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Riser Twists

By Rob Sporrer for Paraglider Magazine

Riser twists are one flying configuration we hope to avoid. This event can occur as the result of a poor pre-flight check before launching, or from being lifted off the ground prematurely while still in the reverse position on launch. I have seen P4 pilots and tandem pilots hook in without crossing their risers (or spreader bars with a tandem) in the reverse position. This isn’t a riser twist; it’s an incorrect hook-in. This bogus hook-in put those pilots, and/or their passengers on a tandem, in an awkward, but usually manageable configuration of facing the opposite direction the glider is flying with no riser twists at all. These pilots all managed to land safely facing backwards, but one did throw his reserve when he found it difficult to manage the wing in turbulent conditions. Chris Santacroce actually flies solo in this configuration for fun, but there isn’t much Santa can’t do on a paraglider.

We also see riser twists occur after a big surge/dive of big asymmetric deflations over 50%. These usually happen on higher performance wings in turbulent air, or at an over the water clinic when you are doing acro, or exit a maneuver poorly. Let’s focus on the risers twists which occur at launch. I recommend getting to an over the water clinic if you want some insight from experienced pilots on techniques used to deal with riser twists induced from big deflations or other events you experience while flying.

There is really no excuse for having the incorrect riser on top before you launch. It’s common to feel a little nervous and be amped up before launching. We need to check in with ourselves, take a deep breath, and find our rhythm before every launch. This should be part of your pre-flight. You need to check in with yourself, forget about everybody around you, and find your center.

Part of your preflight check needs to be checking that the correct riser is on top. You want the riser connected to the right carabiner on top of the other riser if you turn to the right, and you want the riser connected to the left carabiner on top of the other riser if you turn to the left. Make sure that your risers are crossed and form an “X” so we can avoid the backward flying configuration that we will leave to Chris.

Having the wrong riser on top means we will have a full twist when we turn to launch in our designated direction. Students should learn to turn only one direction from the beginning of their training in my opinion. There is no significant benefit gained in being equally comfortable with turning both ways. One mistaken turn direction at launch could prove disastrous. We give all our first day students at Eagle Paragliding the turn direction they would use if they were to become tandem pilots. We ask students what their dominant hand is on day one. This is the deciding factor in choosing which direction the student will turn when launching from the reverse position. They can build from this if they decide to become tandem pilots down the road, and never have to deal with turning a new direction. When you fly tandem you will need to be a left turner if you want to throw your reserve with your right hand. If you turn the same direction your reserve parachute handle is located you risk brushing the handle against your tandem passenger when launching reverse. This could cause an inadvertent reserve deployment. If you’re right handed, you should be turning left. If you’re left handed you should be turning right. If you’re ambidextrous it doesn’t matter which way you choose to turn, but choose a direction and stick to it. By picking one direction to turn when launching, and checking that the correct riser is on top as part of your pre-flight will prevent this type of riser twist.

We can get a riser twist at launch is by choosing to launch when the glider is not level and turning during the pull up. Some pilots continue to attempt the launch when the wing is turning, and risk flying away from the hill sideways. If they make contact with objects close to launch they risk getting a twist or two in their risers as well as crashing into an object. We need to remember to “settle for nothing less than perfection” on our pull-ups and launches. If the wing is not coming up straight, and we can’t get it straight with our hand inputs and footwork, then bring it down and reset. Pilots who force an ugly pull-up often find themselves lifted off the ground out of control, which can lead to dangerous and sometimes bizarre events. One great thing about paragliding is we can minimize our risk by choosing to commit to launching only when the glider is straight, and free of tangles or debris in the lines. If you can’t bring your wing up straight on a launch you really don’t deserve to be flying. I’m amazed at how many P3 and P4 pilots show kiting and launch control skills of a new P1 student. It seems after we spend time practicing our ground handling and launches in the early part of our training we neglect this skill set by spending most of our time up in the air flying. We only get one launch and one landing per flight, and that’s not quite enough to keep our skills where they should be. I encourage all pilots to spend more time under their wing on the ground. We need to be ground handling masters if we hope to minimize our risk. It seems we owe that practice to ourselves, our fellow pilots, and the people who care about us.

Another type of riser twist scenario we need to discuss starts when a pilot is prematurely lifted off the ground in the reverse position. The glider may race into the overhead position during the pull-up. We realize the wing is moving toward the overhead position too quickly, we add a healthy amount of brake input to “check it” and keep the wing from moving too far forward. This brake input, combined with the energy the glider had on the pull-up, lifts us off the ground. This is a very uncomfortable feeling for most pilots. The carabiners have more of your body weight on the same side the rear risers are facing instead of the direction the A risers are facing. This causes you to fall backward as you are lifted off the ground. The falling backward sensation can cause us to instinctively put a hand out to brace the fall. The problem is we have a steering toggle in our hand when we put our hand out, which causes the glider to react to our input and turn.

