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Active Air Turbulence
Updated 10/12/2017

Solicitation for input from Aaron LaPlante

[Top of Page]  [Aaron LaPlante]  [Mitch Riley]  [Tom Truax]  [Marty DeVietti]  [Neal Michaelis]  [Brian Howell]  [Rob Sporrer]

Email From: Aaron LaPlante
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2017 7:12 AM
To: Marty DeVietti, Rob Sporrer, Mitch Riley, Neal Michaelis, Tom Truax, Brian Howell
Subject: Active Air and Turbulence

Yo local veteran rippers!!!  So I think Brian K. brought up an excellent subject the other day on Telegram about rough air that seems to have some taboo around talking about it.  I think it would be awesome to put some opinions on the subject out there from this select group, as over the years I have never heard you all wank or talk about the texture of the air or wank about rough air and you all fly some of the hottest, twitchiest gliders.  As a wus myself who often flys aways at the first or second punch in the face, I would love to hear more on the subject.  I think we will put it all in one document and host it on truax's site so it will be there for reference.

feel free to address anything on the subject and here is other food for thought...is turbulence 100% mental, any mental preparation to for active air, any mind tricks when the air gets rough, how much do you trust your glider, at what point do you consider your safety, do you do less or more with your hands in turb, do you use speed-bar in turb, how do you decide how much space to put between you and the terrain according to conditions, what conditions cause the worst turbulence, does mindset change it you can only fly once in a while, any different techniques you use in the strongest of climbs or sink, any certain weather conditions that scare you locally such as strong wind, north wind, high pressure, low pressure, does wing loading matter,   etc, etc etc...

I think this will be very helpful to the flying community as i hear talk of it almost every flight forever. Whether you send one sentence or 10 pages, it will be good info for everyone.   i will send the complete document back to all of you to read before I post in case there is anything you want to edit after reading others..... Thanks so much to you guys!!



[Top of Page]  [Aaron LaPlante]  [Mitch Riley]  [Tom Truax]  [Marty DeVietti]  [Neal Michaelis]  [Brian Howell]  [Rob Sporrer]

From: Mitch Riley
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2017 8:20 AM
Subject: Re: Active Air and Turbulence

Good call Aaron!

Lee side flying:

The turbulence factor in the lee is directly related to; 1. stability of the day (more stable more turbulence), 2. ability of the leeside to produce thermals/anabatic flow (albedo value, sun angle, protected air).  Thermals are caused by the sun heating up the ground, the ground heating up the air, and that air rising through cooler air.

The ground heating up the air does not work very well if wind is present, because the air moves to quick to get much heating.  Protection is necessary for the ground to heat up a large amount of air.  This is why the lee can work well, and some of our bushy triggers work better then our rocky ones, because the bushes are protecting some air, and thus allowing it to heat.

If the laps rate provides for instability then the sunny lee will create a upslope breeze that will not allow the wind to roll around and down it.  Visualize a big broad rock in a river, the thermal block is like the broad side of the rock, it will not allow a hydraulic to form, but rather a big glassy wave.  With a stable (not much air rising) lapse rate (or a shady lee) the blocking will not occur, and the rotor will be allowed to tumble down.  For this visualize an abrupt rock and drop in a river, big nasty hydraulic.  

If  I've decided that the lee side is right to fly, based on lapse rate and thermal generators, then I know that the closer to the terrain, the smother the air should be because of more thermal blocking from the anabatic flow.

Knowing my skills  

A huge part of flying in turbulence is being honest about my skills, and having confidence in said skills.  I know through experience that I can fly a paraglider in very violent air.  I also know that I fly best when I am relaxed and focused, not when I'm scared and tense.  Staying current, flying a lot, keeps me nice and relaxed when the air is rough.  It has taken lots of flying, and lots of spin, stall, heli and back fly practice for me to feel like I can fly a glider in a very wide range of conditions.  

Deciding to get into the air

We know that flying scared and tense is not fun, and not affective.  If you know that the conditions are beyond your ability by the way the air feels on launch, the way other pilots are making it look, or the wind talkers on top of the peak you should stay on the ground.  Launching into conditions that are going to make you more scared then is good for your flying is not doing yourself any favors.  Some conditions are not right to fly in, and some conditions are only for the best of the best, and even they may be taking on a fair amount of risk to fly in them.

Fear control

Being excited in must-fly-well conditions is good.  Adrenaline causes time to slow down, awareness to heighten, intuition to flourish, and sub conscious data to come into consciousness.  When I'm in really rough air I'm happy to use some energy being excited or jacked, but I am not OK with being scared and tense.  Its important to differentiate the two.  Scared bad, excited OK, in the right doses, at the right time.  Its too fatiguing to be jacked for 8 hours at a time, so if you want to do long flights the adrenaline surges can only be allowed when it is necessary to have the advantages of being jacked.

Fear and curiosity can't happen simultaneously.  If your curious about the air, then you learn what those bumps are telling you.  If your scared of it then you just define them as bumps, or turbulence.  The glider moving is telling you things, the more receptive (curious) to that communication you are, the more you will learn about flying the air effectively.  It is impossible for the human mind to be scared and curious at the same time.  So cue curiosity.  I often think to myself in flight 'Yepee the air is moving, where is that thermal' or 'damn this is a lot of sink, I wonder where the lifty line is at'. 

