The Torpedo Launch

© Jeff Greenbaum

Back in the late 80s to early to mid 90s there was no such thing as a torpedo launch.

For forward launches almost everyone launched with their A risers in front of the shoulders and just leaned into them as the wing ascended.

Following this, the pilots would run down the hill with a slight forward lean to the body, keeping the brakes as high as possible. Following a reverse inflation and the turn for facing forwards, the run and position was the same.

Torpedo launching - 1.
Torpedo launching - 2.

Running without a torpedo has tradeoffs. It is hard to lean forward and keep the brakes up all the way.
Without the lean, there is not as much power to accelerate.
Photo: Andy Stocker

My first perception of the torpedo position was that it seemed unnecessary. I thought, since you are running down a hill and can do long strides anyway, what good would this position do to help you run faster. Gravity should do most of the work, I thought. I was stubborn in my perception of this for several years. Then, at an instructor clinic several years ago, the torpedo launch technique was thoroughly introduced to me. With this introduction and practice, I soon learned the many reasons why this technique is so much better than the old style launches.

The goals of the torpedo style launch are:

  • To get the upper torso in front of your legs so that the legs can better power and accelerate the body during the running portion of a launch
  • To have the brakes in a position that will allow no pull during the launch run. With the upper body leaning radically forward, it becomes extremely difficult to keep the brakes near the pulleys with the standard position. That is, arms up and above or near the head. In the torpedo, the arm position is much better.
  • To keep the body's center of gravity close to the ground. This allows the legs to be fully loaded and improve a pilot's ability to run during the launch.
Torpedo launch - 3.

Note the accentuated forward bend, hands - up and back,
body low to ground. Photo: Andy Stocker

After a forward inflation or turn transition in a running reverse launch prior to dropping into the torpedo, check the wing. Make sure that it is not off to the side and is pitch stable. That is, not too far forward or back. You can continue to steer and make minor adjustments in the torpedo, but it is better to make primary adjustments prior to dropping into the full torpedo position.

When you are ready to drop into the torpedo, you need to transition your arms from a standard flying position to them being above and behind your back. To do this, try to keep your hands up and roll your elbows out as you bend your torso forward.

To get the full benefits from a torpedo, you have to really lean forward at the waist. This position is a bit uncomfortable, especially at first. Your belly leans over the waist belt of the harness and should be placing most of your weight on such. The goal here is to fully load the glider and keep your upper torso closer to the ground so that you can run longer to gain more speed.

It's important to get your weight closer to the ground in the beginning. Otherwise, when the wing begins lifting, it will be very difficult to run at the end when acceleration is paramount. Also, if you don’t bend fully at the waist, the arms will not be high enough and the brakes will be pulled because of this.

The hand position can be done a couple different ways in a torpedo launch. I prefer to turn my hands so that the fingers hold the brake toggles up, allowing the easiest access to getting the brakes higher for full release. I have also found that in this position, I can bend my elbows slightly to help this. Once you get comfortable with the body position, you can play with your hand positions to see what works best for you.

Torpedo launch - 4.

Note that the fingers are up in this photo.
To get the brakes up even further, you can grab the bottom of the brake toggles with the tips of the fingers.

The reason the torpedo works is really quite simple. Physics dictates that to push a mass, you must have leverage to do so. Having the upper body in front of the legs is how this is achieved with a torpedo. Take a bowling ball and hold it straight above your head and try to accelerate. This will demonstrate to you that you need to have leverage to move a mass.

The torpedo launch also works when trying to get to the cliff edge when it is windy. I watch pilots all the time that basically get stuck on a windy day and sometimes can’t make it forward to the cliff. In this situation, they have little weight on their feet so the combination of no weight and no leverage add up to failure to be able to move forward. This situation is perfect to practice the torpedo position. I can pretty much guarantee you that in the torpedo, you will be able to go forward much more easily than trying to do so in a standard, non-torpedo stance. Of course, your kiting has to be good already before trying this.

Torpedo launch - 5.

Once in the air following a torpedo launch, remain in the same position, ready to run again should you come back down slightly.

'The Torpedo Launch' was reproduced from the original article 'Torpedo Launches for Paragliding' by Jeff Greenbaum, with permission. Jeff is the paragliding instructor behind Airtime of San Francisco.


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