This is the 2nd article in a series of columns that will review step by step concepts concerning weather and flying pointers. Get together with your local instructor and club to discuss these topics in greater detail. Be sure and expand your library of books and videos. This column will recommend certain books and videos, realize that there may be some ideas that are arguable. Practice the weather concepts daily, even when you aren’t going flying. Begin to identify the trends that make for the best coastal flying, thermal conditions or exhaust heat sessions. Give your chums a call who flew on days you couldn’t and see how close you can get to predicting the conditions. Be thoughtful about going to new areas and how powerful some atmospheric influences may be in contrast to your home sites. There are some sites that become unruly by 9am in August yet others that can be flown all day. Remember – Practice is the Mother of Skill!!
Approaching “lows” and “highs” have powerful effects on the stability of the atmosphere and the wind intensity and direction. Be watchful of your barometer, information sources and the sky for evidence of a low. The low is basically a “puddle” of cool air descending from the poles into a warmer area which is the “high”. Weather maps indicate low pressure zones very clearly with an arced line with dangling triangles. The fine gray lines surrounding the “lows” and “highs” (isobars) indicate how steeply the pressure is dropping. Tightly spaced isobars, let’s say every 100 miles, generally indicate a high probability of regional wind flow. So, a weather map showing the jet stream over your area, a “low” and tightly spaced isobars isn’t promising. Study the weather maps for a couple of days and you’ll quickly notice how systems generally move and be able to anticipate the flying conditions.
If a “low” is approaching over night or early in the morning, you may notice earlier thermal activity. This is because the decreasing pressure and lower upper atmosphere temperatures allows thermals to release easier, particularly with direct sunlight. In the scenario of a “low” approaching late in the day, where you’ve had heating throughout the day, you may notice a thickening cirrus layer of clouds and that your barometer is on the decline. With this late day “low” you may notice more demanding and erratic thermals and strong windy conditions on the ground. The arrival of midday to late afternoon “low” can be of concern to pilots in some areas of the country because conditions can become very intense. In general, the approach of a low will bring winds from the Southwest.
Pilots looking for soft and easy conditions will find some “lows” where the flying is just fine. When a “low” is slow moving, without compressed isobars, there may not be much regional wind flow. If there isn’t much solar heating of the ground the air may be very pleasant, but be aware that even a few minutes of sunlight can start the thermals releasing. Be cautious with a “low” that a storm cell can develop and may create strong lift, sink or gust fronts. A thick mid level (stratus) layer of clouds may keep down the solar heating, but it can hide a towering cu nim (cumulous nimbus – raincloud).
As the “high” builds you may notice winds on the surface, and at altitude, more from the Northeast. The jet stream will most likely be far away, to the North is best, and the isobars will spread apart to over 300 miles between each gray line on the weather map. With the increase in pressure and warming of the upper atmosphere you should notice thermals taking much longer to develop and with ever increasing pressure tighter and more sharply edged thermals once they do release. Many pilots fly during “high” pressure systems as the conditions tend to be more predictable. You’ll find anabatic flow up East facing slopes in the mornings that can be very user friendly, to a point. Be aware that thermals are ever building and that a heated area (puddle) reaching just the right temperature will suddenly release its power. If you choose to fly as trigger temperature is reached you may need refined glider management skills in pitch and roll control, and be aware that landing zone conditions can be very unpredictable as thermals lift off and change the localized wind flow directions. Keep in mind that thermals will develop and release earlier in the morning in the Summer than in the Winter as a result of more or less sun exposure.
Facing forward while attached to a paraglider is very risky in anything other than completely “soft” conditions. Hooking-in to a paraglider while facing forward in “sporty” conditions can lead to a loss of control very quickly, thus damaging you or your glider. Since most launches are reverse launches, you should hook-in already facing the glider in the reverse position. Even if you plan to do a forward/front launch you may consider making this your hook-in procedure for safety reasons. If you decide you need to duck under your lines be sure and make a healthy bridge of lines using 2 hands so that you don’t accidentally turn without a line in hand, or drop some of the lines around your neck.
The reverse position hook-in technique is actually pretty simple. First, a right handed pilot should rotate left, or counter clockwise, from a reverse position and vice-versa if left handed. This will prepare you for doing reverse tandem launches without accidentally knocking open the reserve during the rotation. A pilot with 500 launches looking into doing tandem flight is going to be frustrated by re-learning a different rotation out of the reverse position, so you might as well learn this from the beginning. You’re probably thinking that you’ll never do tandems flights, but since you can’t be sure, you might as well develop the right skills as soon as possible.