Its also really important to control your environment and influences on the way to launch so that a fear response is not cued.  We all know the crowd that talked about how spicy the air always is, or the latest crash, tree landing etc.  Stay away from those people.  Hang with the pilots who are talking about the conditions objectively ("spicy" is not an objective word, especially when used every f*** day), and are talking about the positive, rewarding aspects of flying.  Sometimes I put on headphones or turn up the music if someone near me is talking about the latest crash, or what a hangie at the supermarket said about the conditions not being suitable for PG. 

Meditation works well for mind control!!  So does the occasional directed phycadelic experience.

That's all for now, gotta get to work.



[Top of Page]  [Aaron LaPlante]  [Mitch Riley]  [Tom Truax]  [Marty DeVietti]  [Neal Michaelis]  [Brian Howell]  [Rob Sporrer]

Tom Truax Comment / posted 10/12/2017 and updated 10/15/2017

Aaron, thank you for your contributions to our collective. 

I think you are referring to Brian Kaiserauerís SBSA Chat Box response to your most recent Cracka Sauce release [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qYsEpSr0vM&feature=share] along with comments from Chris Heckman and Derek Musashe regarding upwind legs into lee-side protection and the associated potential turbulence?

I concur with Mitch's comments (above).  I think his insight is excellent.  As a student of our sport where the medium is not certain, I try to learn from whoever I can, which is aided with todayís track log technology.  I'm currently dwelling on new insight gleaned from Mitchís presentation at the club meeting the other night, particularly, his use of speed-bar for pitch control.  Iím more of a lazy pilot and will often simply relax and mentally recharge on glides.  I donít use the speed-bar much for pitch control during gyrations, but I suspect I should because Mitchís track logs show some pretty impressive glides.  I do use the bar some for pitch gyration control on upwind critical glides, but since I donít do it often, (I mostly try to fly downwind), Iím not as good at it as many of the more competitive pilots.

To stay on point and not redo a bunch of concepts from scratch.

Mental:  The mental game is important.  As with a lot of life scenarios, there is often more going on than we can process, so I often strive to manage my focus and not simply let my mind wander.  I love to daydream, but many scenarios require more deliberate mind control.  I come from a formal pilot training background (I have a commercial pilot license with a multi-engine and instrument rating).  During the instrument training in particular, students are taught to scan.  Scan progressions vary with the scenario.  Flying paragliders, we often need to focus tight on a thermal, but then expand our scan outward and look at a bigger picture once we are latched onto a core or on glide.

We donít wait until we get to launch to start accessing the conditions.  Some fellow bus riders may have noticed Iím religious about stopping briefly on the way up to continually access the evolving pulse of the day (at the Rock and the Bypass).

We all have varied bump tolerances.  You expand your bump tolerance in various ways including pushing a bit beyond your comfort zone.  When I was instructing at our training hill (previous millennium), I was striving to instill basic canopy gyration awareness to enable P2 novice pilots to fly in thermal conditions because their first high flight was often from somewhere like Chiefs launch in Ojai, and the midday thermal air is bumpy.  Another school of thought that I didnít subscribe to was to fly in smooth air for a season or 2 before venturing into bumpy air.  I suspect George Jimenezís recent crash at Bates wouldnít have occurred to a pilot like Chris Heckman who is more comfortable with projecting how his canopy will progress through various gyration scenarios?  I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong in just flying ridge lift.  Our primary purpose is personal recreation, and our sport offers various means of achieving that objective, but ridge soaring in smooth air and flying the mountains are almost 2 different sports.  I'm not sure a whole bunch of hours spent on the coastal cliffs translates into more preparedness for novice level thermal flying in the mountains.  That said, I did spend my first couple years of hang gliding going back and forth in varied ridge lift.

One of our most important skills is Angle of Attack Control.  There is a lot already written about it, so rather than starting from scratch, I would point you to a comments from http://paraglide.net/comment/asymmetric_aoa.htm and http://paraglide.net/comment/marge_factory_flap.htm
Neither of the above links (from 16 and 6 years ago) address Mitchís use of the speed-bar, so my understanding continues to evolve, but in general, I will often slowdown in turbulence because a canopy is more likely to front tuck than stall, and I am particularly apprehensive about stomping on the bar when trying to skim over an upwind obstacle.  http://paraglide.net/log/10/10_04-07/1_upwind_speed_bar_tuck.htm

Sometimes we need to commit to achieve a goal, which might be important like avoiding a multi-day hike, but stomping on the bar upwind close to the ground is also rolling the dice.  We all need to occasionally engage is some dicey odds, but Iíve got enough battle scars to indicate that perhaps Iíve been more optimistic than what might be considered prudent?

Flying in wind requires situational awareness to minimize getting boxed into scenarios where we need to cross our fingers and hope we donít get spanked.  I like to go downwind, but even on downwind days we occasionally need to work upwind to align our options with what we are willing to tackle.

The Chat Box discussion seemed to focus on the technique of ducking into wind shadows on upwind glides.  As an instructor, we strive to keep it simple and strongly caution novice students to avoid rotor scenarios, but as they progress through intermediate awareness into advance flying, we then encourage them to consider deliberately flying in the lee as a technique to achieve an objective.  One of the reasons Santa Barbara works so good in the winter months is because the entire range is often lee-side down low.  Mitch's comments are spot on, and Iíd also reference my comments from 2001 at http://paraglide.net/comment/wind_shadow.htm and a 2014 comment about Chris Heckmanís experience crossing Ramero Saddle upwind as an intermediate pilot. http://paraglide.net/comment/ramero_westbound (Chirs is now a seasoned XC pilot).

