16: Precision Flying
Dec 13, 2017 | Brake Use
Once you've got the basics down, the fun really begins. Chapter 16
paves several roads to success at getting the most out of your
flying--gaining skills that unlock new ways to experience our many
possibilities. Included below are other articles or observations
that touch on the subjects.
Brake Pressure and your Safety
by Chris Santacroce, Dec 13, 2017
ďRecently, highly regarded and typically trustworthy industry
specialists, glider designers and competition pilots have become
strong advocates of flying with little brake pressure and using
liberal amounts of speed bar. This can be applicable advice when
taken in context and with appropriate disclaimers and caveats but
lousy advice for a recreational pilot trying to stay out of harmís
If this notion is interesting to you then please set aside some time
to read the following. Itís rather lengthy so please donít expect to
read it on the fly. Please consider sharing this important message
with those that you care about. Thank you!
If paragliding was broken down into a few fine arts then certainly,
the finest art would be the launch/no launch decision. In a close
second place would be the amount of brake a pilot should pull for
every given situation.
The launch/no launch decision has the power to define us on every
given flying day and thereís no such thing as too much
soul-searching when it comes to making this call.
The question of how much brake to pull at any given moment starts to
be answered in our first days of kiting and is ultimately never
answered. Like a golfer always works on his swing, we always work on
our brake pressure. We never quite figure it out but we always work
on it. This is one of many things that makes paragliding
As we begin this journey, we are quickly reminded that we have to be
diligent in the addition and subtraction of brake pressure in order
to keep the glider above head and open depending on the condition.
It goes without saying that there are a few magical conditions where
the glider will just sit above head without too much maintenance.
However, this condition is not very common.
The other factor that complicates this matter is that a paraglider
is a pendulum and by definition, it demands one input from the pilot
in one moment and a different one next. It demands that the pilot
add brake pressure and then subsequently released before again
adding brake again - all flying day long.
Of course, the timing of this addition and subtraction of the brake
is essential but over the years we have realized that even poorly
timed brake inputs are better than no brake inputs.
Somehow most correct responses in paragliding also end up being
counterintuitive. New pilots that first fly through turbulence
normally just put their hands up. They are also inclined to grab the
risers when they are in turbulence because the risers give them a
false feeling of being steady. This causes them to completely lose
their link with the glider and invites deflation. These are two
examples of how the intuitive response also ends up being the
We are also up against the prevalent aviation logic that says that
speed is your buddy. It is said that if we poll a few hundred
airplane pilots, skydivers, paragliders and paramotor pilots, and
then ask them to indicate if they think ďhands upĒ is the key
turbulence Ė more than half will do so.
This remains the case after people learn how to kite Ė instructors
can quiz a student about what the best response would be if landing
in some sort of rotor and they will generally defer to the logic
that letting the glider fly is the answer. This is why an
instructors work is never done. This is also why pilots are reminded
to continually seek out continuing education.
Quite clearly a judicious addition and subtraction of the brakes is
the best method for preventing deflations. This is one of the many
reasons why students are advised to spend 35 to 50 flights with
instructor supervision before they start exploring on their own.
During those flights, instructors can check and then recheck that
both the students understanding and also their intuitive responses
are correct. Instructors check to make sure that students understand
that pulling brake prevents deflation.
This makes for very challenging and also rewarding lifeĎs work. I
have personally devoted my entire adult life to teaching people but
specifically teaching people to add and subtract the correct amount
of brake in the correct way.
Alas, paragliders evolve over time and in recent years weíve even
found that while high above the ground and on glide to the next
thermal or ridge, we can let off the brakes for the most part and
even engage a little bit of speed system. We find that the glider
remains fairly solid above the pilotís head. Still, we know in our
heart of hearts that the glider is ultimately more prone to
deflation when the speed system is engaged and when the wing does
deflate while on speed bar we know that the recovery will be more
complicated, altitude consuming and dynamic even if we let off the
speed bar immediately.
Itís worth mentioning that pulling brake while using the speed
system makes the paraglider into an undesirable shape that is also
more prone to deflation. Some modern canopies do allow for rear
riser(s) modulation while on speed bar. Please do your own due
diligence on this subject as it pertains to your experience level
and your glider.
With the advent of new technology, we trust the gliders a little
more and depending on the quality of the air and we find more and
more moments where we can justify allowing the glider to fly and
engage some speed system.
It goes without saying that thereís also the possibility that a
pilot can over brake in certain situations. Pilots that frequent the
gym, who engage in activities like rock climbing or who perform
manual labor are particularly cautioned that this is a risk for them
especially during a malfunction.
Here is the important part. New technology does not free us from our
obligation to keep a tight rein on the glider during moments when we
are kiting, launching, close to terrain, thermalling, and landing.
The average pilot will spend more time in this mode over the years
than in any other mode.
Furthermore, the moments that define us over the years will not
actually be the moments when we are on a long glide and comfortable
air. We will be defined by how we manage the brakes and how we
behave during launch, if we make a mistake and fly into conditions
that are not favorable and if we experience turbulence on approach
This will be especially important for pilots flying in areas
characterized by high altitude, distance from oceans, dry climates
and areas subject to the influence of the jetstream manifesting in
daily high wind situations.
Pilots flying near oceans, those closer to the equator and those
flying in humid climates will not suffer as much from the misguided
release of brake tension or misguided speed bar use in situations
where the conditions arenít trustworthy.
Why? you might ask, is this message so important right now. Your
answer is that it is always an important message but recently,
highly regarded and characteristically trustworthy industry
specialists, glider designers and competition pilots are
increasingly advocates of flying with little brake pressure. This is
fantastic advice when taken in context and with appropriate
disclaimers and caveats but lousy advice for a recreational pilot
trying to stay out of harmís way.
We have a responsibility to adjust our technique in response to
common pitfalls and we know exactly what the common pitfalls and
dangers are. Our statistics show that over the decades and without
exception pilots are suffering deflations during critical moments of
the flight and suffering grave consequences. In the majority of the
cases, an inadequate connection with the trailing edge of the glider
is to blame. Poor response to deflation is also to blame but thatís
a separate subject for a subsequent discussion. We know that a
misplaced trust in speed system is a primary accident cause and we
know that while some pilots release the speed bar during a
malfunction, others do not.
Please notice that this article speaks to both sides of the brake
pressure equation. It makes the case for letting off the brakes
sometimes but advocates feeling the brakes most often. All good
technical information regarding technique speaks to the entirety of
the subject and is presented with appropriate disclaimers and
caveats. Be very cautious when single-sided advice is given and work
with your trusted instructor to make your own picture of how things