How to Land a Paraglider Perfectly, Every Time

Want to Stop Biffing In? Work on These Techniques

Setting up for one heckuvan accuracy landing.
Brett Kistler sets up for one heckuvan accuracy landing at the Soncheaux Acro Show in Switzerland. Image Courtesy Brett Kistler (runningex.it)

“Landings are mandatory,” as paragliding instructors love to say. When you learn to paraglide, you’ll certainly learn the basic PG landing techniques. Moving forward in the sport, however, requires much refinement.

While the landing areas below most training hills (and "beginner" sites) are huge, obstacle-free and kitted out with enormous wind socks, most “sport” LZs are not. When an advancing pilot begins to travel with his (or her) paraglider, it becomes immediately apparent how ridiculously luxurious those student LZs really were.

So -- especially if you just stepped up to a higher-performance (or acro) wing -- you need to get comfortable landing your new equipment. If you want to nail the precision landings required to practice the hike-and-fly discipline, you’ll need to be extra-excellent.

While you’re convenient to a capacious landing area, you can safely start to build the skills that will allow you to land in any LZ you may find yourself over. Commit to some sled runs and get to work.

1. Fight the laziness.

Get out on the hill and do sled run after sled run until you can execute a perfect spot landing every time. It’s well worth the effort.

Make your huge LZ smaller: in your mind, that is. “Shrink” its borders to the size of a small soccer field by choosing border features with which to measure, and approach it as though there were power lines, trees, fences and other dangerous obstacles at your imagined edges.

If other pilots don’t mind, place flat, removable markers in the LZ to keep you accountable with your spot landings.

Try a hula hoop, a plastic tray or a piece of fabric tacked to the ground with tent stakes (pounded flush with the dirt and carefully covered to prevent tripping or wing-snagging).

2. Hold off on committing.

Practice commitmentphobia in your landing pattern. One of the most common PG landing mistakes is to commit to the field too soon, invariably leading to an overshoot that’s awkward (and sometimes injurious) to correct.

Once a pilot is in the airspace over the landing area – especially, a small one – the options for safe, graceful footfall are much reduced. To prevent that situation, “flirt” with the landing area, bleeding off the last bit of altitude either in front, behind or at the side of the field before you initiate your final approach. As you do so, determine the clearest spot on the border of the landing area (preferably, oriented on the upwind side) and identify it as your entry point. When you’ve lost the altitude you need to lose, head to that spot and let your wing go into full flight to gather energy for a strong flare.

3. Try to resist “flapping.”

Lots of pilots “flap” on final approach, tugging the brakes quickly and consecutively to bleed off altitude. While this often works out in straightforward conditions, it generally indicates a poorly executed approach. In some cases, it can initiate a stall close to the ground – one of the most serious situations you can be in as a paraglider pilot.

Proponents of the technique tend to argue that “flapping” mimics the landing technique of a bird. Unfortunately, unlike our feathered friends, we can’t move the leading edge of our wing on multiple axes to increase its relative flight path – so the argument falls flat (and so might you, if you habitually flap your way to the ground).

Continued in Part 2 >>