New insight for me from reading Mitch Riley's thoughts above: We are more likely to encounter lee side turb in the wind shadows on upwind glides when the day is stable (less thermic).  We are less likely to get protection from a thermal bubble in the lee that might draw us in when the thermals are weak, as when the lapse rate is poor or the day is getting late [going west along our front range into the late day shady east side of an upwind spine] or when the clouds (OD) are shutting down the heating.  I also liked his emphasis on the mental aspect and the 3Ps he reviewed at our last club meeting.

Back to the speed-bar thing.  Mitch noted (at his October club meeting presentation) that when entering a thermal your canopy can drive forward (in front) because the wing loading increases as we transition into rising air, so Mitch will bend his knees to reduce speed-bar input (mitigating the forward pitch), then after the initial forward movement, canopies often rock back (due to the pendulum gyration), at which time pilots should straighten their legs to push more on bar to mitigate the increasing angle of attack.  I think Mitch is noting that he strives to minimize his use of  brake to control pitch both in thermals and on glide because applying brake reduces the L/D and overall efficiency of his high performance canopy profile?

My un-powered flight exposure transitioned from skydiving to sailplanes, then hang gliders and eventually paragliders.  Mitch flies a lot of big air inland sites.  I concur with Mitchís recommendations for big air organize thermals, but in SB we often encounter broken small core high pressure thermals.  Sailplanes and hang-gliders have a sink rate performance advantage over a paraglider, but in small tight core thermals, PGs will often out-climb the super-ships because we can slow down and get into the tight cores, so I will often let my canopy rock back entering a small tight core thermal because I want to slow down anyway.  I will also often let the canopy rock back aggressively when dolphin flying on punchy days to take advantage of the small bubbles that we can skip on.  It should be noted that part of my logic is a rationalization for being lazy, and Mitch has demonstrated an ability to stay off the deck and in the game when he is critically low.

I concur with the notion that on-glide we want to minimize using brake to control pitch.  I think it is more efficient to use speed-bar for primary pitch control on glide.  Applying brake has a negative effect on L/D.  I'm not as active on the speed-bar as I should be on glide, not because I don't agree that it is useful, but rather because it's somewhat tedious.  For me it is related to the mental thing, needing to let my mind relax and recharge, enjoy the view and savior the moments.  If my downwind glide isn't critical, then I'll often simply seat steer with my hands in my lap and let the glider's pitch bob along.  I think the newer performance gliders actually get their best still air L/D slightly accelerated?  So I will use a little bar on downwind glides if the sink is significant.  The math equation varies with the magnitude of the tailwind component and the sink rate, but the performance advantage of speeding up going downwind is minimal.  It might be mathematically optimal to slow down some and strive for minimum sink rate when going downwind through non-sinking air, which I will do if I sense buoyant air (unless I'm racing which can be a more complicated equation?).  If I'm going up (gaining altitude/climbing) during a downwind dolphin glide, I'll slow down to maximize my dwell time in the up air, maybe even do a little flat zig-zag.  I'll always use some bar on upwind glides, unless the vario starts to chirp (from rising air, not a pitch induced transient climb), then I'll slow down.

Seat steering on glide, I usually don't go straight.  I watch the big picture, but also try to use the micro stuff and zig-zag a bit like turkey vulture.  I'll lean into the lifting side.  Draws will feed the lift, so I avoid fighting against draws (sometimes you can't due to the scenario), but small bubbles will try to turn you away from their core, so I'll seat steer (lean) toward the lifting side of my harness.

My objective working a tight small core snaky thermal is not to maximize L/D, but rather to maximize sink rate while making small radius circles.  I think it is more import to fight for the center than it is to maximize the efficiency of the wing.  I rarely use speed-bar in thermals.  I concur that it makes logical sense from an efficiency perspective, but my currency and mechanical skill level don't match many of the more current pilots.  I have a hard time rubbing my stomach and patting my head at the same time, so in thermals I do a lot of weight shift and use the brakes.  It is still important to manage the angle of attack, energy, and bank angle, which are all interdependent, and I do concur that it can be more efficient to actively use speed-bar to minimize the need to use brake, but I don't do it in thermals for reasons noted.  I will let the glider fly faster in big smooth organized thermals because the sweet spot is fat so it is less important to turn tight, plus having a little extra energy has advantages like being able to pitch around quicker if you sense you are nearing the edge (if the glider is banked, you can get a transient increase in turn rate by increasing pitch, but pitching up will also eventually result in decreasing bank angle due to the the lower centrifugal force as the speed decays).

Another factor that I weigh when choosing how much to let the glider pitch back on dolphin glides when skipping over bumps is my perception of whether the bumps are vertical air or simply a gradient that equates to getting gusted from the front (which is often encountered descending downwind through a gradient or flying into a ďwrapĒ rounding an edge or corner).  I will let the canopy pitch back some to skip on a gradient gust, but not as much as when I think there is vertical air causing the gyration.  Going upwind Iím hesitant to lose too much energy, but going downwind is more forgiving if I guess wrong.

Light wind thermal turbulence has a rhythm and is mostly predictable.  It is less unsettling to me than wind turbulence.  With the wind turb, I'm mostly scared of getting boxed into a scenario where I might need to get close to the terrain or land in the lee of upwind turbulators.  I generally want to keep more terrain clearance on days with strong thermals or high wind, but even on ripping days you can still selectively come in close if you are reading the micrometeorology confidently.  I had a fast flight to Magic Mountain a couple years ago where I could have kept going, and I suspect younger sharper pilots would have kept going [http://paraglide.net/log/16/03-31/1_skyport_to_magic_mountain.htm] but I was scared of the potential nasty scenarios I might encounter trying to cross Canyon Country in the wind.  It's almost always windy on the days you can get there fast, but this day had an extra 5+ mph of wind.  What's nasty for me might not be so nasty for Mitch and company for a bunch of reasons.  I often encourage newer pilots to push a bit beyond their comfort zone, but as I get older, slower, and less resilient, I often find that I need to council myself to do the opposite and throw an anchor or take a more forgiving route.

