Psychology of reverse-launching a PPG in zero to light wind.
We all know the most difficult thing about PPG is launching,
especially in trying conditions, usually with light or zero wind and
most likely off level ground without any slope. To cap it all, the
take-off field is usually just a little bit too small for comfort and
there may be some obstacles in the immediate area in the form of
powerlines, trees, or close proximity to water (sea, lake, river,
Do you feel apprehensive when its time to fly because of any of
Does your mouth feel dry, your heart is pounding and your adrenalin is
Any feeling of apprehension is bound to cause a high level of
trepidation, and is more likely to cause you to foul up your first
take-off attempt. The next attempt is less likely to be successful,
or will be by the skin of your teeth, a close call. Your third
attempt will likely be downright dangerous as you tire both physically and mentally, its best to sit down and
rest a bit, but your flying buddies are already heading toward the
Does this sound familiar?
It is important to manage the situation, to avoid apprehension by
developing a level of confidence in your own capability.
It took me a long time, but I made the deliberate effort to convince myself that
I can launch first time, every time, regardless of the conditions.
This allows me to approach each flight with confidence and a good
level of comfort and increased safety. I enjoy my flying so much
A large part of the process is related to sports psychology, or simply developing the mental strategy to tackle the problem head-on.
An equally important part of the process is related to equipment.
You need to become familiar enough with your flying equipment to have
confidence in it.
Your motor does not need a surplus of power, it needs just enough
thrust, and you need to learn how to perfect your take-off technique.
If your motor is seriously short on thrust, address that issue first!
Your wing however might be a major source of frustration.
Some wings fly beautifully, but are tricky to launch in no wind,
especially off level ground without any slope.
Some wings need a bit of TLC and with some extra attention, launching
problems may be overcome. Don't be afraid to ask for professional
help from an experienced paramotor instructor.
However, some other wings are just wasted effort when it comes to
PPG. If you are battling to launch your wing in light winds, find out
if that particular wing is known to be problematic and if so,
consider getting a wing optimised for powered flight.
With the right wing, you should be able to do a reverse pullup and
launch in zero wind with ease! (I now never do a forward, even in
With or without ideal powered equipment, your own mental attitude can
make a huge difference to your ease of launching and your success
rate of launching on your first attempt.
Doing a few pullups to sort the wing out or to feel the air does not
count, everyone is entitled to a few practice pullups. However when you decide to go, you should be able to transition
smoothly through the different stages of a launch and progress easily
to the point of getting safely airborne and climbing out to that
great flight you were looking forward to.
I have learnt that the most consistent method of carrying out
consistent easy launches, is to actually verbalise the entire process
in your mind. Pretend to be demonstrating the technique to someone,
but actually say the words in your mind...
If you would like to improve your launching and increase your hit-
rate of launching on your first attempt, read on...
Develop terminology to describe each stage and to cover each and
every eventuality. Talk yourself through every pullup and take-off
as if you are teaching someone else.
Develop a set sequence of events which you do the same EVERY time and
allow no variance or chance for mistakes.
Mine goes something like this...
Lay the wing out, walk back to the motor, start it up, sit down in
the harness, stand up with the motor on my back, tie legstraps, chest-
strap, pickup helmet, then while walking to wing I put my helmet on,
plug into radio, switch radio on, press PPT and hear myself blow into
mic, then pickup the throttle and rev the motor slightly while still
walking to the wing.
As I approach the wing, I am already thinking about clipping in
facing the wing (something not taught on PG courses!).
Drop the throttle so it hangs, to free up both hands for the hookup.
I touch my left shoulder as I approach the wing and look at the left
riser which is actually lying to my right as I face the wing.
I open my Left carabiner, remove the speedbar line which is stored
there, then while still holding the carabiner open I pickup the Left
I normally turn out to the Right after a reverse-pullup, so I turn
the riser from A-riser up, 180 degrees to the right to bring the rear
risers uppermost and attach to the carabiner with A-lines to the
bottom, then immediately attach the speedbar line on this side.
Open the Right-side carabiner and remove stored speedbar line,
holding carabiner open while...
Reaching over the lines already attached to the harness, I
pickup the other riser (right-side riser but now lying to my left as
I face the wing), turn it 180 degrees to the Right to bring the rear
risers to the top, attach to the still open carabiner. Connect
Step back to tension lines slightly, pick up throttle, rev the motor
once more. Pickup Left Brake, lift Left hand high and check for a
clean triangle between carabiner, brake-keeper (pulley or D-ring) and
brake toggle (ensure no twists). Pickup Right brake, lift right-hand
high and check for clean triangle. With right-hand, pickup left
A-riser and transfer it to the left-hand. Lift left-hand with risers
high and over to my left to clear the right A-riser which is then
easy to reach with right-hand.
