How to keep the wing where it belongs | see also Handling Paraglider Collapses
Active piloting is the fine control inputs that keep your wing overhead and open with 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.
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 means keeping 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 safer 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.
Here’s 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 brake.
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.