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Speed Flying
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Speed Flying
Speed flying is a general term for flying smaller canopies that are typically 8-14 square meters (85-150sqft), known as speedgliders.
Friday, 23 April 2010


Monday, 20 September 2010 by Jim Slaton

"Speedriding" or "Speedflying" (see is a mixture of flying and skiing: Small gliders with a low 
glide-ratio are used to descent the slopes doing shorter and longer hops and flights.This sport is not really 
new:  Skydivers have been ground-launching their wings for many years -> See History. Since then
there were always some people using small free-fall canopies to make long jumps while descending the 
slopes with skis.

But in the winter of 2005/06, this idea has gained a lot of momentum, triggered by some cool videos,
especially the "Ataka!" Video. By the end of the winter, two specifically designed Speedriding wings were
commercially available (Gin Nano, J/N Hellracer) and more photos and videos came up. Over the summer, 
more manufacturers have developed special wings: Now there is a large range of wings available and the 
style of flying that they are designed for differs a lot.

The terms "Speedriding" and "Speedflying" are often used interchangeably, but it makes much sense to distinguish the style within the range of small wings: Some are thought strictly for skiing (riding) use and they
are specifically designed for a low glide-ratio (controlled by trimmers), so the skis stay close to the ground.
Other wings have a better glide-ratio and can be foot-launched even in nil-wind conditions, but the pilot is
rather 'flying over' than 'riding on' the ground. These wings are also very interesting for mountaineers as they
are very light (some less than 2.5kg) and allow descends even in stronger winds, and they can be flown without a reserve, saving even more weight.  If you're unsure whether this is a sport for you, you can read this very good post in the PG-Forum by Paul. I think it gives a lot of truths about the risks involved and the mindset you should have.  This webpage gives an overview of the speedy wings on the market as of January '07. If you have news / corrections to my page: Please send me a mail!

General Speedflying Websites:

  • : Daniel Kalberer has written great articles on Speedriding and a
    Test of Nano & Hellracer which was published in a shorter version in Gleitschirm-Magazin.

  • The Swiss speedflyers: only Gin-Nano focused unfortunately...

  • : These guys have fun with some Gin Nanos and even try a summer-launch

  • French website with news on the topic



If you watch the videos linked above, you might get the impression that flying mini-wings is a very dangerous sport, more dangerous than the big, regular paragliders. But in fact, if a few points are taken into account, flying the minis can be safer than the regular ones. With paragliders, there are usually 3 situations that are more dangerous: 1) start  2) collapses 3) landing.  Due do the high wing loading and the much more tolerant wing profile, collapses are virtually unknown when flying miniwings unless you use them in horrible wind-conditions. Even if provoked, a collapse would open fast without much disturbance. So if you start and land on skis, stay away from the terrain during the flight and work a bit on your landing technique, then you could try one of  these mini-wings with a relatively low risk (but still with great fun!)
The problems only begin when you go from Speedflying (staying above the ground) to Speedriding (Touch and Go's with your skis) as very good judgment is needed how your glide path will come out, wether you will make it over that rock or tree or wether you might hit the ground in a curve etc.  Great caution and discipline is necessary: you should learn to know your wing step-by-step, before you start to touch the ground more often.

Footstarting mini-wings

The other thing I found rather difficult is footstarts (groundlaunching) in low-wind conditions. Without the skis you cannot just run fast enough for a start like before. Now the timing has to be very exact or you are bound to hit the ground at real high speed while running. Note that you should not attempt to footstart the real Speedride wings with a glide-ratio lower than ~5.
From the list above the Nervures Swoop, Bio-Air Skim and Swing Speedy are the Speedflyersthat are suitable for foot-starts. The manufacturers of the others even write in their manual that footstarts should not be attempted!

The following tips cannot and should not replace a proper 'live' training by a good instructor.
Most manufacturers sell their wings only to people that have passed a formal training on their
speedriders and there is already initiatives underway to get an independent certification for your
skills after such a training. Nevertheless it cannot hurt to prepare your mind for what you can expect before visiting such a training. 
Speedriding with skis and a larger Speedrider (~14m²) is a good & safe way to learn. If you don't
have the chance to learn in the snow, there is a couple of things that you should keep in mind before trying a foot-launch with these small wings: (Foot-Launch should only be tried with wings
that have a better glide-ratio (~1:5), on the list above maybe down to the Ski'M)

