Advance Sigma 8 review

The Sigma 8 is supposed to be “a top-performance intermediate with a high fun-factor … with sportiness and dynamic handling paired with performance”. In other words it’s intended for the majority of the kind of pilots that leave the hill and go exploring. We’ve been around a few years and we’ve seen the marketing hype before. We probably aren’t going to buy a wing without being outflown by it first, so it has to really deliver on its promises and be a pleasure to fly…

Introduction, Construction & Launching

I’ve had some soaring and thermaling flights on the Sigma 8, and a few short XCs. I’ve done enough reviewing now to be able to judge the character of a wing just by sniffing it. I don’t need more than a few hours of testing to know a dog from an angel, or what their weaknesses will be. Performance is a different matter, and without a team, big sites and many hours, I can’t honestly give you more than a guess, so there I’ve referred only to Thermik Magazine’s meticulous test results, which confirm my experience of performance across a broad range of wings I’ve flown. 

Introduction
The Sigma 8 is supposed to be “a top-performance intermediate with a high fun-factor … with sportiness and dynamic handling paired with performance”. In other words it’s intended for the majority of the kind of pilots that leave the hill and go exploring. We’ve been around a few years and we’ve seen the marketing hype before. We probably aren’t going to buy a wing without being outflown by it first, so it has to really deliver on its promises and be a pleasure to fly.

Construction *****
Advance has a reputation for quality. I was blown away by the design and construction of their recent Lightness harness, so had high expectations of the Sigma 8. Nylon wires in the leading edge, unsheathed upper lines, 3 slim risers and at 5.6 kg almost a kilogram lighter than the Sigma 7; all these design evolutions keep pace with the modern trends, but the detailing that goes into the Advance construction is significant and will probably only be noticed in a few years of use. More about that on the Advance website if you’re interested. Overall, it looks very clean, very sturdy and … refined.

Launching *****
Unbelievably simple. Anyone that criticises the pull-up should let go of the As and just let the glider do its thing. In most conditions, I found the best pull-up was with just a heavy step into wind. No As required. This kind of behaviour can sometimes result in a glider that is impossibly fast in strong wind, but somehow Advance have designed an aerofoil that works its magic across all wind ranges. In strong wind it comes up fast then slows down all by itself, allowing for easy kiting. It doesn’t hang back, as some wings do, it just slows down. A dab on the brakes can control it from a slight overshoot on steeper slopes. Perfect. I’m a pilot who enjoys kiting up tricky slopes and launching in odd places. Because the Sigma 8 stays ‘alive’ in most positions on the pullup arc, it can be manoeuvred around at any angle you want and doesn’t need continual fussing about on the As. If there was a ground-handling competition, this is the wing I’d choose.

Handling & Safety

 

Handling ****
The brakes are light at first, but there’s a definite pull from ¼ brakes onwards. There is no tendency to spin, or to dive into turns. Cornering gave me the impression of power-steering control; it’s very smooth. Weight-shift has little effect on turns, it will bank a bit more but then that’s it … you are simply encouraged to circle in the efficient medium-radius turn. It’s the kind of wing you could clip the brake to your ‘biner and just read your map for a while – in the light stuff, when it goes around best with just light inside brake pressure. 

In narrow punchier thermals I wanted to get a tighter slower turn … you must not be afraid to put that brake in! It will give you a bit more, but it has a design that ‘calms things down’. If you want to do acro or wang about the sky, you’ll have to work it. It will bank, but not crank. Efficient thermaling for sure, but not what I expected from the ‘sporty, dynamic handling’ blurb. I’d suggest ‘power-steering control that will make you smile’ instead. It is a well-rounded wing, with an easy safe turn … and it is by no means dead in the hand. It is clearly designed to appeal to the middle of the EN C class. It won’t frighten anyone with a sudden spiral as they drop out of the lift. It’s reassuring, and therefore easy to recommend. 

As you approach lift it doesn’t accelerate into the thermal but equally it doesn’t pitch back much when you fly into the lift – it is pitch stable. This means you have to wait a moment and don’t immediately have energy at hand to hook a turn. Once again, this reassuring behaviour makes it a good choice to upgrade to.

