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Overview

The sad truth is that there are too many people who can not land their hang gliders properly. So in this post we are going to describe few landing techniques which will help you improve your landings.

This post was influenced by recent conversations on ozReport.com and mostly is an edited compilation of Jim Rooney’s replies.

There's so much focus on body position and hand position, which do help, but virtually nothing on how the whole shooting match works. Quite simply, if you can stall the tips of your glider, you will have a good landing. If you do not stall them, you will not have a good landing. How you accomplish this is the source of so much debate. So many inadequate explanations that all start with "well you just…"

First of all landing a hang glider is unnatural. To do it well, you must come in fast. You must stop the glider and make it tailslide – something you never do otherwise and never even toy with otherwise as the results would be disastrous. You have to approach the ground at a speed both vertically and horizontally which, if you did nothing else, would hurt and would likely put you in the hospital. Every instinct you have screams at you to not do this, every bone in your body begs you to come in at a speed that won't hurt.

So instinctively you want to slow down, both horizontally and vertically, to a speed which will not harm you. And that is the #1 reason why people whack. Because at this speed (descending at trim), it is insanely difficult to stall your tips. The nose of the glider will quite happily stall, leaving your tips flying and pushing the trailing edge up. This pushes the nose DOWN. This is when pilots feel like the glider is "getting ahead of them".

This concept is crucial to any discussion of landing technique and before it is understood, no real progress is made./p>

Let's review the cardinal rule of landing a hang glider – STALL THE TIPS!

A glider is twisted. So the root is always a higher AOA than the tips. This means that the nose of the glider will stall before the tips. Once the nose stalls, it's no longer lifting. If this happens and the tail is still lifting, guess what? You're going to whack. So, you've got to overpower this. Since the nose will stall first, you want the tips to stall very quickly after. You've got momentum and sheer weight on your side, but only for a second. After that, if the tips are still flying, they're going to win.

You're trying to get the glider to tailslide. They are designed to resist this tendency, so you need to work to make it happen (and you really wouldn't want one that likes to tailslide as it would be very unpleasant to fly). Here's the million dollar question – When do you flare? If you can answer that (with confidence), then you will have no problem landing well. If you only have some wishy washy, abstract answer – you're going to whack...

How many times have I heard "you just feel it”, or my favorite "when the glider is out of energy". Excuse me… but just how the hell do you determine that one? Is there some "energy meter" that I'm unaware of? I need to send all my gliders in for warranty, because none of mine came with one.

The real answer is they're guessing. They've maybe gotten good at guessing (mostly not), but they're guessing. So, let's start with the easiest landing technique. It's easy because it cheats this question.

Moonwalk/Run out

The moonwalk hinges on the fact that a heavily loaded glider stalls at a higher speed than a lightly loaded glider. When the glider is supporting your weight, it's more heavily loaded than when it's not. A glider without you under it can fly at a (much) slower speed than if it's carrying you (This is also a huge concept for good takeoffs, but that's an other story).

So when you're landing, as soon as your foot hits the ground, the glider's stall speed drops considerably because it's not holding you anymore. Here's what you do:

  • Approach the ground faster than trim (as ALWAYS)
  • Round out into ground effect.

There are various methods for when to get upright and whatnot but that doesn't matter. All that matters here is that you approach the ground faster than trim and round out into ground effect. I couldn't care less how. In ground effect, you will naturally start to trade speed for altitude. In other words, to continue to fly level with the ground, instead of smashing into it, you will be slowing down. With a glider supporting your weight, you can run faster than humanly possible. You do this every time you takeoff. You know that "moonwalk" run at the end of a takeoff run? That's the same run we're talking about. When you get to that speed, start moonwalk running. And start pushing the glider up. You will immediately start to slow down because your feet are hitting the ground and because you're slowing the glider. As you slow down, keep pushing up. The slower you get, the faster you push up.

The glider will "fall off your back" and it will also stop you from running. It will land on it's keel – THIS IS CORRECT! If you allow it to settle onto your shoulders – you have FAILED. So remember – put it on it's keel! This is key.

All the other landing techniques rely on understanding this. We are making the glider tailslide – the glider STOPS US… Not the other way around.

Ok, one note before I get to Trim+1 – a fully stalled glider can not climb. This is a very important landing concept. If you climb, you have not stalled the glider. So many people only think they're flaring their gliders. They think they're flaring hard enough. They think they're flaring fast enough. They're very much wrong! The correct action when you do mess up and climb of course is to hold your insufficient flare… but realize that your "flare" was wrong.