  1. For the start, you usually close the trimmers (be careful, some wing have a tendency to fall down behind you while running, if the trimmers are closed to far and you add a little break!). Start: walk (wind) or run (no-wind) with the A-Lines in your hand, then pull the brakes ~50% shortly and feel the caps position above you. Reverse starts are also possible. Now comes the acceleration phase: In low-wind conditions, good timing is critical: You have to develop a feeling for how much brake the wing wants. Usually these mini-wings like to run very freely ahead during the acceleration phase, and right when you feel that it develops good lift, you should add some brake to be lifted away. This can
    require as little as 3 quick steps and you are airborne.
  2. Important: Once you left the ground, release the brakes slowly or you'll dive right back into the ground, (unless the takeoff is really steep)!
  3. For the first flights while playing in the air it is best to leave the trimmers in a rather closed position. Later you can open them, but be prepared that the behavior to go into curves changes a bit.
  4. Most of these wings are extremely agile! They react very sensitive to brake input and weight-shift! For your first flights remember: If the roll (left-right swinging) starts to get too much without intention, then do not try to correct it actively as you will only make it worse! Breathe deeply, hold both brakes at ~30% and wait! I did this by holding on with my hands to the risers.
  5. For landingcheck in the manual if you should open or close the trimmers
    The Swoop likes open trimmers for example, as you need the speed to flare out. 
    You approach in a straight line, and you will see the ground approach quickly with 
    a ~1:3 glide at a speed of 65Km/h...Sounds scaring? It is scaring the first time! 
    But resist the urge to pull the brakes too early (!!!) as you need that speed to flare. 
    When you are only ~2-3m high, gradually pull the brakes so your sink stops and you 
    just go level over the ground. Don't pull more than that or you will go up again and have 
    a tough fall at the end. When you feel that almost all the energy is used up, pull the final
    brake-range to stall the wing. This should leave you with a still-standing landing (or just a
    few steps).
    Later, you can also try to make a slight turn (90degree) into the landing field just before the
    landing, to add even more more speed and allow longer flairs (fun!). After you gain some
    experience with the amount of altitude you loose with such a turn (~20 Landings), you can
    also try to do a "Hook-Turn" of 180 degrees to allow longer flairs. Note, that this is a
    dangerous game if you miscalculate the height. Better not to experiment with these turns too early!

It takes some discipline to remember 2) 4) and 5) in the real-life experience, as your instincts might want to tell you otherwise. Better trust your discipline in this case and not your instincts! ;-)

The feeling in flight is awesome: The air is rushing around you and the lines begin to sing. Curves can be varied from gentle turns (weight completely on the outside) to fast (weight neutral) or superfast-hooks (weight + brake). The first variant is suitable for soaring without loosing too much altitude. On sharper turns, you will dive down and get lower quickly.A 360 curve turns into a spiral quickly, but the forces on your body are much gentler than on a wing with long lines.
I was a bit afraid when the first thermals of the day caused some turbulences, as the wing dashes back&forth, left&rigth quickly when flying at trimspeed. Putting on some brake as in 4) will calm it down a bit, but if you have enough altitude, adding speed by doing some curves / turns will make it really stable.

Places to go Speedriding

In general, you shouldn't do Speedriding on slopes where normal Skiers are skiing.
The damage to the sports reputation would be horrible, if a skier would get hurt by a Speedrider. 
So look for areas that are ideally off-piste (powder-snow) in order to not hassle the skiers.

Skiing Resorts that specifically allow speedriding and/or have special areas for that:

  • Val Fréjus (FR),
  • Val Thorens (FR),
  • les Sept Laux (FR)
  • Verbier (CH)

Skiing Resorts that seem to tolerate Speedriding:

  • Tignes (FR)
  • St Hilare du Touvet (FR) (yes, there's a little ski resort there too). 


As said in the intro, the sport of speedriding is not new, just the name & popularity is new!
Skydivers have been starting their wings on the hills for many years calling that "ground-launching"   Here you can find a nice summary of the history:

Related Sports:

Monday, 20 September 2010 by Jim Slaton
Monday, 20 September 2010 by Jim Slaton
Monday, 20 September 2010 by Jim Slaton


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Jim Slaton, Wednesday, 25 August 2010 16:44
Jim Slaton
Embed code for Will Burks Speed Flying Video...

<embed src="" Width="640" Height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" flashvars="flvpHeight=360&flvpWidth=640&flvpVideoSource=" />
Jim Slaton, Wednesday, 25 August 2010 16:43
Jim Slaton
Here is a video that was shown on WILL BURKS SPEED FLYING IN SUN VALLEY...

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