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FreeFlight Advice: Base tube or uprights during approach?

Q: Working on staying on the base bar into Final to maintain better control authority rather than going to the DTs at the very beginning of the downwind leg on DBF landing approaches as I usually do. Having problems knowing when to transition from base bar to DTs without popping the nose. I do hands to the middle first, then 1 hand at a time but still typically end up coming in on my belly now Any/all advice welcome.

A: Generally speaking flying from the base tube through final is an advanced technique, and probably not something you should be working on just yet. You should be able to fly plenty fast from the uprights, and if not, that is what you should be working on. If you fly a site that gives you time between launching and landing you can practice getting upright and pulling in to fly fast over and over while your not actually near the ground, not actually landing. Practice is key, no shortcuts to experience. Once you’re getting it, practice some turns- while upright- flying fast. The glider responds much differently (quicker and more dramatic) flying at faster speeds, and you’ll want to have a good feel for how it responds and how much input is needed to get how much bank etc BEFORE doing it near the ground as you are landing.

As for when to transition from base tube to uprights… do it at or near TRIM speed, so there is little or no bar pressure and you can let go with one hand at a time without the glider popping up or turning. Trim usually happens twice in a landing, BEFORE you pull in for speed on final, or A SECOND OR LESS before it’s time to flare. The latter is advanced because you are low, slow, and have to transition still or you will not land safely. Doing it up high is much safer, and you always have that second chance near flare if for some reason you can’t work the transition in up high. Doing it right before flare there are no second chances and no room for error…. which is why it’s an advanced skill.

Some thoughts on upright vs prone and “having more control”… in terms of physics and aerodynamics, there is no difference. The hang glider ‘feels’ the weight of the pilot through the hang loop via the harness mains. Laying prone pulling in all the way puts the base tube just a little ahead of where your harness mains attach to the harness. Upright, we can pull in until the base tube touches our body, in which case the base tube is just barely ahead of the harness mains. The same with roll control, prone or upright your bodies CG does not change, and you are moving the same weight left or right just as much, so it’s all the same (FEELS very different though).

In the “real world” though, the difference is anatomically the human shoulder has limitations. Laying prone our arms and shoulders have a much easier time pulling in for speed than when flying on the uprights. That is NOT to say it can’t be done from the uprights… it is just a bit trickier. Takes practice to get the technique right, and because it’s not very anatomical it will FEEL like the bar pressure is much higher- also because you have less mechanical advantage pulling your weight forward from the downtubes vs the base tube which is much further from your hang point.

The important thing to recognize is that flying upright is a crucial skill to have and can save your bacon many times over. There are lots of situations where doing a late transition works just fun, but the more turbulent the air is the less likely you’ll get a nice balanced moment to switch your hands. Or in other words the more likely you’ll get slammed off course as you let go with one hand. Or you won’t get the chance to move one or both hands up, and then won’t be able to flare. It won’t happen every time, or even often… but it only takes ONCE to really mess up, or even end, your life. Serious stuff!

SO- where this leaves me is saying listen to your instructor, and your mentors, and with that said I would make the strong recommendation to insist on practicing and learning to fly fast and in control from the uprights. It is common for very experienced pilots to say- and teach- that we have more control from the base tube. But what is far more likely is these experienced pilots have hundreds or thousands of hours flying from the base tube, and probably a cumulative of around 30 mins flying from the uprights. Being human we are more comfortable with what we know and know well… so of course we FEEL like we have more control from the uprights. But physics don’t lie, and aerodynamics don’t care about what we ‘feel’. I would say that the physical challenge of learning to pull in and fly fast from the uprights is a better choice than the increased risk of flying from the base tube, at high speed, near the ground… and still needing to work a transition in somewhere before being capable of actually landing.

As with all things hang gliding, it’s YOUR game of “risk management” to choose what you do and how you do it… and as strongly as I recommend one way over the other there are pro’s and con’s to both and it’s your call.  The biggest factor in making the “right” choice for you is being educated, and you are clearly taking the rights steps to get there!