The advantage of the reverse launch is that the wing’s ascent to overhead can both be observed and adjustments can be made to tempo and direction. There are several variations of the reverse launch, this article deals with the preset hands method. The term “preset” is used because the brakes are arranged so that when the pilot turns forward, the brakes are in the correct hands. The brakes can be preset for several launch techniques. Below, I am describing the basic A riser + brakes method. With A riser and brakes technique, the risers are crossed and as the pilot faces the wing, the left hand will be lifting the left side of the wing (as he faces it) and the right hand will lift the right side of the wing. Meanwhile, the brakes are wrapped so that when the pilot turns forward, they will unwrap and be correctly arranged for flying forward.
In the early days of the sport, this was not the case for most launches. Pilots would kite the wing one way after lifting, then would swap brakes during the turn transition to get them into the correct hands for forward control. Many issues occurred as a result of failed or incorrectly swapped brakes. By the mid 90s, most of the schools began teaching the preset techniques to prevent issues with brake swapping.
The Layout prior to raising the wing…
The power for the lifting process comes from the hips. While the hips are pulling, the hands deflect (lift) the A risers upward. This helps the airfoil ascend. As the wing climbs above the ground, the pilot can direct and guide the ascent by lifting or not lifting either A riser. At the end of the lift, if the wing has extra tempo or velocity, the risers will need to be released and a slight pull of the brakes to check the wing.
Some differences occur as a result of how much wind there is when you loft the wing.
- In very light winds: It will take a full effort (strong pull from the hips and correctly timed lifting of the A risers) to get the wing all the way overhead. Even with this full effort, in zero to 2 mph winds, the wing will just barely get all of the way overhead. One of the more difficult components of light wind lifts is that the pilot need to continue moving backwards throughout the process.
- In winds about 3 – 5 mph: The wing will tend to come up slow at first, then when is is a little more than 1/2 way up, it will often zip overhead. In this scenario, there is little wind resistance as the wing crests its ascent and it will be good to be ready to check the wing with the brakes.
- In winds about 6 – 10 mph: The wing will come up with much less hand deflection. The surge of the wing as it crests is normally not as hard to control as in the 3- 5 mph wind. This is because the wing will see a more immediate airflow (airspeed) as it crests to the overhead position and this dampens the surging.
- In winds stronger than 10 mph: The lightest leverage of the hands can be used, but the hips will need to power the wing up. Surges will be much greater when the launch is steeper. The combination of a steep launch and high winds can lead the wing to ascend like a rocket ship. I recommend the A/C technique for such situations. If you are going to do the risers and brakes, you can soften the ascent of the wing by walking a towards the wing as it just starts to come up.
When you get familiar with ascent speed, you can learn to fine tune the power of lift from the hands. When a check is necessary, pull the brakes to just below the shoulders or a bit more just before the wing comes overhead. Over-checking is better than not checking enough. When the wing ascends quickly, and enough check is not done, bad things happen. If the wing is over-checked and it falls back to the ground, this is not a bad thing and only requires a re-launch. With time and experience, checking the wing will become natural and fluid every time you lift the wing.
A variation of the risers & brakes lift is called the A/B lift and is done by adding the B risers to each hand. Wings that tend to come up fast with just the A risers will come up slower by adding the B risers to the hands. The trade off of using the A/B lift is that the ability to help a side catch up is not as good. So, if the wing is not lifted straight, correction by using asymmetrical lifting will not be very effective. By using the A/B lift, the pacing will be minimized and can eliminate the need to stop the wing with the brakes. Playing with the different techniques, a student will better understanding of all of the variations.
A hidden dynamic here is that for a pilot that turns to the left, it is much better to have the wing slightly on the left than the right when transitioning to forward. The pilot that transitions to the left will have the advantage while rotating to be moving under the wing more. But even more important, the risers are easier to move around with a slight left tilt to them. The left turning pilot will be blocked by the risers when the wing is on the right. Ducking under them often leads to the pilot having balance issues or not being able to transition at all. With time, you can actually guide the wing to straight up to slightly on the side you turn toward. If you turn the other way, the same holds true, just reverse the side you lift the wing to.
Guiding the Paraglider to directly overhead or slightly on the side you will be turning toward is the key to successful reverse launches. Learning how much to offset the hands to guide the wing centered or slightly to the turn side should be a primary focus while lifting the wing. If you learn to lift the wing with this goal, you will have ample opportunities to work on the rest of your launch sequence. Trying to get a wing to kite without it starting close to centered can be an exercise in frustration. This is why we will work very hard on this in lessons. Once the wing begins coming up straight, you can simplify the launch to Lift, Check, Turn, Torpedo. These 4 points need to be completed one at a time.
