A HEAD START TO HG FLIGHT TRAINING:
A FLIGHT SIMULATOR TRAINING PACKAGE THAT ACTUALLY WORKS
1. What, Why and How HG Flight simulators come in many forms but, other than tethered platform towing, none simulate flight with sufficient effectiveness to train muscles and mind to a useful degree. This flight simulator package is a first step in the journey of flight training, designed to be used with the assistance of an experienced hang glider pilot before instruction commences with a Certified Instructor on the Training Slope, Tandem Towing, or in mid-air. Mid-air is not the place to be learning essential basic skills for the first time.
This approach replaces the overly simple (e.g. an A-frame hung from a rope) and the overly complex (long cables on the training slope, video screens, wind machines): both extremes are far from ideal.
The flight simulator has two essential components: the physical simulator, plus the simultaneous learning feedback program provided to the student by an experienced pilot.
The simulator is easy to build and can be set up in a barn, under a high porch or anywhere with roof beams. Once the simulator is erected, the initial learning process for the new student will be 1-3 hours, providing an effective and safe head start before the student begins formal training. The student should not attempt this project on his or her own. Instead, at least one and preferably several experienced hang glider pilots should present the feedback program over a period of a few days to build good habits in the student. The feedback of experienced pilots is integral to the success of this system.
This simulator has already proven its effectiveness. When word of it spread through a local HG club, almost everyone came to "fly" the simulator. Some came to scoff, but their attitude didn't survive the first few minutes in the HG-simulator. Many instead wished they'd had this opportunity when learning. The feedback and "feel" of the glider is so realistic that some experienced pilots were caught practising their aerial routines, eyes shut tight and grinning from ear to ear.
2. Construction The aim is to suspend a hang glider with the control bar approximately 4 feet from the ground, so that the student in his harness in hang can just touch the ground with his feet (a box for the student to stand on is helpful and allows for some stretch in the system). As this is an accurate flight simulator, the suspension must allow the glider to pivot in three axes: roll, pitch, and yaw.
2.1. Materials One complete hang glider, support cables, tangs, optional motorbike rim or steel ring. See the attached illustration for one suspension method, utilising the motorbike rim or steel ring. All cables, fixings and support structures must be strong enough to support the weight of student + glider (most gliders weigh between 20 –40kg).
2.2. Method Attach support cables to new tangs bolted to the kingpost fitting of an old hang glider. Alternatively, pass a hang loop through the kingpost fitting, below the kingpost, and attach the suspension cable(s) to each end of this loop. A third method is to use a second hang loop around the keel, going up to the ceiling instead of down to the pilot.
Two methods can be used to suspend the glider from the rafter or support.
A. Two cables from above, which come down to the glider at a 45-degree angle.
B. A single suspension: Run a short cable or chain from the keel/kingpost connection to a steel ring, such as a motorbike rim. Run a long cable from the steel ring to the beam or support. Pass the upper nose wire through the steel ring, and re-attach the nose wire to the noseplate. Make the short cable (or chain) the correct length, so the upper nose wire does not touch the steel ring as the HG-simulator maneuvers (see Fig 1).
Use a strong block-and-tackle to hoist the glider from the ground to the correct height. For those with automotive workshops, a more expensive approach: an engine-hoist could support a glider with a trike fitting on the keel.
2.3. Positioning of student and glider
The glider should hang and "maneuver" without touching the glider's top wires to the suspension cables. The upper side wires may touch the steel ring, but only in an extreme diving maneuver that is unrealistic for training purposes. The top wires of the glider should not touch the suspension cables during bank, dive, and climbing maneuvers.
With the student in his harness clipped in, the glider should assume a level flight position (trim airspeed), without the need for pitch inputs on the downtubes or control bar by the student. If necessary, move the hang loops fore or aft, or add weights to the nose or the tail.
3. Using the Simulator The simulator, with the assistance of an experienced pilot helper, will train the student in three important skills: 1. Effective turns 2. Recognizing and recovering from trouble 3. Smooth transitions between launch, going prone, and then bringing feet down again to land whilst retaining smooth control of the glider
i. Look where you want to go:
Have the student hook in, and stand beneath the glider in the normal launch position. The student can stand on a small platform or box to give him the ability to lift and hold the weight of the glider ready for launch. Let the student ground handle the glider in roll, pitch, and yaw so he can experience the feel of controlling a full glider on the ground. When this experience is comfortable for the student, have him raise the feet slightly, settle his body down into the harness, and get comfortable. When the harness is carrying all of the student's weight, move the small platform aside. It will not be needed again, after the initial introduction of the student to the static balance of the glider.
