Paragliding can be enjoyable even in cooler, wetter weather if you follow proper protocols and procedures. However, damp and dreary days require additional precautions to fly safely. This guide covers best practices tailored for paragliding in sub-optimal weather conditions featuring light rain, clouds, fog, increased winds, and reduced visibility. We will go over methods for assessing risks, gear selection, procedural modifications, in-flight tactics, specialized landing techniques, and emergency response to help ensure safe, successful flights on those damp and gray days that are otherwise well-suited for riding wind currents on a wing and canopy.

Assessing Weather and Flight Conditions

Checking Weather Forecasts and Reports

It is critical to thoroughly check weather reports and forecasts from both aviation and non-aviation sources before paragliding on damp, dreary days. Obtain conditions and projected visibility, cloud ceiling heights, precipitation levels, humidity, dewpoint, surface, and aloft wind speeds and directions from NOAA or other accredited outlets. Cross-reference reports for airports and weather stations near planned routes. Forecasts tailored for aviation provide the most pertinent details, like localized frontal boundaries, that could affect route safety.

Evaluating Terrain, Winds, and Visibility

When assessing current terrain, carefully evaluate visibility, cloud clearance relative to ridges and hill elevations, moisture levels that impact stall speeds, and wind patterns across launc areas, planned routes, and landing zones. Determine if visibility allows clear sight of ground reference points for navigation, if cloud ceilings safely clear ridgelines, if damp terrain neutralizes ridge lift effects, and if shifting wind direction or speed could negatively impact launch, cruising,approach, and landing parameters.

Selecting Appropriate Gear for the Conditions

Choose glider sizes and pilot skill levels appropriately for the forecasted winds. Select harnesses, helmets, and hook knives suitable for the expected conditions. Use insulated, waterproof outer garments and gloves to prevent hypothermia in cooler temperatures. Rig, inspect, and pack parachutes and reserves, accounting for higher humidity. Pack additional glycogen-rich nutrition. Prepare alternate communication devices for limited visibility and bring bright emergency signal devices, given reduced sunlight. Verify supplements for transparency and water protection.

Pre-Flight Preparations

Inspecting and Assembling Equipment

Conduct thorough preflight inspections of all primary gear and backup safety items per standard protocols, accounting for moisture exposure. Check the frame, sail fabric, lines, and risers for wear and tear, confirming helmets and hook knives function properly. Assemble, arrange, and adjust gear for ease of access and visibility during flight. Stow most critical backup safety items in easy reach rather than standard layouts to account for increased risks.

Packing Backup Safety Items

Prepare backup safety items like signal mirrors, emergency locator beacons, flare guns, fire starting kits, first aid supplies, and additional nutrition and hydration for quicker access. Waterproof containers are essential for critical electronics and perishable items. An emergency blanket and mylar sleeping bag provide insulation if you are forced to wait for rescue. Parachute deployment training items like handles, cutaway pillows, and weighted bags aid readiness in unstable conditions.

Filing Detailed Flight Plans

File detailed flight plans noting precise routes, contingencies for route deviations to avoid areas of high moisture or instability, estimated times for reaching various waypoints and landing zones based on reduced glide ratios in variable conditions, and instructions for overdue communications responses if weather forces early landing or delays.

Accounting for Variable Humidity and Temperature

Test fly humidity-sensitive gear like variometers, GPS units, and radios to ensure proper function when exposed to moisture. Practice inflation, kiting, and handling in damp conditions. Check helmet, glove, boot, and clothing breathability and insulative qualities across a range of expected temperatures. Prepare chemically activated hand and toe warmers as needed for cooler weather.

In-Flight Best Practices

Utilizing Instrumentation and Navigation Tools

Reference altitude readouts, variometers, GPS moving maps, and radar overlays are more frequently used while navigating by instrument than ground visuals alone. Monitor radar displays for pop-up showers or advancing fronts. Enable GPS breadcrumb tracking of exact routes. Use intermittent climb and descent to verify indicated vs. apparent altitudes when experiencing possible optical illusions in clouds. Prepare signaling devices for disorientation emergencies.

Maintaining Awareness of Potential Hazards

When visibility is lowered, continually scan the instrument panel and nearby airspace to maintain orientation. Be alert for shifting winds or increased turbulence, especially near ridges and structures. Log emergence time when entering clouds to track descent needs if inadvertently entering IMC. Be prepared to employ emergency landing procedures at all times should visibility or conditions deteriorate unexpectedly.

Executing Proper Control Inputs

Use smooth, controlled inputs on brakes and toggles to maneuver rather than quick reflex reactions. Anticipate needed directional adjustments for variable winds. Shallow-banked turns help maintain lift efficiency in unstable air. Keep hands lightly gripped and wings properly loaded to react quickly if downdrafts or shear occur. If experiencing collapses or entanglements, resist overcorrecting and carefully re-inflate, gently clear, or jettison reserve if unable to recover quickly.

Landing and Emergency Procedures

Performing PLF Landing Techniques

When landing in damp or muddy conditions, use proper PLF (parachute landing fall) techniques to avoid injury. Approach into the wind and, terrain permitting, flare early with smooth symmetric toggles to settle vertically onto mushy or slick terrain at the slowest controllable speed. Allow legs to buckle just before touching, then roll diagonally onto buttocks, sides, and backs, distributing impact across all limbs. Use additional padding, like knee or elbow braces, if the surface is unforgiving.

Managing Wing Entanglements and Parachute Issues

If experiencing parachute entanglements, collapses, or malfunctions on approach, deploy reserves immediately if unstable without rapid full recovery. If experiencing cravats or sail entanglements on the landing approach, prepare to PLF, keeping limbs tight, to avoid lines until stopped. Once grounded, systematically trace lines to locate them, then gently but decisively clear tangles before re-launching. Carry line cutters as the last resort for irremovable entanglements.

Self-Extrication and First Aid after Tree/Water Landing

Upon any emergency tree or water landing, quickly unbuckle harnesses and detach gear to reduce drowning and impact risks if tethered as gear settles. For tree landings, descend using proper climbing and rappelling gear and techniques once stable. Treat any punctures, fractures, or unconsciousness per wilderness first responder protocols. Dry clothing, external warming packs, hydration, and calorie replenishment are the first recovery priorities after safely reaching ground. Use signal devices to summon assistance if injuries or conditions prevent independent evacuation.

While damp and dreary days present unique hazards for paragliding, through proper risk assessment, specialized equipment preparation, in-flight precautions, and emergency response readiness, well-trained pilots can safely navigate less than ideal conditions. Apply these best practices so you can continue enjoying the freedom of flight even on those wet, overcast days.

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