Fail-Free Wingovers For Huck-Happy Paragliding Pilots

How to Keep It Safe While Retaining the Whee

Pilot Cynthia Currie digs into some gentle wingovers above a California beach.
Pilot Cynthia Currie digs into some gentle wingovers above a California beach. Image Courtesy Cynthis Currie

A bowtie is a fetching accessory, sure -- if it’s not over your head while you’re flying.

A para-bowtie -- dubbed a “cravat” by the ever-so-literal French -- is no joke. It’s likely to send you spinning swiftly downward.

Statistically, most pilots give themselves these dapper decorations when they crack into that most inviting of acro maneuvers: the wingover. As inviting as wingovers are, they’re tricky: if you mis-time a wingover, it’s very easy to get yourself into a situation that asks more skill to exit than it does to enter. (Think of it as a smooth, shiny revolving door with a snake pit on the other side.)

While Nice Wingovers Look Easy, They – Y’know – Aren’t

In order to pull it off, the pilot needs to be able to manage his/her wing on all three axes (pitch/roll/yaw) in a dancerly coordination of inputs. When bungled, a wingover leads pretty much automatically to a big ol’ cravat. These can be hard to disentangle even on a beginner glider. Problematically, it’s the beginner gliders that seem to see most of the wingover-to-cravat action, as the pilots thereof have enough confidence to give wingovers a shot (but the skinniest skill-set to extricate themselves from a botch-up).

1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

On paper, wingovers sure don’t sound so bad. After all, they’re basically just a series of linked sashaying turns: left, right, left, right, left, right. They have a beginner-enticing entrance action, too: the pilot can start timidly, softly tilting the wing this way and that, until he/she gathers the cajones to get deeper.

Unfortunately -- as in so many things -- when it gets deeper, things can very easily get weird.

2. Know your enemy.

The critical moment in a wingover lies at the crest of each turn. The pilot needs to nail the wing movement so the wing turns smoothly into the downward movement at the precise top of its climb.

All the while, that pilot needs to keep those lines at a tidy tension. If anything goes slack up there, you’ve got yourself a collapse. And, with the wing at that steep angle, the collapsed bit tends to dive straight into the lines and hang on tight. The result: a kerfuffle. A nasty little kerfuffle.

3. Know your steed.

New glider? Downsize? Borrowed kit? Beware. You can expect every glider to require a different depth and speed of brake application for ​well-coordinated wingovers. To avoid a compromising situation, make sure you’re very familiar with the wing you’re swinging through the sky.

4. Gimme a hell yaw.

I’m preaching to the choir when I say that paragliding wings are cleverly designed bits of kit, but muse upon this magic for a moment: these wings are built to point naturally in the direction they’re flying, as elegantly as a weathervane. Cool, huh? This characteristic makes the wing’s yaw axis a non-issue most of the time.

During a wingover, however, that ain’t so. A wingover necessitates confident pilot input to manage the yaw because a glider pitches and yaws when you apply the brake -- and the scope of that yaw directly depends on the speed and depth of the brake pull.