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
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
"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.