scenario is that the pilot will now accelerate downward to the ground! Learn to keep the brakes steady and avoid any up movement of the brakes as you near the ground. A pilot that comes in with the brakes a little below shoulder will be in less jeopardy a the point of flare than the pilot that let the brakes up at 10 feet when he realized that he had too much brake pulled.
- Landing gear not down at time of flare Make it a habit to get into a full upright position prior to beginning the flare. Yes, there are a ton of pilots out there that flare and get their landing gear down in one motion. There are way too many situations where this can leave a pilot vulnerable and unable to get their legs down.
General Landing Concepts for Safety
- Landings should always be done as much into the wind as is possible. This lowers the ground speed and increases the safety of the landing. On the other hand, paragliders land fairly well within about 45 degrees of being directly into the wind. One nice fact is that the stronger the wind is, the easier it is to sense and picture the true direction. So, land directly into the wind if possible. Avoid downwind landings, but if you are moving at a slight angle from directly into the wind, it should not be too compromising.
- While near terrain, look where you want to go, not at the hazards. Object fixation can lead to excessive anxiety and flying toward a hazard instead of away from such.
- From about 30 ft to ground level, the glider requires good airspeed for flare energy. A flare will have a much weaker effect if you fly down to the ground at Min Sink speed. There is usually a wind gradient as you near the ground that can lessen the airspeed of the paraglider. Keeping the brakes up near trim will help keep energy for flare in the paraglider for the flare.
- Pilots should always be upright (hanging in their leg straps, not be seated in the harness) as they approach the ground on final. I use 30 ft above the ground as the height to get upright. The legs can protect the pilot should unexpected turbulence or such occur near the ground.
- When coming down to the ground look way out in front of you and learn to perceive your height this way. If you look down below your feet, it tends to increase anxiety in light winds when your ground speed is high. Instead, pick up your height and descent via your peripheral vision. Running is an option when landing, but coming down too fast is not.
- The faster you are descending, the faster the flare should be. If after the middle 5 stage the glider is still moving down quickly, then you move right into the full flare.
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