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Dixon's Notes

11. Big Ears, Speed System

You may want to read through the previous "Dixon's Notes" to follow the terminology and concepts. You can order back issues of the magazine by contacting the USHGA, or me. The website also has a reprint of the articles.

Novice pilots(P-2) should be comfortable doing "big ears". "Big ears" or symmetrical tip folds is a pilot induced maneuver that should be a tool in your quiver, but you must realize the drawbacks. The advantages are plenty - you can achieve a higher sink rate, which may handy when trying to leave lifting air, a crowded sky, to avoid clouds, or descend into a tight landing zone. You'll also find that your glider is more solid in turbulence, more resistant to asymetricals.

There is some concern, although I've never witnesses this problem, that a glider in big ears may be prone to deep stall. I think this could be a problem if a pilot were attempting to hold big ears and use the brakes at the same time. With a small surface area creating lift a glider will stall at a higher speed. Big ears is achieved on most gliders by reaching up on the outside "A" lines, the ones that go the last open cells, and then pulling about 12 inches of line down towards you.

All Novice pilots (P-2) should be comfortable using their speed system, big ears, reserve parachute and doing circles (360's). Be sure your instructor helps you through these skills prior to accepting your license. Keep in mind that it's almost a given that pilots will need one, if not all, of these skills at some time. When flying without an instructor we often see Novice pilots flying in conditions they didn't know they were going to get; inexperience leads to an inadvertent lack of weather or site judgment. Being confident in your ability to use the above mentioned skills requires practicing them more than once, set a goal of practicing them until you "know" you can do them in an instant. This usually means no less than 20 repetitions. Be sure and re-try these skills in smooth conditions on a regular basis, especially if you haven't flown in a while.

Use of the speed system generally gives a glider 2 to 4 miles per hour in extra speed, which can make a difference in getting you where you need to go. The reality of finding your speed system in flight requires practice. While in a simulator keep in mind that your speed system isn't being blown back by the wind. You can often lean forward in your seat while reaching your heel to your bum and hook the bar/rope with your foot. If you still can't reach the bar/rope with your foot, then fly one handed, as reviewed in the previous article, and reach your free hand under the seat to find the rope/bar and hook it under your foot. When pushing out on your bar/rope it's important to have your hands at trim. Many gliders become less stable with the application of the speed system and applying the brakes can aggravate the instability. If you encounter turbulence be sure to return to normal trim and use your normal surge control techniques. Be careful to NOT push against your risers with your hands while applying the speed system, or at anytime, you still want your hands "floating", as reviewed in previous articles. Active piloting is always a must! Try and lay back while pushing on the speed system so you profile less of your torso to the wind. You're trying to fly fast with this configuration and a more aerodynamic position is desirable.

Symmetrical tip folds, a.k.a. "big ears", is an important skill that should also be easy for a pilot to install with ease. Big ears can help a pilot descend more quickly, target a small landing area and stabilize a paraglider in turbulence. Ideally a pilot would never need big ears by avoiding conditions that might force their use. Ideally a pilot would have the skill to use other descent and stabilizing techniques. The use of big ears is a two-edged sword, but there are times when it may be the best tool. More on this next time.

Dennis Pagen's new book "The Art of Paragliding" is an excellent resource and you can order it, along with other book and video resources at