I teach a 2 stage technique for landing a paraglider that I call the 7 - 5 - 3 technique.
In all of the following discussion, the height is estimated from the feet to the ground.
So, 7 feet is when your feet are 7 feet above the ground etc.
Editor's note: For the rest of us who think in meters, the sequence 2 - 1.5 - 1 is approximately the same. I'll include these figures in brackets from here on.
The 7 (2), 5 (1.5) and 3 (1) each represent the following:
7 (2) - Represents the minimum height that the feet are above ground, when you begin the first half of the flare. Although I use 7 feet (2m) in the description, the beginning of this can vary between 7 (2) and 10 ft (3m) above the ground.
The brakes are just beginning to be pulled downward.
The glider is just below the 7ft (2m) threshold.
5 (1.5) - Represents the height that the 2nd half of the flare begins. After pulling the brakes to chest height in the first half, you hold the brakes at this level until the glider begins to settle below this level. If the glider climbs a little or maintains its height after this initial flare, the pilot waits until the energy bleeds off from the glider and begins to descend below the 5 foot threshold. Then this occurs, the pilot should continue the flare. The speed of the continuation depends on the descent rate. The goal is to have a full flare not much lower than 3 ft (1m) over the ground (target is 2 to 3 ft).
Here the pilot is in the middle stage, waiting for his height to drop below the 5ft (1.5m) threshold before executing the 2nd half of the flare.
3 (1) - Represents the height you should have a full flare completed or mostly completed by. Please note, in windier situations, a full flare might be just slightly more than the first half of the flare.
This Pilot is below 3ft (1m) and has a full flare completed or nearly completed.
As you approach the ground during your final glide, begin pulling the brakes down from trim or near trim speed between 7 (2) to 10 feet (3m). After you reach mid-chest height, pause if the glider coasts or gains some altitude. If the glider continues to descend, continue to the second stage of the flare.
If the glider coasts or climbs from this, just pause and wait until you settle below 5 feet.
The speed of the second half of the flare needs to be adjusted to the speed you are descending. If you are coming down slowly, you can pull downward very gently as you finish the flare.
If you were coming down faster in stage 1 and the brakes did not slow your descent much or you are still coming down pretty fast after applying the brakes to chest level, you will need to be more aggressive in the final 1/2 of the flare. Try to time the finish of the flare to about 3 ft (1m) above the ground.
Landings vary based on the wind and conditions. In light or no winds (less than 5 mph or 8 kph), completing a full flare at 3 ft (1m) above the ground will achieve a nice and easy touchdown. The full flare will help to minimize the speed at which you will need to run as you touch down. In light winds this is very important.
In stronger winds of 8 mph (13 kph) or more, a full flare could pull you backwards and cause the wing to drag you after you flare. Instead of executing full arm extension in the flare, pull the brakes down just as much as needed from the chest position. As you practice, you can fine tune your feel to adjust how much brake to pull to adjust the rate of descent and forward speed.
In winds like this, you will not need to move much faster than a trot on landing and often will not have any forward speed at touchdown. As with all other aspects of flying, practice will help polish the techniques and feel. The concentration in any flare should be on rate of descent. If you focus on forward speed, you will miss the timing that ultimately makes for the softest landings.
Dividing the flare into two stages makes it easier to learn the timing. After you learn the feel and get familiar with the flare speed and descent speed management, you will not have to think about the specific heights anymore. As you practice landings, the flare will become fluid and will become one motion with varying speed throughout the flare. You will use a slower pull at first with a stronger pull at the end - progressive speed.
You will also learn how far to extend the flare with regard to wind conditions. You will use less pull in stronger winds and a full flare in any light wind situations.
What if you realize that you have started your full flare too early?
'Landing A Paraglider...' was reproduced from the original article 'Timing the Flare in Paragliding Landings' by Jeff Greenbaum, with permission. Jeff is the paragliding instructor behind Airtime of San Francisco.