Paragliding Safety

Having Your Guard Up

Safety is a giant topic and needs inclusion in every aspect of paragliding. When you begin, it involves finding the right instructor to assist and enable you to build systems and techniques to manage safety. Having a good sense of risk management and a good attitude are keys in the long haul. As you grow as a pilot, safety requires the elimination of ego and callousness.

I have been saying for a very long time that the most dangerous part of paragliding is how easy it is to get started. The ease and relatively quick progression that happen in learning to paraglide can lure new pilots into a false sense of security. Later, after the ramp up period, there is a common occurrence called “intermediate syndrome” where overconfidence can lead pilots to move into bad situations and possible accidents. In any high risk sport, it pays to always have your guard up.

Feeling vulnerable is a good thing in any high risk endeavor. It is important to realize that accidents happen to many pilots and that you are not excluded from this. It can take extra effort to keep this going, human nature sometime makes us feel like we are above making a mistake or missing a safety issue.   With a sport like Paragliding, there are so many factors that it is easier to miss something.   If you can keep your guard up and maintain some vulnerability, safety can become the highest priority on your list. This mindset should never disappear from your approach and attitude toward flying. A long term approach for each day of flying will help you see the big picture.

In the first days of training you can begin building an attitude where self reliance and correctly timed caution and vulnerability are included on your priority list. Attitude is the envelope that manages all of the facets of paragliding. Students that have all of the talent of the world, but fail to temper their skills will have a tendency to be more at risk. Students with much less physical talent, but who have a good attitude will maximize their growth and safety. The good attitude will overcome skill growth every day of the week. Skills can grow over time but having a bad attitude or judgment can result in an instant catastrophe.

Some say that it is not possible to teach a good attitude. Ultimately, attitude comes from the inside, so teaching attitude is limited to how the student absorbs and personalizes lessons about approach and perspective. Instructors can help to instill awareness of flying factors to help a student have a better attitude. As a student of paragliding, you need to understand that you will always need to keep your guard up. You need to always put safety at the top of your priorities and use this in your decision making and flight planning. Attitude and perspective are really the keys to a pilots being able to look after themselves.

Only Four Things

In the end, with a good attitude, safety can be simplified into four elements for each flight to be safe. These four items are:

  1. Preparation
  2. A Good Launch
  3. Reaching the Landing Zone with Sufficient Altitude for an Approach
  4. A Good Landing

Preparation

  • Gather information about the weather forecast, the actual wind conditions, the site and anything that will help you decide if flying on such a day and time will be safe.
  • Maintain your equipment with regular inspections and monitoring.
  • Prior to each flight do a thorough preflight of your equipment. If there are any issues, do not fly!
  • Do a harness connection check prior to each flight. HHRB (see this describe in the connection article).
  • Check your own mindset and fly only when you feel sure your are in the correct state of mind.
  • Practice regularly your ground handling and launch techniques to keep them current for each technique.
  • Make all of the above a routine that you do out of habit. Habits make all of the above much more predictable and harder to forget.

A Good Launch

  • Each successful flight begins with a good launch that includes keeping the legs down until well clear of the hill.
  • During each launch, have the ability and be prepared to abort quickly if any factor does not feel right or goes wrong. Knowing when to abort and having this ability will make you a better pilot.

Reach the Landing Zone with Adequate Altitude

  • During the flight, the number one goal should be to make sure and reach the LZ with some enough altitude to assess wind conditions and plan a safe approach.
  • Any other goals during the flight fall below this priority!
  • Failure to reach the LZ will mean landing out. Landing out is much more hazardous and greatly increases the chances for an accident.

A Good Landing

  • Each successful flight ends with a nice landing.
  • Landing in the LZ into or mostly into the wind is the priority.
  • Practice landing approaches and master being able to land as close as possible to your intended target.
  • Practice flair timing and touch on each and every flight.

See the Big Picture / Risk Management

Another take on safety is that it is not always the larger and more obvious mistakes that cause accidents. Often it is the more subtle mistakes or situations where accidents can occur. For example, kiting does not seem near as dangerous as flying. But, if the wind is strong and somehow you get dragged or pulled by the wing, the ground is right there and injuries can happen. I see pilots sometimes kiting without a helmet, displaying a lack of respect for safety. Safety in such a sport means that you need to use your peripheral vision to look out for the unexpected situation. Nobody plans for accidents; they can come from unperceived factors or lack of preparations. Tunnel vision for only the larger situations can leave you vulnerable for the hidden issues that might lead to a crash.

There are many resources that will help you gain perspective As you grow as a pilot, exposure to the community of veteran pilots will help you learn a ton. By asking questions and hearing stories your perceptions will grow constantly. Stories about accidents or hazards at flying sites will make you aware of places to avoid and what to do or not do in similar situations. Joining local clubs is a great way to gather information.

Intermediate Syndrome

The concept of intermediate syndrome is that pilots at some point in their training or flying begin to feel like they “have it”.  They are doing well and the critical nature of what they are doing can get lost in their picture.   The term intermediate comes because this occurs after lessons when pilots have relatively low hours.   Master rated pilots are not exempt from this syndrome.  It only takes letting your guard down once to find that one risk that you did not see..   Year after year, a larger number of crashes have a common theme when the pilot looks back and realizes that at the heart of their accident experience was overconfidence and failure to see one facet of flying.   Risk awareness and management require pilots to keep a wide focus when flying and to keep humility in their bag.

I have long promoted the saying – “The most dangerous thing about paragliding is how easy it is to learn.”   After training, it is essential to progress in increments and to watch yourself and make sure you never feel like you have it all wired.   In flying, there is always much more to learn no matter how far you have come.

