Launching

paragliding
Paraglider towed launch, Mirosławice, Poland
Paraglider in Sopelana, Biscay, Basque Country

As with all aircraft, launching and landing are done into wind. The wing is placed into an airstream, either by running, being pulled or an existing wind. The wing moves up over the pilot into a position it can carry a the passenger. The pilot is then lifted from the ground and, after a safety period, can sit down into his harness. Unlike skydivers, paragliders, like hangliders, do not "jump" at any time during this process. There are two launching techniques used on higher ground and one assisted launch technique used in flatland areas:

Forward launch

In low winds, the wing is inflated with a ‘forward launch’, where the pilot runs forward with the wing behind so that the air pressure generated by the forward movement inflates the wing.

It is often easier, because the pilot only has to run forward, but the pilot can't see his wing, until it is above him, where he has to check it in a very short time for correct inflation and untangled lines before the launch.

Reverse launch

Paraglider reverse launch, Mam Tor, England

In higher winds a ‘reverse launch’ is used, with the pilot facing the wing to bring it up into a flying position, then turning around under the wing and running to complete the launch.

Reverse launches have a number of advantages over a forward launch. It is more straight forward to inspect the wing and check the lines are free as it leaves the ground. In the presence of wind, the pilot can be tugged toward the wing and facing the wing makes it easier to resist this force, and safer in case the pilot slips (as opposed to being dragged backwards). But the movement pattern is more complex than forward launch and the pilot has to hold the brakes in a correct way and turn to the correct side so he doesn't tangle the lines. These launches are normally attempted with a reasonable wind speed making the ground speed required to pressurise the wing much lower – the pilot is initially launching while walking forwards as opposed to running backward.

Towed launch

Paraglider launching in Araxá, Brazil

In flatter countryside pilots can also be launched with a tow. Once at full height (towing can launch pilots up to 3000 feet altitude), the pilot pulls a release cord and the towline falls away. This requires separate training, as flying on a winch has quite different characteristics from free flying. There are two major ways to tow: Pay-in and pay-out towing. Pay-in towing involves a stationary winch that winds in the towline and thereby pulls the pilot in the air. The distance between winch and pilot at the start is around 500 meters or more. Pay-out towing involves a moving object, like a car or a boat, that pays out line slower than the speed of the object thereby pulling the pilot up in the air. In both cases it is very important to have a gauge indicating line tension to avoid pulling the pilot out of the air. Another form of towing is ‘static line’ towing. This involves a moving object, like a car or a boat, attached to a paraglider or hanglider with a fixed length line. This can very dangerous because now the forces on the line have to be controlled by the moving object itself, which is almost impossible to do, unless stretchy rope and a pressure/tension meter (dynamometer) is used. Static line towing with stretchy rope and a load cell as a tension meter has been used in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and other Eastern European countries for over 20 years (under the name "Malinka") with about the same safety record as other forms of towing.[25] One more form of towing is hand-towing. This is where 1-3 people pull a paraglider using a tow rope of up to 500 feet. The stronger the wind, the fewer people are needed for a successful hand-tow.[26] Tows up to 300 feet have been accomplished, allowing the pilot to get into a lift band of a nearby ridge or row of buildings and ridge-soar in the lift the same way as with a regular foot launch.[27]

Landing

Landing a paraglider, as with all unpowered aircraft which cannot abort a landing, involves some specific techniques and traffic patterns.

Traffic Pattern

Unlike during launch, where coordination between multiple pilots is straightforward, landing involves more planning, because more than one pilot might have to land at the same time. Therefore a specific traffic pattern has been established. Pilots line up into a position above the airfield and to the side of the landing area, which is dependent on the wind direction, where they can lose height (if necessary) by flying circles. From this position they follow the legs of an flightpath in a rectangular pattern to the landing zone: downwind leg, base leg, and final approach. This allows for synchronization between multiple pilots and reduces the risk of collisions, because a pilot can anticipate, what other pilots around him are going to do next.