Chap 18: Flying Small Wings
Maneuvers in a 2005 Spice
Active Piloting for PPG
Oct 16, 2007 How
to keep the wing where it belongs: Active Flying |
Handling Paraglider Collapses
Active piloting is the fine control inputs that keep your wing overhead
minimum input during turbulence or while maneuvering. The book details
how to practice, what to practice and how to know when you've mastered
It can't be emphasized enough that getting sound instruction and guided
practicing is, by far, the best path to safely mastering this subject.
Nothing you read here, or anywhere else, will instill a skill. That comes
through feel and response that eventually becomes reflexive. Skill requires
reflexive response to stimulus. But don't think that taking a few days of
advanced instruction will make you an expert pilot, either. It won't. It
will only provide some tools to guide your practice which will slowly
improve reflexes. The value of expert instruction is that it can correct
deficiencies before they become improper reflexive action.
A frequent misconception about the term Active Piloting is thinking it merely
constant brake pressure. For the casual paramotor pilot, keeping constant
brake pressure is, in fact, the best defense in turbulence, especially if
you only fly
in mellow conditions and don't get any practice. Mind you, it's always
to stick with mellow conditions but conditions can change unexpectedly. So
if you want to be better prepared, or plan to take on rougher conditions
regularly, then it's beneficial to learn the skill in a controlled fashion.
And the best way to practice it is in light turbulence, at least level 2 on
the Bump Scale.
The PPG Bible goes into great detail about this. Besides avoidance,
there is no better
prevention of collapses than active piloting.
If possible, find a reasonably advanced instructor who not only knows how
to do it, but knows how to teach it. But many don't really break it down
this way so it's just one of those things you have to practice.
an important point: if you don't know how to do active piloting,
don't try it in strong turbulence. That will likely make matters worse!
If you get caught unexpectedly in such conditions, use constant pressure instead,
about pressure 2, while looking mostly towards the horizon and
minimizing body swings.
Active piloting should be practiced in light turbulence until keeping
the wing overhead, using minimum brake input, is second nature. The dynamics are such that body movement is opposite the wing in
turbulence, rendering your natural reaction to be exactly wrong. That's
why it's so important to not to try active piloting unless you've
already developed the reactions—you'd be better off just holding steady
pressure. A common malady is using too much brakes which slows down your wing's
airspeed to the point where the brakes become ineffective or worse. That
will worsen your odds in turbulence.
Inputs to Flight
There are two distinct inputs to precision flying—feel and
sight. You see yourself drifting one way and correct to stop it.
Or you feel your body move in some way and react. PPG is tough because we
hang so far below the aircraft's most important part, its wing. What we feel
will likely be momentarily backwards from what's actually happening. That's
why it's so important to not try active piloting when surprised by
turbulence unless you've already mastered it.
Active piloting is almost exclusively a feel. The good news about that is
that it doesn't depend on looking at the wing or the ground. When learned
properly, you can be a skilled active flyer while looking at the horizon.
However, learning active piloting is much easier when flying close to the
ground because you can see the results of you improvement so much easier.
Then the hand reactions become automatic.
Pitch, Roll and Yaw Reaction
Let a paraglider fly in turbulence and it will naturally bank left and
right (roll), tilt forward and back (pitch) and slightly swing
left and right (yaw). Yaw is minimal at the wing but the pilot
hanging below does a lot.
The most important reaction to learn is controlling pitch. For us, that
means simply reducing deviations from the stable setting. We can't control
it like an airplane but must prevent the wing from surging excessively
forward and back—not to dampen out every nit and jiggle but reduce them.
If the wing surges forward, you brake to stop it then let off to avoid
over correction. So the moment you feel tilting forward, apply brakes.
Reduce the brakes as soon as the starts coming back. That will typically
mean only about 1 second of brake pressure—pull, one, two, let up. Many call
this "checking the surge."
How much brake depends on how much tilt. If you feel a little tilt, use a
little pressure. A lot of tilt commands a lot of pressure. Another value is
how far to pull the brakes. It's critical to go by pressure but
realize that pressure 2 could be a couple feet of travel. If the wing went
way forward, it may take a lot of brake travel. Important: as soon as the
wing starts coming back, notice I said starts, reduce
pressure. If the wing surges forward, you catch it with brakes and you hold
the brakes too long, you risk aggravating the coming pitch back.
Conversely, if you feel tilting backwards, hands up. Then as soon as you
feel the tilt reverse direction, start applying pressure. Again, the hands
up portion is usually brief, only about one second.
The toughest to control is roll oscillation, the tendency of a paraglider
to roll left and right in turbulence. A student always aggravates it if they
try to dampen it which is what nearly all instructors have students avoid
steering inputs during the last 20 feet or so.
The problem is that, initially, your body moves opposite to what the wing
is doing. Even though it's only about 10 to 20 inches, that feels like a
lot. So your natural reaction to having your body go left is to pull right
There are stages of control here. First is how your recover from a bank
without rolling past level. Next is dampening the roll before it gets going.
Being able to dampen a roll just as it starts is the most difficult part
of learning active piloting.
Pitch control may be the most important to employ, but roll is the most
difficult to learn. It requires a nearly immediate brake input then release
in response to body motion. If you wait about 1 second to long, you will be
aggravating the problem and making the oscillations worse.
The moment you feel your body move left, give left brake then let off.
Practice is the only way to know how much and how far. Practice is the only
way to really tell if you're doing it right. The best practice happens while
flying down a visible line on the ground at 10 feet high. Obviously that's
risky, especially for new pilots.
Pilots who have not mastered this level of roll dampening are far
better off letting the roll oscillations play themselves out and only worry
about damping the pitch oscillations. In turbulence, concentrate on
controlling the wing's forward/aft surge and don't try to react to the roll
unless you've mastered it. Practice it in a safe, familiar environment with
only light turbulence to master it.
The PPG Bible for a more complete treatise on the subject but this is
darned good start.
Ever notice your legs swinging left and right? You can stop that.
It's just like sitting on swing seat and rotating left and right. As you're
doing so, move your legs in such a way as to stop the rotation. The actual
movement is that you move your legs just as direction changes but there's no
sense in trying to figure it out here. Go up, cause yourself to swing left
and right then practice the act of stopping it. Remember, in a PPG, that
yawing is redirecting thrust which is undesirable. Plus, such yawing leaves
you less aware of what's going on, so practice dampening it. If you know how to do so from practice, you'll be able to
minimize it in turbulence.
The wing yaws, too, meaning that it's slipping sideways through the air.
Paraglider wings don't do that for long before the tip curls under. So your
goal is to minimize it. If the wing starts sliding to the left, for example,
use some left steering to point the wing into its direction of flight. That
little action is just one more that will help keep the wing open.
Understand but Practice
It will be beneficial for all of us to understand what's happening—mostly
so we can practice. You won't be the least bit better prepared from this
understanding unless you practice it. Humans don't learn kinetic reactions
from reading, we learn from doing. Oh if only we could just slip in a memory
card that says "PPG Skill, Active Piloting."
In our reality, we must do. This will be a useful skill to be called on
when the ship hits the wham.