- Lift When lifting the wing, the focus should be on two things; tempo and direction. During the lift process, back straight up and guide the wing by offsetting the hands. If the wing starts coming up faster on the right side, stop leveraging the right side riser and lift more with the left hand. This is how we guide the wing to where we want. If the wing comes up too crooked, just abort the launch by pulling the brakes or rear risers. If the wing is straight enough, prepare for the check.
- Check For the riser and brakes lift, the check is done with the brakes. In very light winds, sometimes there is no need to check the wing because there is no threat that it will get in front of you as you turn. On the other hand, the check when executed correctly tends to stabilize the wing just prior to the turn. I higher winds, you can kite the wing after checking and prior to turning, but in light winds, you will need to keep moving backwards, turn quickly and transition to forward after the check is complete. When the wing comes up fast enough to require a check, you will learn to adjust how much to pull the brakes for how much surge there is. A medium check is pulling the brakes a little below the shoulders. The key here is to make sure the wing is checked prior to turning.
- Turn Turn in the directions you set your risers up for. The turn will be much easier to do if you are not backing up tall just before the turn. It is better to get the hips lower, this facilitates the turn process. Think of turning as rotating your chest around the risers. Students often try to turn by rotating their body with the spine being the center of rotation. The risers are what you need to rotate around. I have my students turn to the left. When the check has been completed, the left foot steps back and opens. The pilot then pivots on the foot and rotate their chest around the risers. During the rotation the head will need to lean to the right to clear the risers. The turning process is best learned and practiced during kiting sessions. In lighter winds continuing to move into the wind as much as possible will make this process easier.
- Torpedo Just after turning forward, you will have the brakes somewhere up near your ears. A quick look out of the corner of the eye is a good way to make sure the wing is still stable. Start to accelerate forward and manage the wing with the brakes in this position. You can then transition into the torpedo position. When you transition, if there is some pull of the brakes at first, let the brake up smoothly. If you transition to a torpedo and get the hands up really fast, sometimes the wing will surge in front of you.
The lift process can be broken down into the following phases:
- The Initial (lifting initiation)
- The Middle (ascent)
- The Finish (completion and release of A risers)
During all three phases, you can learn to guide the wing to ascend your desired position (centered or slightly to the side you turn). With the wing in the correct overhead position, the launch sequence will be very simple: LIFT – CHECK – TURN – TORPEDO. The key to this is the lift process and recognition of tempo and how much check to do.
The Initial Phase
Notice that the pilots legs are slightly bent so that the legs can power the wing overhead.
The first phase of lifting the wing begins with the initial backing up and deflection of the risers. The most important lifting adjustments are made during this portion of the wing’s ascent. If the wing is not ascending quickly enough, the body can pull more and the hands can deflect more. Or, if the wing is ascending too quickly, the hands can deflect the risers less.
The lifting from the hands and the amount of pull from the hips need to be in balance during this and the remaining phases. If the hands do a ton of lifting and there is not enough pull from the hips, the wing will come up incorrectly (A ton of lift on the risers is less like deflection and more like pulling on the risers – this often collapses the leading edge of the wing. This does the opposite of what the pilot intends, slowing the ascent). So, learn to use your hip pull on every launch and this will enable a lighter touch with the hands.
To use the hips correctly, squat down so that the legs can power the hips backward. This does not mean to lean backward, just squat down in the harness low enough to use the legs for power. Make sure that you do not lean onto the heels of the feet. When pulling with the hips, stay on the balls of the feet. Staying on the balls of the feet forces you to stay balanced. If you dig your heels in to get power to the hips, you will be falling backwards and out of balance.
The arms need to lift moderately, but remain supple so they can sense feedback that the wing is providing. If one side of the wing comes up quickly and the other does not, immediately stop lifting the rising side and try to help the side that is not yet ascending. If this type of adjustment is made quickly, the wing will have a chance to ascend to the center. Throughout all three phases of the launch, asymmetrical lifting can be used to help the wing rise as directly overhead as possible. On the other hand, if the wing begins coming up straight from the get-go, the hands can simply lift symmetrically.
If the wing begins its ascent slightly asymmetrical, you need to adjust it out during this first phase. When an airfoil begins to ascend asymmetrically, it can get past the point of recovery quickly without any immediate correction. The most important time to learn to sense for uneven ascent is right as the wing comes off the ground. Learn to be super perceptive as the wing first begins to ascend and you will better be able to react quickly and help the wing come overhead as straight as possible..
