Episode 37- The Groundhandling Podcast

Ground handling is the cornerstone of being a good, safe pilot. But of all the most important foundational building blocks you can practice it is often the most neglected. For many pilots “groundhandling” is pulling the wing up and getting off the hill. This is only the first step. Many of our listeners have asked for a specific ground handling episode and now here it is! Nik Hawks, former Navy dude who passes his time climbing Mt Whitney in sandals and running mellow events like the Leadville 100 and sailing from California to the Caribbean on a J22 contacted me after seeing the Rockies Traverse a year ago inspired him to learn how to fly. He’s thrown himself into the game with both feet and taken on the practice of ground handling seriously. But as a new pilot, he quickly became confused with the mixed information regarding ground handling. In this episode we turn the tables around and Nik takes my seat as the interviewer and we dig into the art form. We also talk about SIV and other methods that greatly increase our risk to safety margin.

Nik hosts his own adventure podcast called PaleoTreats and he and his wife make paleo based edibles that are TO DIE FOR. They are going to be a big part of my nutritional fuel and ammunition for the X-Alps. Nik had me on his show a few months ago, it’s a really fun listen and if you’ve ever wanted to know about some of the wacky shit I’ve participated in over the years and what led me down this cloudbase mayhem road, have a listen. Make sure to check out the show notes below for the links to some of the films and otherwise we mention in the show. And PLEASE check out Nik’s site, he’s an inspiring dude putting out awesome content and his company, Paleo Treats is something really special. Enjoy!

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Ground Handling Exercises with flyincanarias.com from Christian Fernandez on Vimeo.


Another really good one on flapping and groundhandling (you might recognize the voice over!):


Show Notes:

  • What does “good” ground handling mean?  Is some “dragging” inevitable? Is there some kind of progression beyond “stable over head, then helico”?  What’s in the middle of that?
  • Would you say that treating GH as almost a necessary evil to flying progression does disservice to all pilots?  If so, why do you think that it’s viewed as just a “stepping stone” rather than a fundamental?  I think this is a key point, as when I see expert pilots take off they don’t seem to want to ground handle a bunch first, its almost as if they’re too cool or that GH is for beginners.
  • What is (or should be) your ratio of ground handling to flying when you first start, say for your first 50 hours?  51-100, 101-500, 500+
  • I hear a lot of “go slow when you’re learning” from all the pros on the podcast, how does GH fit into that?
  • There’s a huge eagerness to get in the air and fly, but it seems like a bloody dangerous sport to be eager for.  Why do you think so many people ignore getting good at GH?
  • Is there any value in buying a separate GH wing that is smaller/faster/more maneuverable?

More flying related questions.  Some of these might sound stupid or too basic or easily Google-able, but I’m guessing for your brand-new-to-flying audience (like me) they might address the “There are no stupid questions” idea along with the mess of sorting out the *right* Google answer.  🙂

  • where are the breakdowns for hours flown = expertise in your mind?  I hear you say 50 hour and 500 hour pilot a bunch to refer to rank beginners on up to intermediate, are there any further break downs of that?
  • thoughts on really working to fly without instruments for as long as possible in order to develop that feel for the wing, for thermals, etc?
  • what does the “perfect” progression look like beyond the first flight school?  I get the P1-Pwhatever, but if you wanted to build a truly excellent pilot, I’ve been thinking about the following:

Flight school 

GH::flight ratio of 5::1 for the first 20 hours, 

an “intro” SIV (which may be different than a more advanced SIV?)   

another 30 hours of 5::1 flight/kite

then the 2nd SIV 

then an hour or two of basic acro

and then start to push into XC with a solid understanding of the wing, dynamics, recoveries, and reserve throws under your belt.

  • Over and over on your podcast I’ve heard that the mistakes come from not just pilot error, but easily preventable pilot error.  Is there a way to build a better system of teaching & learning to address that?  Maybe a mantra for flying?  
  • How have you not had any big accidents yet?  You’re flying big lines on an advanced wing.  What are your methods/rhythms/mantras during flight prep, takeoff, flight, pre-landing, landing?
  • What’s the difference between a 2 liner and a 3 liner?
  • What I’m hearing on “when to move up a wing” is basically “never” after an advanced EN-B wing for the “regular” pilot.  Why do so many people ignore that?
  • Paragliding in general seems like such a “feel” sport, but the attraction (at least for me) is that it’s a very technical sport in the sense of technique completely trumps fitness and strength.  Can we talk about how you learn the technique of something when it’s almost all “feel”?


Here’s my list of what I’m working on, lately I’ve been putting in about an hour a day, 5-7 days a week:

-Build a wall

-Prep for forward (layout, lines check, riser routing, CLEAN launch with kite absolutely straight over head)

-Prep for reverse (same as above)

-Cobra launch

-Spin L & R 180°

-Spin L & R 360°

-Holding position (standing still and keeping wing overhead)

-Moving left, right, forward, and backward under control

-Climbing, both objects and hills (I used my truck until I cracked the windshield.)  🙂

-Launch from rosette

-Kiting facing forward w/ kite forward

-Kiting facing forward w/ kite reversed

-Kiting facing backward w/kite forward

-Kiting facing backward w/kite reversed

-Collapses of one side, fly the other in control, inflate at will, facing both forward & reverse

-Big ears, forward & reverse

-Stall & recover, forward & reverse


-Kiss the ground with a wingtip, side to side, under control

-Kiss the ground then collapse the ground wingtip with A, then reinflate

-Frontal symmetrical collapse

-Helico via running start, up to 5’ high, hard on brake on one side, full weight on other, hard on opposite B (just saw this, haven’t tried it yet)


All of those (of course) depend on how much wind you have at your practice site.  No wind means lots of forwards.  🙂


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