If the pilot is lifted away from the launch into the air, the half twist will sometimes untwist and right the pilot back to normal flight. However, if the half twist does not come undone, the pilot can begin banking into a turn. The correct steering input to give at this point is counterintuitive. If we try to correct using the brake toggles, we often see the pilot giving the wrong input, causing the wing to bank steeper. This can lead to a severe impact into the hillside. Imagine yourself being lifted off the ground in the reverse position as you fly away from launch and the glider is banking into a turn. At this point, most pilots give the incorrect input in an attempt to get the glider flying straight and level. As we fly away from launch we are in uncharted territory with our adrenaline beginning to pump, hopefully we are flying straight and level. We may find ourselves beginning to bank into a turn immediately after leaving the ground. We need to get back to level and straight flying as soon as possible. While turning, we are not balanced in the center of our seat board, and our body leans off center the same direction the wing is turning. We instinctively give brake input to correct the turn, hoping to arrive at level flight. The problem is most pilots give the wrong brake input in this scenario and send the wing into a steeper turn. If we feel ourselves leaning to the right, our mind tells us to give brake with the left hand, which is the opposite direction we are banking. Close your eyes and picture the scenario. If you are flying away from the hill and are tilted to the right, it doesn’t seem like pulling brake with your right hand will be the correct input, but this is the input that will take the wing back to level flight. It’s tricky and counterintuitive to give the correct input with the brake here. We don’t find ourselves in this configuration until it is time to do the right thing in a real life scenario. So, we now know which brake to pull in this funky flying configuration. Realize this steering with the brakes technique may only work with a half twist, and we come to find out it’s better to not use the brake toggles at all if we can help it.

The best solution is to steer the glider above the twist with the brake lines or the rear risers. The direct inputs we give in this configuration are intuitive. So I’m suggesting that you avoid using the brake toggles all together. Using cross control with the brake toggles in the heat of the moment is counterintuitive, and may not work with more than a half twist.

In summary, if we find ourselves lifted off the ground in the reverse position flying away from launch, we need to control our heading. Theoretically, we could try to fly the glider with the brake toggles at this point with only a half twist, but we suggest you avoid using the brake toggles since the input could stick and giving the correct input is counterintuitive. Grab the brake line or rear riser above the twist and give direct inputs instead of cross controlling with the brake toggles. Fly the glider straight and level, and get oriented forward as soon as you have the wing flying level and in control. You may end up untwisting the wing as you attempt to get your body oriented in the correct direction, or you could end up with another half twist. It doesn’t really matter as long as we can stabilize ourselves and keep the wing level on a good heading. Once you have control and terrain clearance you can assess the twist and attempt to untwist yourself, while being sure to stay aware of your heading as you maintain level flight. You may try kicking your legs (run in the air) as you untwist. You will get to practice this if you attend an over the water clinic.

This premature lift off in the reverse position can happen for a couple of reasons. The situation can often be avoided if we know what to look for, and react soon enough. The pace the glider is moving toward the overhead position can increase because of a gust or big thermal release. We need to slow the pace of the wing down quickly when we see the glider picking up speed as it moves overhead. The best way to do this is by moving toward the glider. We can also decrease the load we are putting on the A risers, but moving toward the glider is the key. If you feel yourself being lifted off the ground as the glider comes overhead turn around and face forward immediately. We need to be quick like a cat when we feel this lifting beginning, and get turned around forward so we are oriented correctly. Once our feet have left the ground, we have no traction to plant and get turned.

Everything we do with our hands and feet are dictated by what we see the wing doing on the pull-up. The longer you take to give the correct input, the bigger the input required to correct the wing will need to be. Try to focus on your wing and give it what it needs all the time with your hands and feet. Realize the slope angle, the altitude, the wind velocity, and the size of your launch need to be considered before every launch. Try not to be a robot. Make every launch fit the conditions and terrain for that time and place. Don’t be afraid to bring your wing down and reset if it isn’t close to perfection.

Rob Sporrer is the Chief Instructor at Eagle Paragliding in Santa Barbara, California.
Eagle Paragliding imports UP, Niviuk, Airdesign and Woody Valley paragliding products. He received the USHPA 2002 Instructor of the Year Award, and is a Tandem and Instructor Administrator, as well as a volunteer member of Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue.


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