Xplorer Ultraflight
Performance Paramotors
for powered paragliding

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, etc).

Do you feel apprehensive when its time to fly because of any of these? Does your mouth feel dry, your heart is pounding and your adrenalin is flowing?

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 horizon...

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 more!

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 zero wind!)

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 riser.

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 speedbar line.

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 angles).

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 direction.

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 side...

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 more effort.

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 easy...

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:
  1. you moving into the wind and
  2. you NOT braking the wing!

    The less you brake the wing, the less you need to run backwards...

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- risers.

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 brake input.

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 pressure there.

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 recover again...

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:
  1. Know which way (sideways) the wing will tend to pullup, it seldom comes up straight and,
  2. 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 decrease!

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 keith@xplorer.co.za so that I know writing this was not wasted time nor effort.


Address comment to Keith Pickersgill at keith@xplorer.co.za