Look at the windsock, evaluate the wind direction relative to my
wing's layout. If the wind is slightly from my left, I take a small
step to the left (same for right side). This encourages the wing to
come up facing the wind. I must stress, you need not have the wing
laid-out facing perfectly into wind, you could be off by as much as
90 degrees and still nail the pullup every time... (practice this by
deliberately laying out crosswind several times at increasing
I know I can pullup cleanly in a 90 degree crosswind (from practising
this), so I do not worry about being a bit off in my layout
However, you absolutely must now take the moment to evaluate the
situation so that you can prepare for a clean pullup. Failing to
prepare is preparing to fail!
Now look at the actual leading edge of the wing and figure out which
side will come up first... if you are normally pulling up blindly and
hoping for the best, you are not preparing at all, expect to fail...
Its OK for the wing to come up skew, as long as you know BEFOREHAND
which way it will go... in fact, you might decide to deliberately
force one side up earlier to bring the wing into wind and to be
prepared with the correct brake ready to apply.
Knowing which side will need brake input first, you have already won
half the battle before even starting the pullup!
If you know you will need the left brake first, or you decide to force
the wing to require some left brake during or just after pullup, then
before you pullup, place both A-risers into the other hand and keep
your left hand free of the risers, ready to apply some brake on that
Close your eyes for a moment, think the next stage through.
This takes only 2 or 3 seconds but is an essential part of launching
in light wind.
OK, now you are ready for the pullup. If you prepared properly, you
should feel confident at this stage. Even more so if you actually
practised this many times before...
Right, what is about to happen? As you start walking back to pullup,
the wing will likely NOT come up straight... the earlier you respond,
the less input will be required to correct it.
There are only TWO possibilities: The wing will go Left, or it will
go Right. If you prepare yourself to spot which way as early as
possible, a slight step in that direction will fix it, requiring no
If you regularly make a mistake at this stage, or simply do not spot
which way in time, then force the wing to go a specific way by
stepping slightly off to one side before pulling up. Stepping to the
Left (with your back to the wind), will make the wing's Left side
(now to your right-hand side) come up first, the wing will move over
to your left as you face it, requiring your LEFT HAND to apply brake
to fix it, or another step to your left as the wing comes up, or a
combination of both left-braking and left-side-stepping.
This is what I envision in that moment I close my eyes to prepare
just before the actual pullup. Take this quiet moment seriously, it is the single
most important part of a clean pullup and launch!
Now I know what to expect, I have planned what I want the wing to do,
I know what corrective action I will be taking, now all I need to do
is apply the right AMOUNT of corrective input... A major part of the
workload, thought process and effort has been removed just by setting
this up before the actual pullup, i.e. reacting in time with the
correct input... I now know which side, the correct amount will be
OK, time to open eyes, take a deep breath, look around to clear the
area, and simply do it...
This next part now will no longer be the most difficult part of
launching, it will suddenly become the EASIEST part... simply due to
sufficient preparation leading up to the actual pullup.
It makes reverse-launching look so easy.
It actually ___IS___ very easy if you follow these guidelines.
The biggest hurdle is over, now for the next minor hurdle which is
nothing by comparison, however if the preceding part is not done, the
next stage becomes more complex, and may be difficult or even
impossible to achieve.
I hear too many pilots say "But I cannot run backwards fast enough"
or something similar... sure you cannot if you are battling to fix
the wing and keep its speed up at the same time... but if the wing is under perfect
control up to this point because you followed the above guidelines, then you need
almost zero corrective brake input, and the wing will not be dragged
back down by over zealous braking.
Your wing needs enough airspeed to come up all the way. Its all about airspeed!
This airspeed requires two things from you:
If you are still trying to fix
the wing because you did not prepare properly, the faster you will
have to run and the more you will have to ___PULL____ on those A-
- you moving into the wind and
- you NOT braking the wing!
The less you brake the wing, the less you need to run backwards...
It might be impossible or simply too difficult, then you think that
you simply cannot run fast enough... whereas the real problem is not
in your running speed, but the fact that you skipped the most
important part of the pullup, the first few seconds of getting the
wing off the ground... from simple lack of preparation.