 

Some sayings that I have created and some that are common in the Paragliding world follow:

  • Leave assumption out of your preflight routine!
    • Although the preflight should be a routine, do it one step at a time with the intent to find something wrong instead of doing it for the sake of routine!
    • Habits are hard to break. During your lessons, get in the habit of doing a complete and thorough wing preflight each and every time you unpack your wing.
  • Launching is optional, Landing is MANDATORY!
  • You can always decide not to fly. Launching in the wrong conditions leaves you in the air and having to land in conditions that you might not be safe in. Once you have launched, you cannot back up.
  • It is better to be on the ground, wishing you were in the air rather than in the air, wishing you were on the ground!
  • Eliminate “maybe” and “probably” from your paragliding vocabulary and thinking!

EXAMPLES:

“Yeah, we will probably be able to reach the Landing Area.

“Maybe the air will be smoother once we launch.”

“When a flying decision is at all GRAY, WALK AWAY! “

In other words – Stick with certainty! Whenever you are making decisions about flying, if you feel any factor is not definitive, listen to this and choose not to fly. If you are “on the fence” about a decision related to flying, get off the fence and back on the ground.

Real World EXAMPLES:

You are with a group of friends and at a flying site and the wind is a bit strong. Some of your friends decide to fly, but you are unsure about it – hedge your bet and do not fly.

A flying friend wants to sell you a wing a bit above what your instructor recommends – who do you trust more, don’t move up till you are ready.

Experience is the best teacher, but let the other guy be the one who flies through the rotor.

There are some things you really cannot afford to play with in a paraglider. This expression is not specific to rotors, it is talking about any of the hazards that we need to manage while flying. Learn how to prevent any hazardous circumstances by seeing them prior to them biting you like a snake.

The following list are some of the bigger hazards that we need to avoid and prevent while flying:

  • Launching, Flying or Landing in rotors or mechanical turbulence!
  • Launching, Flying or Landing in strong wind!
  • Flying at sites that require the limits of our abilities!
  • Landing in trees!
  • Landing in Power Lines!
  • Landing in Water!
  • Flying while under the influence!
  • Adding more than one new variable at a time!

When a flying decision is at all GRAY, WALK AWAY!

What this means: Whenever you are making decisions about flying, if you at all feel any factor is not definitive, listen to this and choose not to fly or venture away from the choice. If you are “on the fence” about a decision related to flying, get off the fence and back on the ground.

EXAMPLES:

  • You are with a group of friends and at a flying site and the wind is a bit strong. Some of your friends decide to fly, but you are just not feeling good about it – hedge your bet and do not fly.
  • A flying friend wants to sell you a wing a bit above what your instructor recommends – who do you trust more, don’t move up till you are ready.
  • Experience is the best teacher, but let the other guy be the one who flies through the rotor.

There are some things you really cannot afford to play with in a paraglider. This expression is not specific to rotors, it is talking about any of the hazards that we need to manage while flying. Learn how to prevent any hazardous circumstances by seeing them prior to them biting you like a snake.

The following list is just a few of the bigger hazards that we need to avoid and prevent while flying:

  • Launching, Flying or Landing in rotors or mechanical turbulence
  • Launching, Flying or Landing in strong winds
  • Landing in or very close to water and surf
  • Flying at sites that stretch our ability
  • Landing in trees
  • Mid-Air collisions
  • Sharp turns near the ground
  • Spins or locked in spirals Article Including much of the above…
  • Intermediate Syndrome – (can lead you into any of the above)

Some General Guidelines Follow:

Training:

  • Get thorough and complete instruction:
    • Find the right instructor for you!
    • Communicate clearly with your instructor
  • Add Instruction after basic training:
    • Mountain and Thermal clinics
    • Maneuvers Clinics
    • Repeat of Basics (whenever skills lapse) and Advanced Clinics (when approaching new techniques/skills)
  • Match your flying time with ground handling practice / kiting:
    • If you have 2 hours of airtime, you should have at least 2 hours of kiting time as well.

Each Flying Day:

  • Include Weather Checks for each flying day:
    • General Forecast Checks – Every flying day
    • Mtn. Top Wind Checks
    • Wind Assessments
    • Personal “State of Mind” assessment
    • Local Pilot Feedback on weather
  • Thoroughly Preflight your flying gear
    • Leave assumption out of your checks, do it for you and not habit

Gear:

Wing Choice:

  • Consult with your instructor and choose an appropriately conservative glider for your skill set.
  • Don’t be a Lemming when you choose your 2nd wing. Don’t be swayed by the latest and greatest wing that the local hotshots are flying. Leave ego out of you decision and know that choosing an lower category wing is something to take pride in.

Get a good helmet and a protective harness:

  • Though this seems very obvious, I run into a lot of students that care much more about form than function. Get a full face helmet with adequate protection.
  • Get a harness that has maximum back protection.

Boots are very important for safety:

  • Good boots can prevent twisted, sprained and even broken ankles. Specialty boots are designed with high ankle support and even some have some energy absorption built into the soles.

Have a Hook Knife on your harness:

A Hook Knife is a knife that has a blade inside of a curve or razor blades shaped into a V inside of an enclosure. This type of knife is mainly used for rescue or in skyding and paragliding for quick separation from the wing. The inside blade eliminates cutting oneself and also keeps the blade on webbing or lines that you intend to cut.

If you ever land in the water or a tree, this simple piece of equipment can quickly help you seperate from the harness if the buckles or other methods are not working.

Use an anemometer anytime the wind is more than light:

Even the most experienced pilots and have a hard time differentiating a 12 from 15 mph wind.

Have Radio Equipment for Emergency Situations:

A ham license is cheap and easy to acquire. Radios help pilots communicate with each other, but more important, they can really help if there is a flying related emergencies.

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