Imagine if you could make one simple tweak to your understanding, and see an instant boost in airtime.
Or even better:
What if there were 5 of those tweaks…
If you’re just starting out in Paragliding you may be able to substantially increase your much sought-after airtime by taking into account a few details that become automatic considerations for most seasoned pilots. You’d probably be pumped to see a handful of little tips lead to a big improvement in just one flight and without having to purchase fancy gear, or launch into conditions above your head.
Lucky for you, that’s exactly what I’m about to share with you in this article!
5 Actionable Tips for Increasing Your Airtime! | Paragliding Edition
Free-flying is often a mental game and when the conditions become light at the end of the day, we can ask ourselves a few helpful questions to help extend our flights.
Where is/was the lift? There are so many variables in determining the answer to this one but when the lift is dwindling away, this question tends to be on the forefront of most pilots’ minds. Many new pilots attempt to stay aloft by simply moving closer to terrain in an effort to “scratch” for the last remnants of lift. Since we often find more lift the closer we are to terrain, this seems like a natural response and often works. However, not only does this behavior invite more risk, it is not always the case! Many mountainous sites and even some coastal sites still produce convective lift in the form of latent heat released from certain terrain features well after the winds stop blowing. In the absence of headwinds and orographic lift, those rising packets of warmer rising air will often be found away from the hillside rather that against the terrain.
Are other pilots flying higher and further from terrain while you are struggling to stay up or even sinking out? Is it low headwinds? This is your clue. The lift is out there! Move away from the hillside and look for the lift that the other pilots have found. Sometimes it’s everywhere except for next to the terrain!
Tip#2: Try Following Birds and Other Pilots And what a perfect segue to this next topic because using other pilots to find lift is a proven strategy in Paragliding. We can often use the progress of others to help determine where lift might be most probable… or not! Many times we will see pilots fighting a losing battle with sink on one side of us, and in the other direction they are climbing quite well. The observation of this simple detail can keep you from following the wrong flock.
Birds instinctively know where to go for lift but knowing which birds to follow is important. The huge wingspans of larger predatory birds take advantage of lift in a similar way as our gliders. Many times the only lift to be found is marked visually by circling hawks, ravens, or vultures and you can join them if you notice and the conditions are in your favor. It’s important to note that some species love dirty air and can make it look smooth even though it isn’t. Pay attention to the behaviors of the creatures at your local flying sites and you’ll see the indicators all around to help you determine your next move!
Tip#3: Exercise Flying Speed Control Don’t feel bad if you haven’t mastered your flying speed controls yet. It’s an art of responding in the moment using new and unfamiliar inputs to decide the action of a canopy you aren’t really looking at too much. But once we begin to understand the intricacies of active-piloting and flying speed control, we can then ask ourselves consciously, “What is the best flying speed for this condition?” Some students are surprised at what a dynamic process these adjustments can be as we move fluidly from one toggle position to the next in anticipation of what the wing is about to do. Try adjusting your toggle position to keep the glider moving smoothly in one direction and without pitching or surging too much despite the variance in the air. Be careful not to overdo it! You don’t want to be too heavy on the controls because your glider still needs to move around a bit to recover airspeed from time to time.
When flying efficiently, you want to avoid diving too much on the exit from turns or lift. This is partially a matter of proper flying speed control and if you pay close attention to your pitch, you can keep the diving to a minimum. When exiting lift, try raising your toggles slowly instead of letting the glider dive as it will. Of course we want to “fly slow in lift and fast in sink” but when we’re talking about actually staying in the lift or minimizing sink in one spot, we inevitably come to the next topic of turning.
Learning to turn efficiently will make or break your airtime so it’s worth considering this aspect of free-flight very closely. When the lift starts to fade out then our turns should be mellowing out as well. Flatter turns will reduce sink rates while turning but sometimes the increased turn radius puts us out of the lift altogether. Visualizing this relationship helps determine turn characteristics. A few new pilots have been surprised to learn that not every turn requires full weight shift. In light conditions, some percentage of weight-shift is all we need to keep our turns from banking or diving too much. Be careful not to pull too hard on toggles in flat turns or we risk spinning our glider! We don’t want low and slow, especially in turns.
A turn in conditions that will barely support a constant cruise altitude must be carefully executed. We have to determine when, where, and how much to bank our turns in light lift and sometimes the answer is not to turn at all. Some pilots will count a few seconds after feeling lift to determine if they should even bother with a turn back into it. It’s often the case that a bit of lift will tease us into turning back only to discover sink instead. A mature pilot knows better.
Frustration can hurt airtime the most! Sometimes we make a lot of commitments to ourselves and others about our expectations in Paragliding and when they don’t play out how we anticipated, many find it really frustrating. Sinking out is one of those moments. Sometimes, your best chance to stay up is as easy as not burning 50ft of altitude in the next 2 minutes and then Viola!, you get a little puff of air and it builds into stronger lift and now you’re in some new air and there’s no fear of sinking out anytime soon! It ain’t over til it’s over, and this applies to our sport so often.
So next time you find yourself sinking out and asking some of these helpful questions, remember:
“You’re attitude determines your altitude!”
Sometimes you only need to relax and cruise a few more seconds whereas aggressive searching, changing plans, and turning was not going to be productive in the first place.
Of course there are many other ways to increase your airtime and plenty of them are worth addressing before you even get into the air but I hope that this was enough to get some of you just a few more minutes of passionate flying and continued enjoyment of your latest addiction!
On a less serious note, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that these things also interfere with airtimes:
A real job Family Friends who don’t fly Any type of real-world obligation that isn’t flying
I hope you found some value in considering these topics and if you did, please share with other newcomers! Here’s a link for some great questions to ask for those interested in Paragliding Lessons.
Happy Flying from FlyWithJordan!