Trim +1

This technique works on any stock glider. This doesn't work well if you've messed with the trim of your glider. If you find issue with this, please ask yourself why you're trying to learn a basic landing technique on a tweaked glider.

So this is what you do:

  • Approach the earth faster than trim (as ALWAYS).
  • Round out into ground effect.
  • You will naturally slow the glider as you pay off speed to maintain altitude. The glider will eventually hit trim speed. You will know this because there will be no forward pressure on the uprights. Before you were holding them back to have speed but now that speed has washed away and they are no longer begging to go forward – they are loose in your hands. I demonstrate this in my videos by fully letting them go. I am at trim and there is absolutely no doubt about this. I do not recommend that people let go. I do this simply to make things extremely clear.
  • After I hit trim, I wait ONE second. One, not two!
  • And FLARE like I mean it. This is easy to do because I KNOW the glider will fully stall… root and tips. I know this because this works with every single stock glider.
  • The glider stalls and falls off my back.

This is an exceptionally easy and effective landing technique. I very seldom find need to use any other technique.

I teach the moonwalk first as this one introduces something new… the ability to screw up. With the moonwalk, you might wind up belly flopping and rolling on your wheels… BFD. With this, if you rush things and give a decent, but not quite enough flare – you can balloon up. If you don't hold it, you're going to whack and you're going to whack hard.

Even if you don't rush things, you can give a weak flare and balloon up. Oddly enough, this is harder to do than with a late flare. That extra energy you're carrying actually makes getting the flare right easier. But you can still muck it up if you try hard enough. If you wait too long and give a weak flare, you need your running shoes on. If you're experienced with the moonwalk however, you already know how to recover from this problem.

Ok, these last couple techniques have ups and downs. Their big plus is they are more universal. They work all the time, every time. It doesn't matter what glider you're flying or how someone's tweaked it. Their downside is they're easier to mess up and the penalty for messing up is often very high.

The "Two Step"

  • Approach the ground faster than trim (yes, you know it… AS ALWAYS!).
  • Round out into ground effect.
  • Before you hit trim make the glider climb. This takes a subtle hand. You want it to climb, but just a little.
  • Once it's climbing – wait. Once it stops climbing – flare. As always, flare like you mean it.
  • It is out of energy and it will fall off your back.

Obviously, doing the test climb too aggressively can put you a bit higher than comfortable so you need to proceed with caution.

The Crescendo

This is essentially the same as the Two Step. Except with the Two Step, you start the glider climbing and freeze, then finish the flare once it stops climbing.

With the Crescendo, you start it climbing and continue to push, more rapidly as you go. I'm not a huge fan of this one as it is again a "touchy feely" one. How much do you push and how fast do you speed up the push?… "Ya just feeeeeel it man!"

The Zen

Warning! This one is hard and it hurts when you get it wrong. Learn the other ones first.

I don't even bother with this one. Some of my friends have had success with it however. So that's what you do:

  • Approach the ground faster than trim (one last time… AS ALWAYS!)
  • Round out into ground effect.
  • Look out ahead at the horizon.
  • Maintain your altitude religiously.
  • Do not ever let the glider descend.

Yes, that's it... That's the whole technique. What will happen is this: to maintain your altitude, you will wind up pushing the glider out faster and faster, much like the crescendo flare except without climbing. When done correctly, it is an exceptionally beautiful technique.

But what will happen if you get this wrong – you will power-whack. You have been warned.

Few words on crashing

First of all – no one should be whacking! Students or otherwise. There's a raft of reasons it's considered semi-acceptable, but it shouldn't. Why do HG pilots think that crashing is ok?

Second – students are given all kinds of advice when they crash… er "whack". Oddly enough, a lot of the advice comes from pilots who can't land themselves. Strange. Just like a lot of thermalling advice is given by people that have sunk out.

Pro Tip: The guys you want to talk to are still in the air.

And yeah, when a non-student pounds in… holy crap there are so many excuses. Now, a lot of that is face saving stuff and that's to be accepted. Calling someone out in public is always a bad idea. They KNOW they're struggling. Helping them is a delicate thing. Proceed with care.

Now one of my favourites… "Practice".

There's a lot of nonsense surrounding this one. First off, practicing bad technique just reinforces bad technique. You MUST learn what to practice first! Otherwise all the practice in the world is going to do absolutely nothing for you. What's worse is it will make things harder.