While facing the glider shake out the risers so that the lines are clear. Be sure and check for any snags or knots and lay your glider in a horseshoe shape in light wind or a symmetrical rosette if windy, be sure and pull out the tips so you don’t get a line caught. The A riser should be on top, facing upward, with no twists. A right handed person will then twist both of the risers 180 degrees to the left, counter clock-wise, the A will now be facing the ground. Put tension on the biner and make sure it isn’t twisted. Attach the risers to the biners so that they are crossed with the riser going to the pilot’s left hip on top. To double check the configuration pull on each riser so that the tension will prove that the “A” faces away, away from the pilot, and the “rear” faces near, towards the pilot, – all without any twists. The accelerator line is easily attached by bringing it from the harness pulley in a direct path to the riser attachment point.
Head to the local park and give this method of hooking-in a try for 10 perfect repetitions. Try this with the glider in a rosette as well, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to see that your lines are clear, despite the glider being rosetted. Remember that you’re trying to avoid facing forward while attached to your glider, so learn to do this so you aren’t compelled to rotate duck around and face forward to see if you got it right.
My next article in this series will discuss localized upper level atmosphere information and how to perfect the reverse launch. The videos “Starting Paragliding” , and “Weather to Fly” are my favorites, of course. You should read Whittal’s “Paragliding: the Complete Guide” and Pagen’s “Understanding the Weather”. When reading Pagen’s book you may want to try learning a new concept a day from the list of items in the glossary. Check the index for Isobars and Pressure systems to help further your understanding of the discussions in this column.
This is the first in a series of columns that will review step by step concepts concerning weather and flying pointers. Get together with your local instructor and club to discuss these topics in greater detail. Be sure and expand your library of books and videos. This column will recommend certain books and videos, realize that there may be some ideas that are arguable. Practice the weather concepts daily, even when you aren’t going flying. Begin to identify the trends that make for the best coastal flying, thermal conditions or exhaust heat sessions. Give your chums a call who flew on days you couldn’t and see how close you can get to predicting the conditions. Be thoughtful about going to new areas and how powerful some atmospheric influences may be in contrast to your home sites. There are some sites that become unruly by 9am in August yet others that can be flown all day.
There are a couple of clues in the macro view of the atmosphere that can help you visualize approaching weather as much as 3 days in advance. Planning ahead for the possibility of flying can sure make the “home” scene and relationship with the “boss” much easier. You may rather be at home getting through a list of “honey-do’s” instead of driving for 4 hours without any flying.
Through the Internet, television weather reports, and the National Weather Service you can find Jet Stream maps for as much as 5 days away. For example, you can select www.weatherchannel.com (www.paraglide.com has a very thorough weather section also) go to maps and find the Jet Stream forecast for the next 5 days. In general, it seems accurate for only 2 to 3 days out. If the Jet Stream is moving into your area, within 100 miles, there’s a pretty good chance that flying will be switchy (changing direction dramatically within seconds), demanding (gust differentials beyond the optimal) or impossible (just too darn strong). Although the Jet Stream is many thousands of feet over the ground it draws cold fronts, which can then drop the pressure and lower upper level temperatures thus reducing stability. The Jet Stream can have an influence on surface winds as strong upper level winds can mix to the ground once the inversion has melted. You may notice on some days influenced by the Jet Stream that surface weather conditions can change within a few minutes. You may also notice fast accumulating cirrus cloud cover with 2nd and 3rd layers of clouds appearing very fast, indicating degenerating stability. Keep in mind that flying sites at sea level, or near sea level, will be influenced less than high mountain sites. If you are going to fly in questionable conditions make sure your glider is user friendly as well as the site – avoid high performing gliders and sites in rough terrain. Keep an eye on the cloud development and landing field winds – land before conditions can make your touchdown eventful.
When hooking into your glider practice a determined routine every time.
- Always wear your helmet before attaching to the glider. There have been fatalities from people being picked up and smacked into obstacles, each other or the ground while kiting on FLAT ground, let alone at a launch.
- Check your reserve thoroughly from the shoulder attachment points to the pin and handle.
- Don’t leave your extra gear lying on the hill, pack it or stow it in your truck.