OK, lets assume your preparation is good, you take your special
moment to relax, close your eyes and envisage the pullup before
actually starting your pullup. You have correctly guessed (or
specially arranged) that the wing will require some Left-brake or
stepping to your left upon pullup. You take both risers in your right-
hand, holding just a touch of left-brake, ready to add more or ease
off as the situation demands. Step back slowly taking up the slack
but without pulling the leading edge over! If there is any wind at
all, watch the leading edge, see the wing breathe in with every
increase in wind. Wait for the next inhalation, then smoothly lift
the A-risers (do not pull them), while starting to take long steps
backwards... the longer your steps, the less rapidly your legs need to
run... Watch the wing, think to yourself, "Which Way?"
This is the most important part... which side will the wing move off
to... if the wing moves towards the predicted side, you are ready to
handle this... pickup speed, keep lifting those risers until the
risers are vertical, do not drop the risers yet until the wing almost
overshoots, this is when you release the risers and turn around. Its
easy to keep pressure on the risers if you have both risers in one
hand and do not require that hand's brake!
This is what all that preparation was for, allowing you to keep one
hand on the risers all the time without needing to use that hand for
If you release too early, immediately reach for the risers again and
pull them slightly forward. Do not pull the risers shorter, you
simply want to bend the risers/lines at the maillons, keeping the
If you turn out to the right like I do, take an extra-long step back
with your right leg, then rotate a full 180 degrees on the front of
your feet (on your toes, not on your heels), then take another quick
extra-long step forward with your left leg. If these two steps are
nice and long, the wing will stay with you... if you slow down (short
steps or if your two feet ever find themselves on the ground
alongside each other), the wing will fall back and be difficult to
Also, if the wing drops back during or just after your turnout, it is
far more likely to fall sideways off the top, requiring some brake
input to correct (which makes it fall further back!) or quick under-
running. All this when it is most difficult to look up and see what
the wing is doing!
So the big secret is to prevent the wing from falling back at this
critical stage, which is one of the most common mistakes made.
OK, there you have it, the two biggest secrets of successful reverse
launches in light wind:
- Know which way (sideways) the wing will tend to pullup, it seldom
comes up straight and,
- prevent the wing from being too far back during or after turning
out to face the wind.
To expand on the second issue, keep your pressure on the A-risers for
much longer than you generally think is needed, have enough speed
before turning around, take an extra-long step before and after
turning, and all should be well.
A common mistake is to turn less than 180 degrees then to run out in
the new direction you are facing after turning, making the wing go
off to the side.
If you turn out to the right, you are likely to be facing slightly
left of your intended direction after turning, which means the wind
is now coming from slightly right of center, the wing will get pushed
to your left side and will require that you run even further to the
left to under-run, bringing you further out of the wind direction!
Its a losing battle. Its not difficult to turn a full 180 degrees if
you do it properly. Practice walking backwards (without your wing)
along a line on the ground, take an extra-long step back with your
Right leg, rotate your body around 180 degrees on your toes, then take another extra-
long step forward with your left leg, trying to step onto the line
when you put your left foot down. It actually feels like you are
turning much more than 180 degrees. Practice this without your wing
until you know exactly what it feels like (indoors along tiles to
guide you works well), then it will be familiar and easy when you do
it with your wing overhead.
That's all there is to it... Now its simply a matter of building up
more speed, and if the wing is moving overhead with you (not holding
back and/or not over to one side), simply feed in the power and run
faster until you lift off.
The easiest way to pick up speed while running under full power, is
to take longer steps, not quicker steps.
If you try to take quicker steps, they become shorter and shorter,
you work harder, but your actual speed does not increase and may well
If practised and done as described, you will find it easier to
reverse-launch even in zero wind, even off level ground, than it is
to do a forward pullup and launch!
Here you see the problem broken down into discrete small steps, each
with its own guidelines. It takes some practice, and you might get
some parts right quickly but still battle with other parts, but with
practice everything eventually happens just perfectly, then it gets
easier and easier after that.
Eventually you will drive to your flying site with confidence instead
of apprehension. You will __KNOW__ you can launch first time, every
time you try.
Its a great feeling, and you enjoy your flying that much more.
Practice, perfect and enjoy!
Then help your other flying buddies perfect their takeoff techniques.
If you read this far, well done! If you find this helpful, please
reply via email to firstname.lastname@example.org so that I know writing this was not wasted time nor effort.
Address comment to Keith Pickersgill at email@example.com