I start every landing clinic with one simple question and I've had ONE person answer it correctly – "How do you know when to flare?". If you can't answer it then practice will do you no good.

Ok, now here's something that'll blow your mind: If you can fly your glider, you don't need to practice landings. If you're whacking, it's not due to lack of practice, it's due to lack of technique.

See… "practice" is for things that require a "Feel for things". Good technique does not require a "feel" – it is a technique and it requires understanding and the ability to fly your glider. You apply the technique and it works.

So, all these high time pilots that complain about not being able to practice? Balderdash. It's not your lack of practice, it's your lack of technique. Learn the technique and you'll be amazed, you won't have to practice.

OK. Here's the point where I gotta back this up cuz at this point you're thinking I'm a loony. I used to think the same way. It sounds logical and reasonable… It makes "sense". And it does for things that require a "feel". Like shooting three pointers – you need a good feel to do that and you only get that by practicing.

BUT you can fly. You spend (hopefully) lots of time in the air compared to landing, you can setup an approach right? That's just flying right? If all you had to do for landing was skim it in on the wheels, that would be easy right? Well, how's landing on your feet different? Knowing when to flare.

Oh, I was telling a story to illustrate this. Now, this is not my only one, but it's the clearest example. See, living as an instructor with instructors 24/7, you get a pretty good view of what's what. So this "practice" idea kinda never sat right. Then Zach showed us the truth.

Zach was a tug pilot (and good friend) and he's a regular GA CFI now. Zach flew a 12meter Stealth KPL – one of the notoriously most difficult to land gliders on the planet. Stealths in general are unforgiving and the 12m Kpl is a Whack-Oh-Matic. If your technique isn't perfect it lets you know, in a big way.

Now Zach's the tug pilot right? He flew a hang glider once or twice a year. Now, the conventional advice would be… hey, why don't you go do some flights on a floater and knock off the "rust" first before trying to land the Stealth. But Zach? He just went and grabbed the stealth. He wasn't crazy, he would fly in smooth air… but yep... straight to the stealth.

One would expect, as we all did the first time, that he'd at least struggle to land, probably have to run it out a little. Ok, the first time we expected a power-whack.

Well, Zach comes in and not only lands well… he lands Zen! Walks over and ties his glider down like it's nothing. He's not confused when I talk to him. He knows how wrong everyone is and he explains how it really is.

See, Adam taught Zach to land. And he taught him the Zen technique from day 1. It's in fact, all Zach knows.

It's not a "hard" technique – it's flying without descending. It just takes complete faith to do it. Since Zach has done it, he knows in his bones that it works so he "has the faith" if you will.

All the landing techniques are this way. This is just my extreme example that I like to blow people's minds with. Learn the technique. It's not about "practice".

Fear

Yes, fear is the mind killer!

Fear does mess things up. But look at what the fear is, and you will come to understand why I developed "Trim +1".

Far too often, landing techniques require "guessing". "Testing" things is just an other way of saying that you're guessing. You're guessing a little, and finding out how well you guessed which is a good thing, but it's still a guess.

Guessing techniques do in fact require practice. But Trim +1 requires no guessing. It works and it works every time. It works the same way every time too. Wind? No wind? Doesn't matter one bit. It works every time. And it requires ZERO guessing.

You get to trim, you count to one, you flare. You flare as hard as you like. The harder the better even. The glider will stop dead cold and plant it's keel on the earth. The harder you flare, the better it works.

There is no fear of carrying "too much speed". Your glider is at it's level trim speed every time. This is a specific speed. It is at THAT speed. There is no other speed that it will do this at. It is a constant. It will be that exact same speed no matter what. One second and flare.

Any "faith" is gained through understanding and thus is not "faith". There is no "hope" that it will work. You don't "believe" it will work – you KNOW it will work. It takes a few times to understand it and to trust it. But after that, there is no doubt.

So where does the fear come from?

It comes from that first early and weak flare. That one that doesn't stall the wing, but instead zooms you up much higher than you intended or wanted.Then the root stalls and the tips don't. The tips push up which rotates the nose over in spite of your attempts to "hold the flare". Worse is most people when they get to this point flinch. They soften up their flare (instinctively, not consciously) and the tips gain even more power.

We've all watched and probably experienced first hand what happens next. And it sucks balls. It often hurts and sometimes breaks things… both gliders and people... No one ever wishes to go through it a second time. So we start hedging our bets. Unfortunately, this makes things even worse.