- Lay out your glider and get set up away from the launch area as a matter of politeness.
- Always do your leg strap first so you don’t forget. Any pre-flight checklist is good. You may use one where you run through a list R,1,2,3,4,R,T,S. The first “R” is for reserve, “1” is for helmet strap (actually pull on the strap to make sure it’s fixed), “2” is for squeezing the caribiners to confirm that they are closed, “3” is to remind you to tug on your 3 straps – chest and leg straps, “4” is for confirming that your risers aren’t twisted by looking at the 4 corners of the glider – 2 front risers and the 2 brake lines, the 2nd “R” is for a radio check, “T” is confirming that you will be turning out of your reverse position the correct way, and “S” is for making sure your speed bar is hooked up and routed properly.
There have been completely avoidable accidents for lack of a consistent and through pre-flight check list. Go to the park and practice getting in and out of your gear 10 times without a glitch in your preflight.
Look for the next article where we will review “Lows and Highs” and “Isobars” in the weather discussion and then how and why you should hook into your glider from a reverse position.
The videos “Starting Paragliding” and “Weather to Fly” are my favorites, of course. You should read Whittal’s “Paragliding: the Complete Guide” and Pagen’s “Understanding the Weather”. When reading Pagen’s book you may want to try learning a new concept a day from the list of items in the glossary. Check the index for Jet Stream to help further your understanding of the discussion in this column.
There are a couple of paragliding sites located in the CA foothills south of Auburn. One is located on BLM Land and the other is private property. Please contact one of the local pilots before flying either of these sites.
Here are site guides for both flying sites:
Coloma Paragliding site 1: Cronan Ranch
Coloma Paragliding site 2: Sagebrush
Local pilots have had fantastic flights out of both locations, sometimes landing as far away as Placerville, Cool, Pilot Hill, Foresthill, Pollock Pines and Shingle Springs.
I am avaliable for site intros most week days.
530 263 7558
Here are a few tips to help improve your thermal flying.
1. Listen to your variometer. As you hear its pitch increase, indicating stronger lift, straighten up your flight path a bit so that you fly deeper into the strongest part of the thermal. When your vairos pitch decreases, indicating weaker lift, tighten up your turn to get back to where you just came from. If your variometer indicates a constant rate of climb, circle as flat as possible.
Climb rate increases -> Widen your turn
Climb rate decreases -> Tighten your turn
Climb stays the same -> Turn as flat as possible
2. Fly with your GPS zoomed in to about 200m. At this setting you can easily see the circular track log left while coring a thermal. If you inadvertently drift too far in one direction and fall out the side of the thermal simply look at your GPS track log to guide you back into the thermal.
3. If you’re flying downwind and you enter a thermal start your turn immediately.The strongest lift is usually found on the upwind side of a thermal. By doing this you will avoid flying out the back side of the thermal and into strong sink.
4. If you are flying upwind and you enter a thermal continue to fly straight until you either fly into a strong core or fly out the front edge of the thermal. While flying upwind it’s no big deal to flying out the front edge of a thermal as you can simply make a 180 degree turn and with the aid of a tail wind fly back in the thermal.
5. If you need to reverse your direction in a thermal, wait until you are on the upwind side, then make your direction change by turning into the wind. If you end up flying out of the thermal it will be on the upwind side. As you complete your turn you will have a tailwind to help push you back into the thermal. See the illustration below.
5. Be aware of your chest strap setting while thermaling. In order to feel the thermals better, loosen you chest strap so that your carabineers sit farther apart. If the conditions start to get too turbulent you can tighten your chest strap up a bit which will dampen out the bumps.
There are a few other things to keep in mind in regards to chest strap settings.
- Less likely to getting riser twists.
- You will be able to feel the thermals better in your seat.
- If you take a asymmetric collapse it is even more important that you lean away from the collapse. If you don’t the wide chest strap setting will cause you to weight shift in the direction of the collapse, which will result in a significant change in heading and in most cases a more violent recovery.
- Dampens out the bumps.
- Turns less when recovering from a deflation (safer setting for beginners).
- More likely to get riser twists. Counter this by sitting up in your harness and being ready to turn with your glider if you feel a deflation is likely do to excessively turbulent air.
