A new twist on Reverse Inflation

Dave Broyles © 1994

I was helping a friend work on his reverse inflations the other day. I had been taught both conventional and cross hands techniques when I learned to fly paragliders, and I much preferred the latter, so I suggested that he try the cross hands technique. He didn't want to. He had been told by his instructor that the conventional method was better and he was afraid that trying a new technique would confuse him, since he was a very inexperienced Class 0 pilot. So he kept getting his canopy overhead, then losing control of it while turning around.

Later that day, we happened to be riding around with Rob McKensie, who is a very experienced PG instructor, and all around nice guy, and we asked him about cross hands. He gave several very good reasons for using cross hands reverse inflations. He also said that you could get most of the advantages of cross hands and even some more by combining several techniques, then he made some suggestions. I am a new PG instructor, and very interested in new ideas for improving my own flying skills as well as those of my students, so, I went out and tried out Rob's suggestions. I was very pleased to find that the suggestions were really good.

For those who aren't already familiar with conventional and cross hands reverse launches, I will give a little explanation.

What I call the conventional method, is to flip a riser over my head and turn around facing the canopy. I then grab the left brake and left "A" riser in my right hand, and the right brake and right "A" riser in my left hand. I bring the canopy over head then let loose of the risers and control the canopy with my hips and hands.

Cross hands changes from conventional in that the left brake and left riser are in the left hand, and the right brake and riser are in the right hand. This requires that my arms be crossed in front of me such that the hand for the top riser reaches across the top and the hand for the bottom riser reaches below and around to grasp the "A" riser such that if I turn around to face forward, everything is in the right place for flight without moving my hands.

Now the advantage of the conventional method is that when you are turned around facing the canopy, the left side of the canopy is on your right, and the right side is on your left. So, if you are operating the brakes, the brake in your left hand operates the side of the canopy on the left, facing you, and the brake in your right hand operates the side of the canopy on the right. For some people this is less confusing. If you need to spread your hands farther apart to get better stability when raising the canopy, you can spread your hands wide apart. Further, if the canopy lifts you off of the ground, you stay facing the canopy, which may be useful if you are kiting the canopy or planning to launch backwards.

On the other hand, or the crossed hands so to speak, it does take a little time for some of us to figure out that the canopy is reversed when we face it, and that the right brake operates the other side of the canopy and vice versa. It is easy to refer to the canopy while facing it to see which side comes down when the brakes are pulled. If, however, you are lifted off your feet when you bring the canopy over your head, and you are planning to fly backwards, you will be defeated since you will be just spun around facing forwards automatically as the canopy lifts.

This is where Rob McKensie comes in. He suggested, "Why not grab the left brake in your left hand and the right brake in your right hand then grab the left riser in your right hand and the right riser in your left hand. That way you have the capability to spread your hands wide apart when you raise the canopy, and you won't be spun around if you want to fly backwards or just practice kiting your canopy." I said something on the order of, "Can you do that?", and Rob said, "Well, why not try it?" I did, and it worked. I do have pretty long brake lines and it might not work as well for someone who likes to fly with his hands really high but it worked just fine for me.

"So, what next?" Rob further suggested that if you know how to build a wall with the "A" risers in one hand, and the "D" or rear risers in the other, why not hold the brakes, left in your left hand, right in your right hand, cross hands style, when you build a wall. Then if the canopy is coming up clean, you can just bring it on up overhead, spin around and go, without having to find the brakes or change hands...

So I tried the cross hands, build a wall, launch method. I used an unruly canopy that doesn't like to come up straight and tends to come up in a front horseshoe unless it is brought up with hands spread wide. It turns out that if you hold both "A" risers in one hand, and both "D' risers in the other and bring the canopy up as if you were building a wall, with the "A" risers hand directly over the "D" risers hand, that the canopy tends to come up straight and has no tendency to front horseshoe. Further, since you are holding on to the "D" risers with one hand, if the canopy comes up crooked or tangled, you can set it right back down instantly by letting out the "A"s with one hand and pulling in the "D"s with the other, without having to let go of the risers. Since you can steer the canopy with one hand on the "A" risers and one hand on the "D" risers as it comes up, then it is easy to bring the canopy stable and right overhead. If the canopy has a tendency to overshoot, then you just stop it from overshooting by pulling down on the "D" risers instead of the brakes. This has an advantage since using the "D" risers instead of the brakes decreases the tendency of the canopy to lift you off the ground when the brakes are applied. After trying this, I completely revised my opinion of how to launch in technically very demanding conditions. At least two times in my brief career as a paraglider pilot, if I had done this I would have gotten perfect launches promptly without being dragged through the pucker bushes while looking like a complete idiot, which has always been a major goal of mine.

Another little trick that works well, especially with cross hands is a low wind reverse inflation launch. Lay the canopy out in a curve like for a forward inflation or just straight out if it works for you and your canopy. Then facing the canopy, lean forward at the waist, back up until the risers are starting to pull, then pull in, straighten up, and start walking backwards to bring the canopy overhead. While still walking backwards, spin around and keep moving the canopy forward, by leaning forward or by pushing the "A" risers, which ever works best for your canopy. It's important not to pause as you spin around as the canopy may fly over you and front edge collapse if you hesitate.

For those who think I am making fun of them about launching backwards, I should point out that the video "E Team Raw" shows that reverse inflation, backward launch is the most common launch method at Elsinore. It is a very popular technique for those who like to keep in touch with the past.

To summarize, who among us hasn't seen a pilot blow a reverse launch when the pilot momentarily lost control of the glider as he/she switched hands on the brakes? So, here are three reverse inflation methods which allow a pilot to keep brakes in the proper hands during the whole launch. Practice these while kiting your canopy on flat ground and you will be letter perfect on launch.

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