And it all starts with missing that crucial bit of information – when to flare. Without it, you're left guessing. And you've just experienced the hard penalty of guessing wrong on the early side and it sucks.

So I say stop guessing. Avoid the problem all together. Instead, KNOW when to flare. It's so much easier that way.

Rescuing bad landing

Yup, this ain't a perfect world and sh*t happens… and we've got to deal with it. So, what do you do when?

I'll start with the big one – it's the cardinal rule of landing (and taking off for that matter)– WINGS LEVEL.

Wings level is above all else. Keeping your nose down on takeoff is at the end of the day, all about keeping your wings level. If you don't, you drop a wingtip.

So what to do when they're not? Get them level, at nearly any cost. Do nothing else until they are. We're not trying to save a graceful landing at this point we're trying not to get hurt.

If you touch the ground with your wings level, it will almost certainly be better, and heaps better, than if they are not. If they're not, when you touch, you're going for a cartwheel ride. It's going to suck.

If they're level, you might just pancake in. You might break some uprights. Who cares? Break them. Grab one and plow through it. Don't grab both as you'll break your arms. All the usual "crashing" advice. Hopefully it doesn't even get that far.

I've landed my talon downwind on my belly with no wheels and everything just skidded in… the nose never even came down. Level level level.

A good shove on the basetube right at the end helped. You can't flare prone, but you sure as hell can try and it does matter. (thankfully faired basetubes slide well on semi-wet grass, especially if you get them going slow enough)

  1. 1 Goal, get the wings level.

If you can't in time, DO NOT flare! Flaring in a turn will always go bad and it'll go bad fast! Don't even semi-flare. Don't even continue to slow down. Your goal is still to get your wings level. If that means speeding up… guess what? You do it. Get those wings level then, once they are, you can huck that puppy over your head and save yourself from pounding in but only once you get them level.

Now, this is where those other landing techniques come in very handy. This is why I teach my students to stop themselves with the glider before I even let them leave the ground.

That "moonwalk" landing can save your butt. You're all setup for a perfect landing when ole mama nature decides to bitchslap you.

Ok, panicroom time. We've just shifted gears from a nice "showstopper" landing to "not pounding in".

We've maybe even had to nudge the bars in a touch to get them level again. We're still in a non-advantageous position. We're faster than we can run and things are happening too fast to pull out a good flare. Hell, we probably don't have the wings level yet and it's "touch the earth" time.

So moonwalk-run. Finish leveling the wings as you do it, then you're just doing a moonwalk landing from that point on. If you know the moonwalk, this is extremely easy. I highly recommend learning it if you don't already know it. Start on an easy glider first, learn the technique, then apply it to your glider.

I learned the moonwalk on a Falcon. Then a Sport 2. And then I moved on to my gliders.

Landing on downslope

Oh god… downslope… yikes. I'll take nearly anything over downslope I'm not kidding, I'd rather land tailwind. Downslope is a bitch.

But, yup here's an other excellent "the world ain't perfect, what do you do when ____" question.

A lot depends on just how much downslope we're talking about. A little might be manageable. A good slope – god I hope you have wheels. In the extreme ones, land crosswind across the slope. If you have time, downwind/uphill tends to be preferable.

This is where a good "show stopper" flare comes in handy. If you can do one, and you know if you can, it will save your butt. If you can't, now's not the time to try.

First, Zen is out. So is the Two Step or Crescendo. So a couple things about "Trim +1". I teach Trim +1 as it's the safer answer, but, if you've got a strong and aggressive flare, you can flare at trim. For that matter, you *can* flare before trim, though I don't recommend it as the penalty for error is extreme.

With Trim+1, "trim" is level flight. You're at the speed that the glider trims out level (in ground effect). If you're on a slope, when you hit "trim", you will be slower as it's a descending trim. So, if your KungFu is strong, get it to trim and flare.

If not – pretend you're Forest Gump and moonwalk the shit out of it. Your flare will be slow at first, but will need to accelerate rapidly. The first bits are just to wash off a touch of speed and to unload the glider. But then you want a very aggressive end. Once the ground is taking your weight, the game is to outrun the glider. Slow it down as much as you can without it lifting you off the ground. Towards the end, this will turn into a flare and will hopefully switch to the glider preventing you from running. If not, at least you'll just be running downhill with a glider trying to fall off your back. If not… I hope you have wheels.

Additional resources:

Greg DeWolf Returning to Earth (pdf) about landings.

Flaring a glider

Flare Dynamics

Excellent Flare Video

The ‘Constant Aspect’ Approach