Powered paragliding is an increasingly popular form of sports aviation. A Powered Paraglider, also sometimes called a Paramotor, Motorized Paraglider or PPG is a truly amazing device. It’s one of the most simple and compact aircrafts ever invented. Most are so small that then can be broken down and put in the trunk of your car.
A powered paraglider typically take about 10 minutes to set up. After setting it up you simply attach the motor unit to your paraglider (with carabineers), climb into the harness and your ready to fly.
Very little training is necessary when you compare it to standard aviation. A good school will first teach you to fly a paraglider (without the motor). After you have learned all the basics, become comfortable with your wing and earned your USHPA P2 or Novice rating, which typically takes a few weeks, you will learn to fly with the addition of a motor.
There are lots of great school and instructors out there but don’t hesitate to ask for references.
Here are a few of the better schools in the country.
As a paraglider pilot one of the most important pieces of equipment you may ever own is your reserve / rescue parachute. It is a piece of equipment that all of us hope we will never have to use and with a little luck and a commitment to flying conservatively chances are you never will have to deploy your rescue. But only the foolhardier would choose to fly without one. Think of it this way a good rescue parachute like the Apco Mayday will run you around $550, that is most likely the least expensive insurance policy you will ever purchase.
This applies equally to powered paraglider (PPG) pilots. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you fly close to the ground you don’t need a reserve. Reserves parachutes have been successfully deployed with as little altitude as 75 feet. This means that as a PPG pilot if you ever plan on flying at an altitude greater than 75 feet a reserve could potentially save your life.
Sport Paragliding is now a proud distributor of Charly Paragliding helmets. Charly has a complete line of some of the best quality paragliding helmets on the market today. The Charly Insider full face helmet is one of the most popular model, is reasonably priced and comes in a wide selection of colors. For competition pilots the Charly No Limit helmet has a streamlined design and a wind visor to protect you from the cold and to help reduce parasitic drag. The Charly No Limit also comes in a wide selection of colors. Currently we are only carrying the full face models but check back soon for other great helmets like the Charly Breeze and Air Control.
An air mass is any large volume of air having a relatively uniform temperature and water vapor content. A front is simply the boundary between two air masses. When a cold air mass pushes into a warm airmass, we call the boundary a Cold Front. When the warm air pushes forward, we call the boundary a Warm Front.
Cold fronts typically come from the north and move in a southerly direction. They tend to pass quickly, usually within a few hours. As a cold front passes, it plows under the existing warmer air rapidly lifting it and often times generating thunderstorms.All pilots should be very cautious when flying in pre cold frontal conditions. Beginning pilots should wait for the front to pass.
Post cold frontal conditions are generally unstable and great for soaring.
Warm fronts typically come from the south and move northwest. They move more slowly sometime staking several days to pass. The less dense and therefore lighter air tends to ride up and over the already present cooler air mass.
Because of the slow movement of a warm front, it is often possible to predict its approach a day or two in advance by noting a gradual increase and lowering of the clouds as illustrated below.
The passage of a warm front is not typically a good time to fly.
Structure of the Atmosphere / Density Altitude
To understand the weather it helps to know a little about the air. Air is simply a gas comprised primarily
of nitrogen and oxygen and a variable amount of water vapor. Air has mass and weight. At sea level
where the air is most dense it exerts a pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch.
Air density is affected by altitude, temperature, humidity and pressure. Air density alters wing
performance. The higher the altitude, temperature or humidity the less dense the air will be and the faster
you will have to move to generate lift.
For every 1000ft of altitude you gain, the air density drops approximately 4%.
For every 5ºF increase in temperature, the air density will drop 1%.
The amount of water vapor a mass of air can hold depends on its temperature. As air heats up it is able to
hold more water. Low relative humidity means that the air at its current temperature could hold a lot more
water. When the temperature of an air mass drops, its relative humidity increases and when relative
humidity reaches 100%, water condenses and a cloud is formed.
Humid air is lighter then dry air and therefore has a tendency to rise just as when air is heated.
Solar Heating and Circulation
Solar heating and the resulting high and low pressure systems causes all atmospheric circulation. The sun
heats the ground, which heats the air above it. Different surfaces heat up at different rates. Some examples
of terrain that heat up slowly are water, snow, green grass, and forests. Examples of terrain that heat up
more quickly are asphalt, dry fields, dark soil and dark rocks.
As air warms up it expands, becomes less dense, and tends to rise. When warm air rises, cooler air moves
in from the surrounding areas to replace it.