Observations on landings, posture, etc.
by Kevin Lee
It's all a bit long as it's a topic/skill set I think is often not valued or practiced in general, yet I think is very, very important. I also think it is multi faceted and not as easy as "fixing" just one thing as you'll see below.
The below observations are of course generalizations and not the same for every person or piece of gear (more on that later). I also believe I'm offering a disservice to someone if I tell them there is only a right and wrong way to do something, or that "this" situation will always turn out "that" way. It has never been so cut and dried in my experience teaching and I believe it behooves us to keep our minds open and flexible in creating solutions to issues we're dealing with as we launch, fly, and land. So, often I answer a question with more questions. I've seen folks land on their butts and walk away uninjured... when a torpedo landing would very likely have resulted in some important cosmetic dental repair work. Did they make the wrong decision when landing as they did?
If you talk with my students you'll get feedback that I am hard-nosed when it comes to healthy launching and landing posture. First, because I find that posture is super important for success at both ends of our flights. Second, because I find that good posturing is one of the common skill sets often forgotten over time as well as in stressful situations. And third because I hope to reduce the deficiencies and injuries at these two very important and guaranteed to happen junctures in flight . By placing a strong emphasis on it in the beginning, I hope that more of it sticks when stress presents itself and as time goes by (and fitting in someplace as a fourth reason would be the reality that it is often at first quite hard for some people to learn to be consistent with good launch and landing form, so I want to really over emphasize it now, while I have their attention). A bit late to ask, but indulge me while I wander just a bit more from your original question Dan. When teaching students paragliding, as a way of helping them fit the pieces together, I tend to define a list of "ingredients" as being important in relationship to learning specific skill sets. With that, I present a list of ingredients that I see are important to launches and landings, and that if kept in the routine, might help make you more successful at said skill set. Leaning forward in a torpedo posture is one of those ingredients that typically supports a good launch and landing in most situations.
With launches, we all mostly agree that a healthy "torpedo" posture is important to loading your glider, generating speed, etc. There are also subtle benefits to the torpedo that folks don't always understand, but that still support us in better launch form. For example, take two pilots side by side and have one attempt to inflate and launch in an upright posturing, and have the other maintain a more leaning forward torpedo posture. You'll often find that the upright pilot almost always struggles compared to the pilot executing the torpedo (especially if you add stress such as higher winds, challenging launch terrain, etc.). Generally, all I have to do is ask the person (even a complete stranger!) to lean forward at the hips and move forward (towards launch, in this case). With this they almost always bend their knees without being asked. When they bend their knees, they almost always sink down a bit and better feel the glider through the hips/risers without being asked. When they better feel from the hips, they almost always automatically match the forward speed of the glider, generating airspeed/wing-loading/more feel and control. All I asked them to do was to lean forward and move, only a couple of the ingredients required for a good launch (not to mention brake pressure and focal point). The main point being that quite often, proper body posturing will lead to a slew of smaller beneficial and supportive habits that all fall into place intuitively and without the pilot even knowing it. I prove this for myself all the time during a students first day, when they could not know all the details above.
OK, back to your landing question. I find that when I have a student on final, completely out of their harness, legs below them, eyes on the horizon, that they are more likely to execute a more successful interface from the air to the ground under a broader range of conditions, vs having their legs and feet even slightly in front of them. When feet are out in front, the body posturing is more of a rigid bracing nature. Knees are often not bent, and movement is not maintained as contact is made so speed can't be matched with the glider. If the landing is hard enough to warrant a PLF, your in the wrong posture to dissipate energy, except back into your body.
I find that pilots with feet down, tend to run out no-wind or down-wind landings better, and just generally deal with more adverse landing conditions. Knees automatically bend. Ankles tend to be together. Posturing is more relaxed, which I tend to want to believe leads to a more intuitive relationship with the brakes if things get trashy. It's also generally a better posture for falling and dissipating energy. Generally. Some have also argued that they would rather injure those more forward extremities exposed during a torpedo posture, over the back/spine that is exposed when landing on our butt. Many variables there though. Relating to the described launch scenes above and how posture promotes more intuitive reactions, I also think that the same or similar posturing helps on landings and introduces similar smart reactions, often without the pilot thinking about the details.
Now for what I've observed around the actual mechanics. I find that if students can't get out of their harnesses, there are multiple factors, involving both the gear and the pilot's build.
As for pilot build, taller skinnier pilots sometimes have an easier time leaning into a torpedo then shorter pilots. Larger upper bodies (not counting the belly) tend to also help with torpedo posturing. Think cantilevered advantage. Larger stomachs tend to make it harder to lean into and over the cross strap of the harness. Skinnier pilots generally (that word again!) slide in and out of harnesses easier. How do longer or shorter legs effect the equation?
Then we have the harness. Depending on the harness design, I often find when leg straps are tighter, a pilot has a harder time running fast, but has an easier time getting into the harness as they are by default already farther into the harness. Harnesses with the "get up" leg straps that buckle into your cross strap (vs wrapping around your leg and buckling lower on the side of harness) often act similar to tight leg straps, inhibiting movement out of the harness. A lot of comp harnesses have these, including yours I believe.
Looser leg straps make running and hanging (with legs straight down) easier, but often makes getting into your harness harder as you have further to go to get back in. Obviously, all of this can be very harness dependent. Is your harness very large and your swimming in it? Is the cross strap higher then you can deal with? Remember that your leaning over that thing! Is your seat board longer then you need and contributing to you not being able to get all of the way out? Some harnesses have a pivoting seat that helps with exit, and some are rigid and not at all a help. I used to have a harness with a simple pulley system that when I pushed down on the front of the harness with my legs during exit, it lifted the back and practically ejected me out.
A couple other thoughts: Students/pilots will think they are out (as well as tandem passengers), but I'll still ask them to just push on the cross strap with their stomach, even if it feels like it is not helping. It always seems to help with getting your feet down and keeping them down. It reduces the likelihood of getting teeter tottered around and feet going back out in front.
I've noticed pilots with prior (related or unrelated to PG) back/ankle/knee injuries are often the one's that embrace poor posturing the most. Or perhaps I should say defensive posturing. Also older pilots. Not always though. In fixed wing landings, pilots always look at the end of the runway, not down at the ground coming up at you. Looking down generally leads to defensive posturing, tight shoulders, and unneeded inputs which can compound the issue. The majority of PG pilots look down during approach.
Get out of harness earlier, rather than later. No other form of aviation lowers their landing gear so low. History has mandated this. This delay has led to more issues in free flight then one might think.
Practice PLF's! If you practice 20 of them, and never do it again, your body will be better off than if you did not practice them at all! You will more likely intuit what to do in that split second, even with just a bit of practice. I like to remind students that "it's not if you're going to have a hard landing, it's when."
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