We’ll start off with one of the most serious issues in hang gliding. …The nose angle throughout the entire launch. If you have had any issues of nose pops on launch, then these pointers may help.
First, let’s agree that there is nothing more important while launching, than launching correctly. What else could anyone possibly be concerned about?
A smart pilot will understand the necessary nose angle to fit the launch site and the wind conditions. A flat slope launch in no wind will require a higher nose angle than a cliff launch in strong wind. You should understand where you want your nose before you ever step up to launch with your glider. This should be part of your flight plan. If you are unsure, spend some time with a good instructor.
When looking at your launch and the wind conditions, also take note on the wind flow at different points of the launch run. Here at Lookout, our launch is a cliff launch that starts with a gentle flat run, like a flat slope. By the time a pilot has reached lift off point, the slope has steepened to a cliff launch. This indicates that a headwind would be blowing mostly horizontally on the top back portion of the ramp, but will be blowing upward, vertically out at the lower edge of the cliff. This means that the angle of attack changes the further out you get on the ramp. In this case, we want to have our nose angle and angle of attack lower to accommodate the upward flowing air on the end of the ramp. If you don’t understand this, stop by the shop and we can demonstrate in person.
After you have decided where you want your nose angle to be on launch, now we need to execute the plan. I have shown many people their nose angle on launch and very often, the nose angle is higher than they think from the very start. If your nose angle starts out high, it’s probably not going to get better. If you are in doubt, you can have a buddy or instructor check your nose angle for you. This can be done off to the side somewhere long before you are ready to launch.
Let’s talk about controlling the nose angle on the run. At this point it’s mostly a simple matter of paying attention and seeing it through all the way! Control the angle with your hands; drive the hang glider forward with your shoulders. Start slow and smooth, accelerate quickly. Control the nose angle while keeping the wing balanced. Much has been written and discussed about the proper grip during the run. That’s all good. I don’t need to rewrite all that here. It is extremely important to have a target. Choose a point on another mountain or across the horizon, but have something to keep your focus higher than the ground below you. I don’t want to rewrite the entire chapter on launching here, so let’s focus on an important point that some folks are missing.
The point is proper mental attitude and proper body attitude (posture) on the run. The mental attitude is very simply that you are going to control that wing until you have run at least 3 steps into the air toward your target. The launch is not over until you have at least 3 steps in the air. That means no jumping, no putting your feet in the harness, no diving to the base tube…until you have run 3 steps into the air. No looking at your buddy thermalling, no completely letting go of the down tubes, no turning down the ridge…until you have run 3 steps into the air toward your target. The simple act of mentally staying in launch mode longer (than you think you need) will ensure proper control of angle of attack at the last minute, when you need it the most.
We don’t hear much about body posture, but it may be the leading factor for nose pops. We know to drive with our shoulders and lean with our chest forward. I see some people not leaning forward enough, but more often, I see people leaning so far forward that their feet can’t keep up with them. This leads to falling into the glider prematurely and invariably pushing out on the down tubes, thus popping the nose. This usually happens just at the end of the ramp and therefore the cause may be blamed on simply pushing out or carelessness. Those are true statements, but not the root cause of this particular problem. The root cause is leaning too far forward and going prone too soon.
Instead, focus on running with your chest forward, but not facing downward. Run like you are on The Baywatch TV show. Once again, you can practice this on flat ground. If you are running so far forward that your feet can’t keep up, then you are headed for a poor launch, tripping, looking down and losing awareness of nose angle. As kids, we’ve all raced down a hill and tried to run so fast that our feet couldn’t keep up with our bodies. Down we went in a tumble. This is essentially what is happening to many pilots that jump into their glider on launch. This is going prone too soon. When this is the case, you may try to keep running 3 steps in the air, but it’s near impossible. And you can try not changing your grip, but it too is near impossible because your brain detects you falling face first and says push out! However, if you continue a body attitude that allows your feet to stay underneath you and keep running, than your leg straps will carry your weight. This leaves your hands available to fly the glider and not push out or bear your weight.
How do you know how much to lean forward. Just imagine what angle it would take you to run down that slope if it was slippery with no glider. When you run down a slippery slope, you lean forward enough to keep your feet from slipping out from under you. The steeper the slope the farther you can lean forward.
Focus on your launch. Understand your launch and conditions before you are hooked in. Keep your mental attitude and your body attitude in launch mode until after you have run 3 steps into the air. If you aren’t perfect, then practice. If you need help, just ask.