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FreeFlight Advice: Hang Gliding Instructors: PLEASE READ

I think most instructors know already- attention to detail is everything.  There is a delicate are of conveying something as complicated as human flight in such simplistic terms that someone with absolutely no experience can easily understand and execute.

Regarding “how to teach”, a while back I put together a simple 5-minute video for instructors.  It runs through a basic first-day lesson, with an emphasis on what the instructor might focus on and be looking for.  While different instructors, teaching at different training sites, in possibly very different conditions, might follow different stepping stones of progress- the key idea I tried to portray is that instruction needs to be a PROGRESSION.  This is why I called the video Simple Progression.  Please take 5 to watch it (even if you’ve already seen it!)…

In addition to teaching following a progression, I wanted to highlight the specific SKILLS we instructors should be looking for.  It’s a bit too easy to fall into a checklist mentality, and we’ve all done it at some point.  Ya know… run with the glider, check.  Run with it with the harness, check.  Ok, over to the hill now!  But before even running, were we really making sure the student(s) were picking up the glider properly?  Were they able to balance it in a way that allowed the light grip we preach?  And when they were running… were they accelerating smoothly?  Was proper angle of attack maintained?  Was the loose grip constant throughout?  And were they flaring at the end of the run?  It only makes sense, we need to teach people to launch, steer, AND LAND… before putting them in the air, right?!

What’s got me writing this post, today, was a video I stumbled across on YouTube.  I do not know the instructor(s), but I’m sure they are great guys.  I clicked the video when I saw what looked like a student, hanging in a glider suspended on the tailgate of a pickup truck.  This is a great way to create a “simulator” with very minimal additional equipment.  But the thing that caught my eye, was that the student wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Not wearing a helmet while hanging in a glider that is literally tied to a truck, with no intention of flying, presumably is very early morning conditions where a thermal or dust devil is extremely unlikely… that might not seem like a big deal?  And it’s probably not, if taken at face value.  BUT- in the grand scheme of teaching a progression, the way we teach SAFETY needs to start with the basics.  Shouldn’t we teach students to wear a helmet any time they are connected to the wing?

I am by no means trying to pick on whoever these instructors are.  No one’s perfect, myself included- I hope they do not mind that I am using their video as an example for all of us to grow and improve as instructors.  This is about positive change, not ridicule.  It’s about instilling a culture of safety right from the start, rather than a culture of compromised safety for convenience.

Later in the video, the students are running with the glider and getting it to lift up… without harnesses… and they ARE wearing helmets at this point, which is awesome.  That’s a great subtle safety lesson to those students, and all I mean to say is that it would be more effective if they also wore their helmets in the simulator.

I would like to make a quick note regarding running with the glider without a harness, or at least without being hooked in.  At some point this became a “thing” that most people have the students do, before hooking in and running with the glider.  It seems like a good progression step between picking the glider up, and running hooked in, right?  I have stopped doing this step, and I recommend everyone else stop as well.  Here’s why: To get a glider flying we start our run by pushing the glider forward with our shoulders, not our hands… and as it lifts, we continue pulling it with our harness, leaving our hands free for that light grip and steering as needed.  What do students HAVE to do if they can’t pull with their harness because they’re not hooked in?  They have to PUSH with their hands.  Right off the bat students are learning one of the key things we want them to NOT DO!  Think about it…

One last thing about this video, and about the attention to detail I mentioned at the start of this post:
Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.54.03 AM

Looking at this frame from the video- this student’s last run for the day- do you know what I’m going to say?  If you didn’t immediately see it, that that as a little hint to work on your attention to detail 😉
Look again… see anything?

I’ll share what I see; Check out his hand grip.  Check out the downtubes in relation to his shoulders.  Speaking of shoulders- this is a big dude!  Don’t piss him off!  Help him learn to fly without getting frustrated  😉

He’s literally LIFTING the glider, with his hands.  The downtubes are not resting on the outside of his arms/shoulders.  He can’t possibly have a light grip, or the glider will fall to the ground.  And whether you prefer to teach “grapevine” or “bottle grip” method for holding the glider, this guy doesn’t really have either.  The entirety of his arms are behind the downtubes, with just his hands on the back and outside of the tubes so he can squeeze and lift.  If he were doing grape vine hold, his arms would be wrapped around the downtubes more- allowing him to pull in during his launch run.  In this position, all he can do is push out.

Again, I do not mean to single out these instructors… we all make mistakes, we all miss stuff… and sometimes students that did it correctly a couple dozen times just kind of “forget” and do funny things.  But as soon as this guy lifted and tried to set the glider so he could run, he should have been stopped and corrected.  If this is how he was lifting the glider every time, he shouldn’t have made it to the running-with-the-glider part of the lesson, because he only completed the “checklist” of picking the glider up… he didn’t attain and demonstrate the SKILL we’re looking to instill.

Anyway… a little food for thought… thanks for reading, and please share with all instructors, friends, flying clubs, and so on!  Let’s do what we can to improve our culture of safety, and our professional flight instructors!