I'm ok flying in stiff wind as long as I'm confident I can avoid having to land or get close to the terrain behind upwind turbulators... unless of course the wind is really strong and I'm [backing up fast on landing] then even flat open terrain isn't enough to avoid an overwhelming scenario.

My thoughts noted above are not gospel.  Our collective knowledge evolves and expands, and some of us old dogs might be slow learning new tricks.  We operate in an uncertain medium and I am frequently reminded that there is more than one route to ...



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From: Marty DeVietti
Sent: Friday, October 13, 2017 3:56 PM
Subject: Re: Active Air and Turbulence

Wow Aaron, Mitch and Tom!

What a great discussion and great comments.  I was loving every minute of the read for each.

It is interesting to me how oneís attitude, coupled with oneís environment affects a pilot's learning and progression.  To give my perspective, I will give a little background first.

I learned to fly paragliders in 1991.  Back then, it was considered a foolish activity that was just beginning to show signs of legitimacy.  My instructor was trying to do it better and safer than his instructor when he started his own school.  I was a private pilot with an instrument rating when I graduated university.  I chose to teach paragliding instead.  The lessons learned in the cockpit, along with the stigma of public opinion towards paragliding gave me the insight and purpose to pursue paragliding instruction over commercial aviation.  I wanted to make it safe and fun.

As an instructor, I was teaching pilots to be safe, but found that after years of teaching, I wasnít progressing as fast as some of my students who flew at different sites, with a different group of pilots just for the fun and challenge of it.  I realized that I was spending most of my time just teaching and not Flying.

I started competing.  That is when I learned that I had a LOT to learn.

I had some catching up to do, but eventually, despite my 'mother hen' beginnings, made it to the podium a few times and finally won the Rat Race in 2008.  I made the US Team in 2013 and my dream was complete I have hung up my competition hat since then.  Doing Tandems for the local schools has been the icing on the cake for me, sharing my knowledge and experience with people is still fun for me.  I have taught with Rob at Eagle for several years and I still guide with him in Colombia.

Iím still learning about flying.  Iíve got plenty to learn about Santa Barbara, and Pine Mtn., so I tip my hat to Aaron, Tom, Mitch, Neal and all the guys out flying all the time and sharing such great information.  Iím paying close attention.

A few of my Favorites:

Attitude is everything.
AKA:  Flying is mind powered flightÖ I donít remember where that came from but it is very true.
"Whether you think you can or you canít, you are right.Ē --- Henry Ford
Mental toughness is interesting to me.  Keeping positive has huge dividends for me personally as it relates to flying.
In fact, I had a horrible start going into the last task of the 2008 Rat race, and came in nearly last into goal on the last day, just ahead of the goal closed time.  The whole time flying towards goal that day, I kept my chin up and just vowed to focus on getting to goal in time.  I knew if I finished well, I could win the meet, but now finishing last I may have lost any chance of getting on the podium.  As it turned out, the pilot who won the day had the wrong start time and left too soon, earning him a 0 for the day, putting me in first place at the awards ceremony!  Had I given up, and given in to negative thinking, I may have landed short, or not made goal in time, and lost a race I could have won.  I never forget that one!

Constant Vigilence- looking out the windows
I tend to trust my gut when flying but am always willing to counter it with what I can see and feel, and if I can see other pilots in the air marking lift, showing me lots of information, then I can make even better decisions.  That is what is great about comps and flying with your buddies.  There is so much info to be gleaned in specific tasks, and you get to see first hand how others are solving the task in real time.  Kudos to Aaron for bringing tasks to SB!  It is nice to push yourself and grow with many others in the air.  You need to be able to divide your attention between flying your own glider and seeing what is going on around you as Tom mentioned.  Very important.  Be careful not to stare at your instruments too much.

Fly the day, and not your desires.
Plan for big flights, and figure out the logistics beforehand, so when right day arrives, you will be ready, like Mitch the day he did the [FAI Circle].  On the other hand, sometimes you might think it is the right day, and it turns out there may be a different, safer opportunity if you are flexible.  Donít force your well laid plans on Mother NatureÖ Mind your mother!

The last time I flew out to the power lines and back, it was going well, but the day had an edginess to it that might have been due to the wind strength or perhaps the lapse rate was a little sharp and high pressure may have been a factor too.  At any rate, 5 of us made it to the power lines but despite getting my best climb there, it felt like there was a shear at altitude the opposite direction out of the East, making the best climb of the day the least enjoyable for me.  Even though I had said I wanted to go through the pass on launch, I changed my mind and opted for the easier (more fun) return to SB before the eventual west wind increased any further.  Later I found out, that Aaron had a sizable deflation (or two) around the time of our big climb and opted to fly out.  I had felt the potential for that kind of event, earlier on in the flight but felt that I was staying high enough to get into the big thermal releases unscathed.  I like to be as high as possible as a rule, but especially on days like that.  Sometimes when there are big thermal releases, it is best to be above the trigger when it goes off.  Showing up late can leave turbulent eddies behind the big release.  I hear the wind sometimes while flying, and I suspect that is what I am hearing.  Aaron, being lower at that point may have got the turbulent umbilical from the big climb the rest of us were able to use, or it could have been the east wind converging on the west.  Messy sometimes.  Talking to each other after flying, sharing perceptions, discussing and learning from it is what makes this so much fun for me.  Sometimes it isnít always clear until days after a flight what I felt, or experienced, but with time and contemplation, I keep building and refining a mental model of what happens out there.  Flying back that day we managed to retrace our path a little higher at first, but then we were hugging the sunny lee slopes as Mitch and Tom discussed allowing us to progress against the west wind that was maybe 5 mph.  A classic flight for SB.

