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Launching off… Shhhh!

I’ve been an active scubadiver for 11 years, started way back in 2003 at the insanely beautiful Dayang island. Throughout the years diving around the archipelago, I’ve witnessed a lot of hair raising incidents during entry and surfacing. Then a few years back, I started flying with paramotor and recently became very active in the free-flying paragliding (without the engine strapped on my back).

As in scuba diving, most accidents happen at either the beginning or end of the dive. The same thing with paragliding, the most dangerous part of the flight is during launch and landing. Once we’re airborne, it’s pretty much stable and we just have to find that lift or starts descending to the landing zone.

During the launch preparation, I carried on my launching habit from paramotoring which in my opinion, a good thing to keep – that is to ensure that my glider is in a stable condition after inflation before proceeding to launch. With paramotor, one cannot afford a mistake during launch as it will potentially damage the expensive engine setup. The aftermath of crashed paramotor engine can cost you arms and legs to repair (and literally too, if it’s a really bad launch).

So for the reverse launch procedure, just after I turned for that “alpine” run, I would first walk forward slowly and check the glider again to be sure that it’s not rolling or yawing before I starts running off the hill.

Why? Why not… yes it’s slower but isn’t that a better thing to do?

Because during that turn, it is likely that (in this case since I turn to the right) my right hand would be higher than the left that could release the right brake’s pressure. Or my body could be at the same time slanting sideways because of the uneven slope. Whichever it is, the turn creates an unbalanced pressure on the brake lines and therefore transferred the energy (or lack thereof) to the inflated glider. Because of this reason, my launch is often slower and not that quickturn-and-alpinerun type of launch.

More often than not, some of the spectating pilots would impatiently shout for me to quickly run off the hill. At first I thought it was just coincidental and they were just being overly excited. Then after a few weeks of observation, I realised that it is actually a bad habit developed over the years of them guiding new flying students to launch.

My advice to buddying pilots at the launch area is, not to keep this bad habit as it would lead to accidents and of course, it’s kinda annoying – it takes away the peacefully quiet focus that we look for in this activity. One of the ethics in paragliding safety is that we should not interrupt the pilot while he/she is putting on the harness and while launching off, unless there is an obvious error or conditions that needs to be alerted immediately.

And for those who just started this sport, I recommend that you practice the turn-and-walk method during ground handling, learn to feel the glider’s response without looking up while in forward position. This helps a lot when launching from a short “runway”.

Of course it’s slightly different case for forward-launch technique, especially during zero-wind and that is another topic to rant about in another blog post.

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