The Middle Phase
At this phase, you can arch your back to gain more power to the arms. This pilot is about to arch his back.
The initial phase ends and the middle phase begins when the trailing edge of the wing leaves the ground. The wing will stop the pilot from backing up at this point of the ascent even in light or no wind. This is because the wing is like a wall to the air in the direction the pilot is pulling it. It is ascending vertically, but prevents horizontal movement because it cannot go through the air horizontally while in this position. Sitting back and down a little in the seat will make the power easier to manage when the wing stops your backward motion.
During this phase of the launch the pace of ascent gets primary focus. If the wing is ascending at the correct pace, continue with the same amount of riser deflection. If the wing is not coming up fast enough, try to back up a bit harder and deflect the extra tension in the risers to help the wing ascend quicker.
If the wing needs asymmetrical lifting help, you will need to adjust this or continue to adjust this at this point. If the asymmetry is far enough gone that you will not be able to get the wing mostly overhead, it is better to abort the launch at this point. (To abort a launch, let go of the A risers and pull the brake on the side of the wing that is low).
The body position during this phase changes. It begins with the same position as the initial phase but changes as the wing moves towards overhead. The back arches to give the shoulders power to deflect the risers. The shoulders need to arch because as the wing rises, the arms need the arch to remain in a more powerful angle for your shoulder muscles. This position, the arch, is kept through this and into the final phase.
The Final Phase
Light touch and continued lean of the hands when necessary to finish the lift.
When the wing begins getting overhead, this is the final phase of the ascent. If the tempo and pace of the ascent are good, the lifting of the risers needs to lighten to just enough to help the wing finish its ascent into the kiting position. If, however the wing has extra pace to it, stop lifting sooner and prepare to or apply both brakes to stop the wing from getting in front. If the wing is rising too slowly, continued power from the hips and deflection of the A risers will be necessary.
Even at the final phase, you can continue to lift the wing asymmetrically if it is slightly off of center. For example, if during the initial phase, the wing came up strong on the left side and you began lifting the right and put no power to the left side, you could lift the wing all the way overhead with just the right hand deflecting the right A riser. This correction might have persisted through all three phases of the launch to get the wing correctly centered in the final phase. The point here is that you need to continuously adjust your lifting throughout the reverse inflation to steer the wing overhead. Managing how the As are lifted is certainly one of the keys to getting the wing straight overhead in a reverse launch.
When the wind is stronger (more than 8 or 9 MPH or so) you may not need to return to backing up after the wing enters the final phase. In lighter winds, during the final phase, the wing will allow you to begin backing up again as it nears the full overhead position. To keep the power on and continue with the launch, you will have to return to backing up and accelerating as the wing moves over you.
Whenever the wing comes up with zip at the end and tries to over-fly you, you will need to check the wing. When launching from steeper slopes, it is better to overcheck and abort when compared to not checking the wing enough. If you fail to check the wing enough, often it will continue moving forward and symetrically or asymetrically collapse just after you turn forward. The best habit to develop is to make sure that the wing is checked prior to turning forward. There is much more control and ability to abort a launch while still facing the wing. Once you are forward, if there is something wrong, aborting is much more difficult and dangerous.
Cross Wind Adjustments
Ideally the wing should be set up perpendicular to the wind, but in some launches and situations the wind blows in a direction that is cross and the wing must face down the hill and not directly into the wind. It is possible to lift a wing so that the center ends up in the correct positions overhead (directly or slightly toward the side you turn to) in these situations. For example, if the wind is from you left side as you face the wing and you turn to the left, you will need to lift extra on the right side of the wing. To better facilitate this, offset your body very slightly ( a foot or two) to the upwind (left) side. This will help the riser in your right hand achieve tension earlier and help the wing to yaw correctly during the ascent. If you allow the upwind wing comes up first, it will be difficult to center and balance the wing during its ascent. When you do not lift the downwind wing enough, the wing will come up to that side and will quickly fall off to that side. This will usually force an abort or very unbalanced turn transition.
In very light winds (less than 4 MPH), the slight cross winds (less than 45° – For USHPA, the recommendation for P2 pilots is within 25° of straight, remember this!) will be mostly negated by the airspeed and vectors created during the run.. The wing will crab a little to the side that the wind is coming from but this should not be a concern. If the wing is centered and balanced overhead, this will take care of itself.
If the wind is stronger than very light (5 MPH +), the wind will need to be less cross to make launching possible. The technique will be very similar, but the wing will crab more because of the vector of cross component.
As with all launch techniques, practice and gain familiarity with these until you learn the feel prior to using in the real world.