Manage your fear-Keep things in perspective!
Letís face it, there are still people who donít like flying on airplanes, much less paragliders or hang gliders.  Society has a love/hate relationship with all things aviation.  Donít listen to the naysayers.  I have spent my life trying to show how education can make paragliding safer for us all.  Do I get scared?  Sure.  What do I do?  I change my situation so I can get back to having fun again.  For example, if the clouds are building like Marge Simpsonís hair and it is looking like a thunderstorm is imminent, I can fly out and be in a position to land before I feel like it is too late to get down.  If the wind is getting cross and stronger in the mountains, I can push out to the flats.  If the thermals are getting too violent and rough because of a huge lapse rate and high pressure, I can keep higher terrain clearance until I feel like Iím done flying for the day and and then avoid thermal triggers and go land. If I feel like I am getting low in the mountains, I can push out to the front points.  If I am not feeling it on launch, I can build Karma and offer to drive a vehicle down for pilots that are feeling it and offer to chase them.  As the pilot in command, I owe it to myself to stay happy up there, and have fun.  Otherwise, whatís the point?

Knowing your LZs and being great at spot landings makes flying XC less dramatic and easier to stay happy, relaxed and focused.  Do your home work like Aaron and know where bail out LZs are and practice spot landings (safely!) on every flight, even if it is just at Parma or the T.  Consider landing zones and safe bail outs as ISLANDS of SAFETY when going XC.  If you can easily make a bail out lz then keep working on getting up, staying up and moving forward on your flight, knowing it is right there if you need it.  As you move away from that LZ, you should have another within reach, or you will need to wait until you get higher to move on and be able to reach the next one.  Having that peace of mind means you wonít be stressed or worried, and can stay focused and happy and fly better.  Thanks Aaron for mapping out the islands of safety.

Do an SIV, or severalÖ It wasnít popular when I started flying, but eventually I saw the value and have attended a few.  I felt a sense of confirmation that I was doing many things right and I learned a lot too.  I had less fear of the unknown because more of it was known to me afterwards.  That is worth the price of admission right there.  Plus you will realize just how much these wings want to fly on their own.  Bonus.

Learn to thermal in both directionsÖ right and left circles
If you are a newer pilot, please do this early on.  It will be harder to do later.  It will make flying in gaggles easier, because some are right turns and some are left.  If you feel weak in one direction or the other, you will be at a disadvantage 50% of the time.  Comps and league meets are a blast, but they have start gaggles that are right or left every other day for safety.  Also after flying a while, pilots like to switch up the turn direction after a while just to rest one arm.  Also, it makes more sense sometimes to thermal one direction vs. the other way near terrain depending on the wind direction if it is a little cross.  Trust me.

Protect and preserve your bump tolerance.
I agree with Tom on ridge soaring.  I enjoy ridge soaring, and it is an art all its own, but my true love is altitude, and thermals.  A friend of mine moved near Torrey Pines for a temporary work contract, and flew for a few months there.  He admitted that his bump tolerance was at an all time low when he moved back home to his mountain site.  He said It took a long time for him to get it back.  Some never do.  So, if you like thermal flying, ridge soar in moderation!  Push your limits a little here and there.  When it is a little too thermic and bumpy for you, and you have an easy glide to a good LZ, stick around a while and see if you can become more comfortable and better at active flying.

Take it easy if you havenít flown in a while.  Go kite and play at the training hill on the first day back.  Ease back into things.  Makes sense, right?  As you get older, it is wise to back off a little too.

Captain Chicken
Richard Bach is an author and pilot of many aircraft.  He wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Biplane among others.  He admits to having many close calls in his early years barnstorming in Biplanes, and as he got older, he decided to throttle back a little.  He trained at the paragliding school I was teaching at, back in the day.  He realized that his ego, and the collective ego and expectations of others was a force to be reckoned with.  He did a free talk one evening about having a mental and emotional tool to help make better decisions based on YOUR OWN well being as it relates to paragliding.  He actually laminated a chicken feather to a yellow and black card affectionately called his ďCaptain Chicken CardĒ.  He passed out over a hundred of these at his talk. I still have mine.  The point was this: Assumed or real peer pressure, and the need to fit in, to feel or be accepted is strong.  To mitigate this, when conditions were outside his wheelhouse, he used his card literally at times, as a gesture for all to see that it is okay as a local legend (or anyone else) to pull out the chicken card any time you like.  Written on the back of the card in Latin: "Live to fly another dayĒ. Whatís in your wallet?

Canít wait to hear what everyone else has to contributeÖas always!



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From: Neal Michaelis
Sent: Friday, October 13, 2017 11:28 PM
Subject: Re: Active Air and Turbulence

Awesome discussion guys.  Always great to hear others perspective on what it is we are doing up there.

