Brakes: Controls held in each of the pilot’s hands connect to the
trailing edge of the left and right sides of the wing. These controls
are called 'brakes' and provide the primary and most general means of
control in a paraglider. The brakes are used to adjust speed, to steer
(in addition to weight-shift), and flare (during landing).
Weight Shift: In addition to the manipulating the brakes, a
paraglider pilot must also lean in order to steer properly. Such
'weight-shifting' can also be used for more limited steering when brake
use is unavailable, such as when under 'big ears' (see below). More
advanced control techniques may also involve weight-shifting.
Speed Bar: A kind of foot control called the 'speed bar' (also
'accelerator') attaches to the paragliding harness and connects to the
leading edge of the paraglider wing, usually through a system of at
least two pulleys (see animation in margin). This control is used to
increase speed, and does so by decreasing the wing's angle of attack.
This control is necessary because the brakes can only slow the wing
from what is called 'trim speed' (no brakes applied). The accelerator is
needed to go faster than this.
More advanced means of control can be obtained by manipulating the
paraglider's risers or lines directly. Most commonly, the lines
connecting to the outermost points of the wing's leading edge can be
used to induce the wingtips to fold under. The technique, known as 'big
ears', is used to increase rate of descent (see picture and the full
description below). The risers connecting to the rear of the wing can
also be manipulated for steering if the brakes have been severed or are
otherwise unavailable. For groundhandling purposes, a direct
manipulation of these lines can be more effective and offer more control
than the brakes. The effect of sudden wind blasts can be countered by
directly pulling on the risers and make the wing unflyable, thereby
avoiding falls or unintentional takeoffs.
Problems with “getting down” can occur when the lift situation is
very good or when the weather changes unexpectedly. There are three
possibilities of rapidly reducing altitude in such situations, each of
which has benefits and issues to be aware of. The "big ears" maneuver
induces descent rates of 2.5 to 3.5 m/s, 4–6 m/s with additional speed
bar. It is the most controllable of the techniques, and the easiest for
beginners to learn. The A B-line stall induces descent rates of
6–10 m/s. It increases loading on parts of the wing (the pilot's weight
is mostly on the B-lines, instead of spread across all the lines).
Finally, a spiral dive offers the fastest rate of descent, at 7–25 m/s.
It places greater loads on the wing than other techniques do, and
requires the highest level of skill from the pilot to execute safely.
- Pulling on the outer A-lines during non-accelerated, normal flight
folds the wing tips inwards, which substantially reduces the glide angle
with only a small decrease in forward speed. As the effective wing area
is reduced, the wing loading is increased and it becomes more stable. However the angle of attack
is increased and the craft is closer to stall speed, but this can be
ameliorated by applying the speed bar, which also increases the descent
rate. When the lines are released the wing reinflates. If necessary a
short pumping on the breaks helps reentering normal flight. Compared to
the other techniques, with 'big ears' the wing still glides forward,
which enables the pilot to leave an area of danger. Even landing this
way is possible, e.g. if the pilot has to counter an updraft on a slope.
- B-Line stall
- In a 'B-line stall', the second set of risers from the
leading-edge/front (the B-lines) are pulled down independently of the
other risers; with the specific lines used to initiate a stall.
This puts a spanwise crease in the wing, thereby separating the airflow
from the upper surface of the wing. It dramatically reduces the lift
produced by the canopy and thus induces a higher rate of descent. This
can be a strenuous maneuver, because these B-lines have to be held in
this position and the tension of the wing puts an upwards force on these
lines. The release of these lines has to be handled carefully not to
provoke a too fast forward shooting of the wing, which the pilot then
could fall into.
- Spiral Dive
- The spiral dive is the most rapid form of controlled fast descent;
an aggressive spiral dive can achieve a sink rate of 25 m/s. This
maneuver halts forward progress and brings the flier almost straight
down. The pilot pulls the brakes on one side and shifts his weight onto
that side to induce a sharp turn. The flight path then begins to
resembles a corkscrew. After a specific downward speed is reached, the
wing points directly to the ground. When the pilot reaches his desired
height he ends this maneuver by slowly releasing the inner break,
shifting his weight to the outer side and braking on this side. The
release of the inner brake has to be handled carefully to end the spiral
dive gently in a few turns. If done too fast, the wing translates the
turning into a dangerous upward and pendular motion.
- Spiral dives put a strong G-force
on the wing and glider and must be done carefully and skilfully. The
G-forces involved can induce blackouts, and the rotation can produce disorientation. Some high-end gliders have what is called a "stable spiral problem".
After inducing a spiral and without further pilot input, some wings
don't automatically return to normal flight and stay inside their
spiral. Serious injury and fatal accidents did occur when pilots could
not exit this maneuver and spiraled into the ground.