Later while learning with an instructor on the training hill, on a platform towing rig, or a scooter tow, the student will be flying upright “in hang” with his hands on the downtubes, rather than in prone with his hands on the base bar. It is only when he begins his first high or soaring flights that he will transition to prone. For that reason, and to avoid confusing muscle memory, it’s best to restrict the student’s position in the simulator primarily to the upright position “in hang”, with his weight resting comfortably in the leg loops of the harness. He should feel his body weight in the seat of his pants, not in his hands, arms or shoulders. There should be no tension in the arms – ensure the student is not trying to support himself on the downtubes.
So although instructions have been included for weightshift controls while in prone, as well as for transitioning, so as not to confuse muscle memory at this early stage it’s recommended that you do no more than very briefly introduce these techniques until the student has had some formal lessons and is closer to true flight in prone.
Have the student hold his head high and look where he's going. Point out and demonstrate that he can't look straight down while flying upright, without changing the height of the nose (and thus airspeed). Briefly have the student repeat the exercise in prone, where the effect is even more pronounced. Explain that this natural tendency generates a very simple rule for flight: "Look down, go down. Look up, go up." Anything they see directly below is history and behind them. They should instead look ahead and build this habit from the first day.
ii. Fly relaxed:
Have the student place his hands on the downtubes comfortably at shoulder height or just below, then wiggle the fingers of each hand to demonstrate that they're not clutching the downtubes in a death grip. Explain that white knuckles do nothing to help the glider fly. Once a student is comfortable in the simulator, tell him, "Release the downtubes. Fold your arms for a moment and watch what the glider does: it flies in a straight line at the correct speed." Although the student won't fly "hands-free" in lessons, it will be possible later at high altitudes. Until then, this exercise aims to have the student trust the glider and to fly relaxed.
Remind the student to look where they're going when flying. Advise him that if he plans to change course by 45 degrees, he must first look 45 degrees to that side to see where he's going. Explain that it’s automatic and natural for any hang glider pilot to turn in the direction that they’re looking. Later, when the student will be landing in a large open field with a tree or shed on one side, he’ll need to look at the large open field (the very spot) where he’ll be landing, not at the tree or shed. Explain that new pilots have been seen flying straight at the only obstacle in a large open field, because they were staring at it so intently! Stress again to the student: "Don't look at things that you wish to avoid; instead, always look where you’re going."
The student should say "right turn" and "left turn" aloud just before he begins each maneuver so that you can watch for good technique. Each turn in the simulator should be spaced at least 5 seconds apart when the student is relaxed in normal flight.
iii. Correct Weightshift:
When the student is flying upright, you want the student to move their entire body (hereafter referred to as "the hips") to command a turn. When the student is fully prone, you want the student to "lead with the feet" to command a turn, and then maintain awareness and control of the position of the feet during the turn.
With the student comfortably holding the downtubes at shoulder height, have him move his hips in the direction he wishes to turn, keeping the torso upright and his chest parallel to the basebar without twisting his body. To turn right, begin by moving the hips and feet right. This is rarely an extreme move and, even when in prone, the student's feet should seldom be angled more than 45 degrees from the normal straight position. The student will discover he can make gentle turns simply by using this "lead with your hips and feet" technique.
Explain to the student that a short weightshift ("bump across") is sufficient for small turns and that he should not hold his weight to one side. Instead, he should put in a control move and then resume normal flight, with his weight recentered and relaxed in the glider. Point out that sometimes simply relaxing back to the center is enough to resume a normal course, but that there will be other times he'll need to actively bring the glider back to level flight.
For more extreme right turns, have the student swing his hips and feet as above, then move the downtubes or basebar sideways to the left, shifting his weight to the right side of the glider. Unlike other simulators, this one will respond as in normal flight, and the right wing tip will get closer to the floor. Point this out to the student and explain that every flying machine always turns toward the low wing tip.