My 2 cents regarding mental state etc; obviously it affects how we perceive turbulence.  If I'm too distracted, tired, etc. then I may find the turbulence to seem unreasonably strong, messy, and disorganized.  If you aren't all there mentally then you don't have to send it that day.  And I certainly have gone to land when my head was not in the game.  And I've also flown when too tired, too chemo'd out or whatever, and that can have some pretty shitty results.  So always be attentive to your state of mind and physical condition on any given day.  We don't HAVE to fly every day.  We just WANT to.

The other side of that coin is being in a positive and confident state of mind.  And obviously that's what we are trying to achieve.  So make sure you show up ready to fly, rested, hydrated, gear in order, etc.  Whatever it is you need to do to be ready, do it!  What seems scary and unreasonable while we are tense and nervous can be a hell of a lot of fun and an enjoyable challenge if we are flying in a relaxed but focused way.  I've learned a lot pushing into wind through turbulence, but only when I was in the right physical and mental state to enjoy the challenge.

It's also extremely important to allow your body to roll naturally as you get pushed around by turbulent thermals.  I find that I will roll and throw a lot of hip movement at times in rough air.  The opposite of this would be flying tense and tight and not allowing yourself to roll with it, and the result is that your glider will lose speed and trajectory, leaving you with little to throw back at that nasty thermal.  I really believe that allowing the glider to fly as fast as you can while applying just enough brake actively to keep it open is essential to flying efficiently and safely.  It really is an old school notion that you should fly slow while thermalling.  We don't have a motor to apply thrust to fight back against that thermal.  All we have is our speed and momentum.  So if we keep the glider moving we can use that energy plus input to redirect with authority and put the glider right where we need it.  If we don't roll smoothly with the turbulence, redirecting the energy where we want it, then we are just getting pushed around at the mercy of the air.  That's no fun, and tends to makes us feel like the air is just plain shitty.  When you are getting pushed around and flying tense then you are always half a second late with the proper input.  So if you notice tenseness in your posture and body position, and the fear is creeping up, then take a moment to consciously loosen up and slow your breathing down.

Is your fear reasonable?  What are the objective dangers?  Does it necessitate landing or is it just a state of mind?  That said, flying in lee side turbulent thermals is not something to be taken lightly.  Strategies that Mitch might employ, like flying in tight under the rotor close to the terrain, is next level stuff.  I certainly wouldn't recommend it until your skills and experience allow you to do this safely and confidently.

Flying close to terrain means that your margin of safety is very small to non existent.  I always force myself to be extra focused and attentive when I choose to fly close in.  When turning towards the hill with little margin (not really recommended) I make those turns deliberately and with the glider moving quickly.

If the thermals are triggering out of the lee, the safer approach is to arrive high enough to get over the lee triggers above the ridge and associated rotor.  You won't get trashed here and you will still have the altitude to push into the windward side if necessary.

So getting high enough on your climbs to be confident of making a glide that puts you above your next trigger point will keep a larger margin on your side.  Pilots like Mitch have the skill, experience and confidence to go low with smaller margins, but this should not be the approach for most.  Give yourself the margin that makes YOU comfortable and confident.  Then you can feel good about your flight plan and you are going to have more fun.  More margin isn't just safer because you are further from terrain, more margin means giving yourself more options, more cards to play, and therefore a better chance of staying in the game and not landing early.  Pilots like Mitch that can push along low with seemingly low odds of making it work, may actually have more cards to play than a less experienced pilot with more altitude on any given course.  That's because experience has enabled him to see more options and execute from that position, and so he can fly confidently in that space.  So I would say don't push too hard too fast until you have the skills and experience to do so confidently.  So keep a good margin and keep learning.  With time you will have the experience to know when you can go lower, or narrow the margins a bit. And then maybe the margins aren't really smaller, you are just managing them better with better skills.

Flying cross country well doesn't mean that we have to have small margins.  Flying efficiently is what is most important, and there are many different ways to do it.  Sometimes flying the high line is fastest, so spending time getting established pays off because then you can fly fast with lots of safety margin once you get high.  But other days flying lower on the front points works better with plenty of margin too because the lapse rate down low is better that day, or it's marked with clouds making the finding of thermals a fast and easy project.  Every day is different, so be open to reading the day.  We can fly up and down the range in many different ways depending on how it is working on any particular day.

Be open to reading the day on your first couple of climbs so you can adjust your approach to what the conditions have to offer.  The day might not present the conditions you like, but that doesn't mean that it's a bad day.  It's just a different day.  If it's not clearly more dangerous, then it's just different and a different approach is what's necessary.  Figuring out how the day is working is part of the fun of cracking the puzzle and making the most of what's there on any given fly day.

Stay positive and stay relaxed, but focused.  Flying confidently is necessary to fly well, but the confidence has to be matched by your skill set and experience.

Enough rambling for now.  Let's fly dammit! 



[Top of Page]  [Aaron LaPlante]  [Mitch Riley]  [Tom Truax]  [Marty DeVietti]  [Neal Michaelis]  [Brian Howell]  [Rob Sporrer]

From: Brian Howell
Sent: Sat, Oct 14, 2017 at 10:25 AM
Subject: Active Air and Turbulence

Brian is re-editing his contribution and asked that his article be removed until he has had a chance to re-do it


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From: Rob Sporrer
Sent: Sunday, October 15, 2017 2:01 PM
Subject: Re: Active Air and Turbulence

Hey Rippers,

Iíve been educated, and enjoyed affirmations in reading all of your insights.  We all have so much to learn from each other.  I love that the learning never ends with this sport.  Grateful to have huge contributors to pilot education in our flying community.

