Most paragliders you meet will have a few deflation survival stories under their belt. Oftentimes they begin the same way: riding thermals and watching the picturesque landscape unfurl as far as the eye can see when suddenly it happens. The tip of your wing folds over, and all you can hear is the wind rushing in your ears as your glider plummets to the ground. Keeping a cool head during a deflation is definitely easier said than done, but the right preparation and mind-frame can help you maneuver out of the drop and start regaining altitude.
Before we start, the single most important thing to always, always, always do is to be :
In other terms : You need to know how much time you have to deal with an emergency – different reactions for different situations.
The list below is my own opinion on what I have learned so far, this is a basic guide and in no way constitutes the replacement of what can be learned on a good Paragliding Safety Course. Please remember that things happen quickly and if in doubt rather throw your reserve before attempting to fix your glider
1. Turn or Be Turned
If theres any advice that can help you survive 90% of deflations, its this: turn or be turned. When part of your wing deflates, its tempting to try and refill it with air as soon as possible. But if youre not careful, getting caught with a deflation in a thermal can lead to a quick downward spiral in the literal sense. Instead, shift your weight hard so that your glider turns in the direction of the inflated side of your wing. This will not only salvage the air you have left, but also keep your glider from losing too much altitude.
2. Study the Wing
Most of the time your wing wants to re-inflate as badly as you want it to. While different models react differently, most non-competition wings are designed to recover from even the most apocalyptic collapse on their own. If youre not sure what to do next, try raising your hands and just seeing where the wing wants to go before you try to fix it. You may be surprised how fast you regain steering by working with your wing and not against it.
3. Steer, then Clear
When a deflation hits, the first reaction is often somewhere on the scale between mild surprise and Oh my word, Im going to die! But once the rational thought process kicks in again, its generally not so hard to assess the situation and take the right steps to regain control. If your wing is only partially collapsed, theres a pretty good chance you can avoid a full spinout by steering with your brake and body weight. Once youve regained a little control, then you can start to focus on filling your wing back up with air.
4. Dont Over-Correct
Riding thermals can be tricky even in the best conditions, but erratic weather can brew a perfect storm for monster deflations. These beasts can suck out most of the air in your wing, making it easy for you to overcorrect and send the remaining air flying to the four corners of the earth. To make matters worse, the increased wing load caused by the deflation also increases your stall speed. In these situations, too much brake input or weight shift to one side can be your worst enemy, as it can actually increase your odds of a negative spin.
As Benjamin Franklin used to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That logic especially holds true in paragliding, where planning and preparation can mean the difference between soaring gracefully and volunteering to be Mother Natures next hood ornament. You can avoid most deflations altogether by flying a heavier-loaded wing i.e., one where your body weight is more than half the recommended weight range. Water ballasts and other devices can nudge your weight up a little more, making you less prone to collapses. Always be sure and check the weather beforehand, and only fly in areas where you feel you can handle the thermals youre likely to encounter.
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