The aim of this instruction is to avoid cross-controlling problems common to many beginning pilots: when they want to turn right, they move their head to the right, while their hips or feet go to the left, resulting in little or no turn. Cross-controlling in this HG- simulator will only "reward" the pilot with zero bank angle, and that means no turning. Only a correct turn input will cause a correct bank and turn, so the student has very clear and constant visible feedback from the actual glider when he weight-shifts correctly. Pilots who lead with the hips and feet will always have a more solid turn authority. The student can and should resolve any cross-controlling problems in the simulator before progressing to the training hill, where there’s far more information - and some anxiety - to simultaneously process.
iv. Exploring weightshift:
Have the student practice shifting his weight and controlling the position of his hips and feet to obtain a maximum-turn weight shift in the HG-simulator. He should be able, or almost able, to touch a wing tip to the floor as he turns to either side. Give the student plenty of time to experiment because it's likely that he'll discover that the realities of this skill, and the movements which he may have imagined, have very little relationship to each other. This simulator will safely build the exact and correct "muscle memory" that the student needs. He shouldn’t be expected to learn this in mid-air during a first day of flying.
Remind the student that small corrections early are safer than large corrections late. A useful analogy is one of driving a car and seeing a crate in the middle of the road: the driver avoids hitting the crate by making a small correction in the steering immediately, not by driving straight at the crate and making wild corrections at the last possible second.
3.3. Coordinated Turns
This section is optional for students who have mastered the basics of the earliest lessons on the hill, after which they may return to the simulator to learn coordinated turns in prone. The student should initiate the turn normally, then add a little nose-up control while holding a constant bank angle. Explain how this "co-ordinates" the turn, avoiding any aircraft’s natural tendency to nose down somewhat whilst turning.
Explain that shallow banks require a slight pitch-up to coordinate, and increasing bank angles need an increasing amount of pitch control. The student should be required to demonstrate control inputs that are reasonable and realistic before attempting this advanced turning technique in flight. Over-control is common with new pilots, and the instructor can correct this tendency safely with the simulator.
As an advanced turning technique, the new student should not attempt this skill in real flight at altitudes of less than 200 feet. This is because a new pilot inexperienced in hearing and judging wind speed may stall the glider.
4. Dealing with Trouble
Once the student is comfortable with straight and level flight, you’ll need to become his trouble. It’ll be your job to move the glider to simulate the normal bumps and gusts of flight, thereby preparing the student for mild to moderate turbulence.
Explain to the student what you’ll be doing, and that it’ll be his job to detect the unexpected input by feel and to correct for it by shifting his weight to resume level flight. The speed and force that he uses for his corrective action must at least match the speed and force of your turbulence input.
4.1. Simulating Turbulence
Whilst the student is flying the HG-simulator relaxed and looking ahead, take a position at the tail or lower side wire of the glider and gently raise the nose or a wing tip. As the Pilot-In-Command, the student must respond with correct weight-shifts to command a return to level flight. As the student gains experience with this challenge, you may be raising a nose or wing tip at rates up to five feet per second, and the student should be responding with equal or greater counter-force and speed to resume normal flight. A rapid unexpected input from you should initiate a rapid, forceful counter-response from the student.
4.2. Simulating insufficient airspeed
The aim of the following exercises is to simulate the loss of control that results from insufficient air speed, whether that is caused by flying too slowly in smooth air, or by hitting turbulence at normal flying speeds, and to instill the correct response in the student: "pull in for control". As an experienced pilot, you know the vital importance of this section and you must be sure to obtain the correct control responses from the student. The student must make corrections instinctively and automatically. Take the time to allow the student to acquire these important reflexes. Test the student's reflex responses to trouble, at random intervals, until you and the student are confident with these important abilities.
Explain to the student that any time the glider doesn’t respond to his inputs in flight, he doesn’t have sufficient airspeed for conditions at that time. He must continue his intended control input, while simultaneously increasing his airspeed (dive) until the glider does respond properly. You’ll need to know how much unexpected input to give the student, and judge when he’s provided sufficient corrective force to re-establish control.
Explain that down control is not used in normal turns: if the glider is flying normally, then it’ll turn normally. Stress that the student only adds down control to a turn if the glider does not seem to be responding normally to his firm control input. At good airspeed, the glider will turn normally. When flying too slowly, either near stall speed or in turbulence, the glider will hesitate to respond to his control input. In either case, the student needs to increase the airspeed (nose down), to resume firm control of the glider.
You should also give an unexpected input, such as a lifted wing, and totally ignore the student's input, continuing to hold that wing tip high. The student will make his normal counter move and hold it, but if the glider does not respond, you can encourage him to add nose-down control while still holding the corrective action until the glider resumes a normal flight attitude. It may take up to three seconds to get this control response from the time the student begins to add his down-control input (not from the time he begins correcting). The student should progressively increase his down-control input until the glider responds. You’ll need to judge whether the student has applied sufficient control input, before allowing the "stalled" glider to respond.