So much of this discussion is appropriately directed on mindset, focus, and constant decision making.  Rough air, and air that just isnít making sense to us can rattle a pilot.  The fear can creep in quickly.  We are fearful our gliders may be going away.  Our decision on how much terrain proximity we are comfortable with is crucial.  Focus, active piloting (pressure management), and the situational awareness SD (Sundowner) describes is a necessity when we have minimal terrain clearance in thermic and/or windy conditions.  Continually re-evaluating conditions, your position, and making necessary adjustments and decisions is needed before you get in over your head.  You all made great points about speed-bar, lee side flying, and all the other great topics, especially when we are close to the terrain.

Iím with Neal and his points on terrain clearance.  Flying close to the terrain means you are accepting a higher level of risk, especially with strong thermals and/or wind present.  The conditions can sometimes keep us close to the terrain in our area.  However, when you have a choice, trying to maximize your terrain clearance minimizes your exposure to risk.  SD has always said your altitude is always worth more out front.  Meaning if people are getting just as high on the fronts points, as the peaks in the back, being out front is safer and gives you more options.  Every day is different but when you have an opportunity to minimize your risk, and also give yourself an advantage why not take it.

However, we may be giving rough air too much concern when we have adequate terrain clearance.  We can fly with a vastly different mindset with sufficient terrain clearance, and we may be giving into fears with little merit when we are flying in rough air with sufficient terrain clearance.  I will fly out and land some days even with lots of terrain clearance when Iím not feeling it, or I dislike the air or what Iím seeing.  Like Marty, I never second guess playing my captain chicken card.

Our main goal up there are to have fun as Marty pointed out.  That means something different to every single pilot.  What is fun for Mitch, Marty, Neal, or SD may not be for others.  Veteran pilots have all been in situations where the mental game has been pushed to new levels.  I agree with SD that we have to push beyond our comfort zone to improve.  Everybody up there gets to choose their pace of progression, and level of comfort and risk.  We do this trying to have as much fun as possible while honoring our self-preservation.

We need to step back and realize we can afford to have hugely different mind sets with respect to our fear depending on our terrain clearance at any given time.  It doesnít matter if youíre into skate boarding, mountain biking, road biking, skiing, snowboarding.  All serious injuries from these activities happen at ground level.  It may be the ground, something growing out of the ground, or something man built on the ground.  All of these hard surfaces and objects which are all close to the ground are what hurt people participating in these activities.

Paragliders have the luxury to get up and away from these hard objects, and be well away from the terrain with nothing to impact but other pilots.  When Iím at least 400 feet over the terrain I feel paragliding is safer than any of the above-mentioned activities.  I justify this belief by having a firm rule for myself.  I will use my reserve parachute without hesitation if I have less than 400 feet of terrain clearance if necessary.  I may have a short window of time to deal with any big deflation or issue with my glider depending on my terrain clearance in this window.  My reserve parachute is coming out right away if I canít get the glider back rather quickly, or its coming out right away if there is any question in my altitude.  There is no hesitation to throw.  My mindset has me ready to use my rescue at any time with minimal terrain clearance.

Iím extremely confident in my reserve parachute.  Iíve never met a single pilot who was injured under reserve when they were on an appropriate size reserve, and followed the appropriate deployment protocol.  I was the US team leader at the 2009 world championships in Mexico.  At the end of the competition I realized there had been 26 reserve deployments in 9 days of racing.  These pilots were pushing the limits on prototype gliders, and every single pilot who tossed their reserve landed without injury, except for a slightly sprained wrist for team Japan.  The vast majority of deployments occurred with 400 feet or less of terrain clearance.

I donít think the pilot population has fully embraced the fact that reserves are an insurance policy you can absolutely count on as a paraglider pilot. You need to prevent down planning along with all the other deployment steps which you should review and practice in the simulator every time your reserve is repacked.  We tell our students how thrilled we will be to see their reserve thrown.  Itís going to be a happy ending.

When I have at least 400 feet of terrain clearance Iím confident in rough air.  I feel the odds are heavily in my favor with regard to my safety, since Iím a reserve happy kind of pilot.  My level of confidence increases, and safety concern caused by rough or funky air decreases the more terrain clearance I have.  Witnessing and personally experiencing reserve deployments over two decades makes me feel like having fear of serious injury with a deployment with sufficient terrain clearance is unjustified, and a waste of energy.

It can be a mental game changer if you believe in your reserve parachute, and have confidence knowing you are well versed in your reserve deployment plan.  Be armed with an attitude that you are always more than willing to throw.  Successful deployments have occurred as low as 50 feet when everything went correctly.  You are never too low to throw, but I will get mine out early, and never second guess that decision.

I donít see pilots falling out of the sky an being injured from rough air when I look back on all the incidents in our flying community, and in my travels and tours guiding pilots with my fellow instructors.  The vast majority of incidents with serious consequences in our community have been due to pilot error in conditions that were well within reason for the pilotís experience and ability.  Failing on pre-flight checks, and pilot error (spinning the glider) with no reserve deployment close to the terrain is where serious incidents and minor incidents have occurred.

When we reflect, itís fairly uncommon to see rough air causing an event where we see a pilot falling out of the sky.  You tube has plenty of videos of these scenarios.  Watching those types of videos can contribute to the fear factor, but I try to steer people away from watching that stuff.

We may have a blind spot of sorts in putting a majority of our concern on rough air with adequate terrain clearance, instead of a majority of our concern being flying in any and all conditions with minimal terrain clearance.  Rough air deserves a huge amount of respect and attention with minimal terrain clearance, but itís a different story with sufficient terrain clearance armed with a ready to throw attitude.

The one place we are always guaranteed to be close to the terrain is launching and landing.  There is just no way around this.  Iíve seen more new and pro pilots injured during launching and landing situations than from falling out of the sky from an event in smooth or rough air.  Think about all the times you have had an event or injury in your paragliding career, and what we have seen in our local community over the years.  My experience says pilot error on a launch or landing has a much higher proportion of incidents and injuries than events from flying in smooth or rough air with adequate terrain clearance.

We would minimize our probability of an incident anywhere if we spent more time ground handling and working on fundamentals at the flight park.  We only have so much time, and itís hard to pass up a good day of mountain flying to work on the basics, but is hard to deny how important this skill set is to your risk management portfolio.  Itís certainly not as much fun to talk about either.  Skip the post landing beer after a mountain flight, and get out to the flight park and work on your kiting, launching, and landing fundamentals and scenarios.

Pilots with excellent forward and reverse kiting skills significantly minimize the risk of an incident at launch, and have less of a chance of deflations while flying.  We have all had ugly launches that have worked out.  As long time HG/PG pilot Tom Webster has said, ďMurphyís Law doesnít apply to paragliding, we get away with a lotĒ.  However, just one blown launch can turn into a bazaar cascading sequence of events with minimal recovery time given your lack of terrain clearance.  Are you comfortable with being plucked from the ground while in the reverse position on any launch and being in control?  If not, youíre likely not ready to handle getting plucked on a mountain launch when the wind is up.  You will usually flip around, but when you donít, the terrain is very close, and you donít have much time to get control of your heading to avoid impacting the terrain.  Coming out to the flight park and working on these situations in a forgiving environment is a wise move.

Landing is the other area where folks have had issues, and we tell everyone at our opening meetings on our tours that the majority of incidents over the years on the tours have been on landings.  Iíve seen some of the best pilots I know get injured top landing at thermic mountain sites.  Once Iím away from the terrain, I wonít come back into to top land to grab the van.  Top landing can be manageable depending on the conditions and your skill set, but I try to lead by example.  Vol-Biv pilots like Mitch work hard at this skill, and obviously need to have it in their play book.  Even so, bad landings are what cost a handful of X-Alps athletes the opportunity to continue in the last two races.

I like to remember that for the most part, as long as I land going straight on my paraglider I should be in good shape.  Even if thatís into a bush or tree.  As long as Iím not steering the glider sharply when Iím just about to land to squeeze it into a tight spot I should be ok.  Focus on your set-up and approach, and try to hit your spot landing, but be willing to go long into a tree or bush instead of making a quick turn when low.  Itís all about you walking away uninjured.  You will be fine after a tree or bush landing, as long as you fly straight.  Your glider should be fine as well.  Landing safety is the main concern.  Remember this when landing someplace like the snake pit.  Choose your spot, but look beyond the spot for a friendly tree or group of bushes in case you go long, then focus again on your spot.  Every landing is an opportunity to practice your spot landing.  Pick a spot and try to nail it, even at huge LZís.

Landing in trees or bushes is part of this sport if you want to stay safe and avoid injury.  This is why Iím un-phased by sending rookies to Parma and St Maryís.  These are certainly smaller more challenging LZís than others, but if we are willing to fly straight and find a tree or bush itís OK.  No serious landing incidents have ever happened at these LZís that Iím aware.  Thank goodness paragliders fly so slow.

In Summary, I believe we are exposed to more risk when launching, landing, and flying with minimal terrain clearance in thermic and/or windy conditions than we are flying in rough air with adequate terrain clearance.  This is largely due to my belief in my reserve parachute and my willingness to use it without hesitation, and that the ground is what hurts people in all kinds of activities.

I believe in SIV training.  Iíve worked to hire the top SIV coaches when putting together clinics over the years.  We are lucky to have an instructor who could be the best SIV coach in North America right here in our community.  Do yourself a favor and get out to the lake with Dilan Benedetti.

Neal is so right about being sure youíre ready to fly on any given day.  When youíre at launch and not sure the conditions are right for you ask one of the veteran tandem pilots to take you on an instructional tandem.  There is no better way to get real world experience on thermal and cross country flying.  Ask anyone who takes advantage of this perk offered as part of our tours in Colombia.  Itís amazing to see pilots take the knowledge gained on these flights into their personal flying.  There arenít many sports where you can live the experience with a pro, and take away so much insight.

I love what Mitch had to say about being curious.  Be confident up there, especially when you have terrain clearance.  Make confident choices, and as Marty said believe.  Believe in your decisions, and stick to them until itís time to make a different move.

Being ready is a big part of the picture as Mitch pointed out.  Have your kit ready the night before you fly, and have an idea about what your objective or theme of the day will be.  Being ready the night before means you avoid rushing around in the morning trying to get your gear and head together.  Having everything dialed the night before will set a nice tone for the day.

We all need to travel up the learning curve at our own pace.  The sky tribe does not judge any pilot for choosing the type of flying that is fun for them.  It can be any combination of one or all of our ridge soaring and mountain sites, and the flight park as well.  As mentorís we need to encourage some, and try to help others avoid getting too far ahead of themselves.  Be willing to listen to input from other pilots and mentors about your flying, and share these discussions getting many opinions.  You donít need to be an instructor or mentor to share ideas and opinions.  All pilots need to speak up whenever we see anything, as you will regret not speaking up if an event occurs that you saw coming.  Itís the buddy system, and we are all looking out for each other up there trying to have as much fun as possible.

Rob Sporrer




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