As the student says "right turn" or "left turn" and begins to execute the turn, you may also choose to "lock" the glider in level flight, preventing the glider from banking in the direction the student wishes to turn. It’s the student's job as Pilot-In-Command to detect this lack of response, and to continue or increase his firm turn input while adding down control to increase air speed until you allow the glider to respond normally. Again, this exercise simulates a lack of sufficient airspeed for conditions at that time, and you’re developing in the student responses that will make his glider obey his intent. In every case, as the student resumes control, ensure he brings the glider to a normal flight attitude and doesn’t allow the glider to over-correct.
Whenever you provide an unexpected input or "lock" the glider to prevent turns, you must allow the glider to respond normally within three seconds after the student makes the right corrective action AND applies down control to increase air speed. This ensures that correct muscle memory is being built.
Have the student repeat corrective actions for a lifted wing or nose until his responses are correct and automatic. The student needs all of these reactions to come correctly and instinctively when in flight, and mid-air isn’t the place to learn them. This HG- simulator uses a complete glider because an old control bar hanging from a few ropes can’t build muscle memory: the student must feel the glider respond to him in safety before he meets trouble in the air. In the air, the student must react instinctively as he won't have time to analyze and identify a problem, and then decide upon the correct response while close to the ground.
5. Transitioning from Prone to Hang Vertical and Back
You can prepare the student for the transition from upright to prone, and back. This skill will be needed when he has had lessons on the training hill or via tow and is approaching longer high flights. Have him practice changing the hand and body positions from take-off, to prone, to landing, and doing this smoothly so the glider doesn’t receive unwanted control inputs. When the student can do this without the simulator rocking wildly, he'll know how to do it smoothly in the air, too.
With most harnesses, the student can change from upright to prone position by using his feet to pull the harness down in front of his body, usually with the harness boot or foot stirrup. To change from prone to an upright position, have the student begin by drawing his knees up, then extending his legs behind him without the stirrup. This causes most training harnesses to bunch up under the chest and, as the student extends his legs again, his center of mass moves rearward in the harness. It should then take little or no effort from the student's hands on the control bar to make his body tilt upright into the landing position. Ideally, the student should be able to do this without touching the bar at all, but not all harnesses are ideal.
6. A Full flight Simulation
Have the student stand under the glider, hooked in, and have him hold the downtubes as for a normal take off. Then have him fake a good strong run, feet slipping, letting his weight down gradually into the harness, and "flying off" in a normal fashion. Watch out for, and correct any tendencyof the student to "jump aboard" the glider during a launch. Depending on whether the student is having head start training or whether he has already had lessons on the training hill and is ready for longer, high flights, you may either leave him upright or have him tilt forward into the prone position, moving his hands one at time smoothly and instinctively to the control bar, without looking at it. The glider should not bank or pitch up or down, as he is going prone. The student should always look ahead, with a relaxed grip on the bar.
He can begin to execute maneuvers, saying aloud, "right turn" and "left turn". Ensure he leads with the feet, looks in the direction of the turn, executes the maneuvers smoothly, and returns to level flight smoothly.
Now and then, prevent the glider from responding correctly, or lift a wing or the nose unexpectedly, either gently or forcefully, so the student detects this "turbulence" or lack of response in the glider and applies corrective control inputs with sufficient force and speed to correct the problem, adding down control if necessary. Explain to the student that on the training hill, in reasonable air, the glider should always begin to respond within seconds after he has added down control to his corrective action. Remind the student to resume a normal flight attitude after each turn or correction, to relax, to look ahead and to wiggle his fingers.
Toward the end of the flight, have the student add a bit of down control to ensure that he negotiates the wind gradient safely and, if necessary, have him transition smoothly from prone to the landing position without looking at the control bar, and without rocking the glider all over the sky. Finally, have the student flare, land, and stand on his feet, holding the glider.
When they precede lessons on the training hill, the "ground school" HG-simulator sessions above will provide a new student with a good command of the glider in the air, with an instinctive reflex defense against mild to moderate turbulence or accidental stalls. The sessions will also instill the habit of looking ahead, without needing to look for the control bar or stirrup.
Of course, students should be told that there is air (somewhere, usually near storms) that they cannot keep control in, but they should also know better than to launch in those conditions. Fellow pilots will provide this knowledge and advice when the student leaves the training slope.