Safety ****
You can cruise along, hands off, but there is toned-down feedback going on all the time, which for those who want to listen can be useful. In grotty air (gliding into a thermic seabreeze) it seemed to make small yawing adjustments to choose its own line through the air, which at first I tried to counteract, then I learned to trust the wing and just let it cruise at best glide. If you’re expecting a rock-solid glide you’ll be surprised at first, then delighted as you outglide the others. You know how a cat will shift its head from side to side to better eye its prey? Seems to me that’s what the Sigma 8 is doing, sizing up the best glide path; it shifts

What can be added by a reviewer after the thorough EN C testing is dubious, but I didn’t discover any funny behaviour when abusing the big-ears, throwing big collapses at it, flying it too slowly, or trying to spin it. It can take a real hammering and comes back quickly, on its own, with a tendency to bang out quickly before any course change has occurred. There’s enough feedback to allow you to pilot actively through turbulent air, so most of the time you will avoid folding fabric. Only asymmetric collapses on the smaller sizes with heavy loading show limited EN C behaviour on paper. The larger sizes would be rated B but for the short-medium brake travel. The 25 needs to be turned out of deep spiral dives. No causes for concern – all in all a well-designed wing with a wide safety margin.

Speedbar & Performance

Speedbar *****
The pulleys first give you a 3:1 system, then become 2:1 (harder to push). This is nice because you have less power when your legs are bent, but extended flying on a 2:1 pulley can become tiring. However, the full speedbar pressure is quite comfortable. Most pilots will be able to use the full pulley range that shorten the As by 14cm (and because this is a 3 liner, this really speeds things up). If your legs are short, just adjust the gearing balls to favour the 2:1 travel. That’s something useful you won’t find on most wings. 

The speedbar has a good useable range, but in the last 1/3, the outer wing sections become noticeably less stable in active air. I’d recommend flying on the back risers to rein it in if you get the slack-tip feeling. In a rough-conditions race-into-goal the Sigma might lose its tips, but it’s just a nuisance, it doesn’t upset the rest of the wing. This is probably as a result of being trimmed for high performance. It’s a compromise I think Advance have judged well. On the one hand, pilots in this class using full speed bar are often not racing – they are trying to get out of trouble, so perhaps less glide and more stability on full bar would have been better. On the other hand, if you take heed of the SPI information and you’re competing against your mates, you’ll love it. 

It is possible to overrun the pulleys a bit to get a whipping fast glide, and I must mention that this is the most unafraid I have felt flying on full speedbar on any wing. 

Performance *****
The Speed Performance Indicator is worth mentioning. It’s a bit of calibrated webbing (different for each size) sewn on the back risers which shows you two speedbar positions, 30% and 80%, with a few numbers beside them to remind you of the relevant factors. “With a headwind of 10.5 km/h or an expected next climb of 0.4 m/s (on vario) or a sink rate of 1.4 m/s (on vario) set the 30% position. If two or more of these values apply at the same time you can already use the 80% position.” This was astounding. I trust that Advance have done months of testing to develop this speed-to-fly reference, and it indicates that the wing should basically be flown at almost full speed bar on every glide. On most good XC days, I would expect at least 1 m/s thermals ahead, and I’d always be in a little sink on the glides, which would mean best flying speed is at 80% bar. The trimmed-for-performance tips begin to make sense. You can fly fast – you’re supposed to fly fast. 

The previous model had a best glide of 8.9, and this one is significantly better at 9.5 and I’d expect there’s been a bigger jump in glide at speed. This puts it in the top of its class, almost matching the Ozone Delta on dead-air glide and equalling many of the latest EN Ds like the Gradient XC3, the Gin GTO and surprisingly, the Advance Omega 8 (released only 6 months earlier). However, in real life comparison, I found that the Omega 8 pulled ahead slightly on into-wind accelerated glides. No surprises there, it’s a logical result of the lower aspect ratio and deeper aerofoil. 

However compared to its predecessor, the Sigma 8 has a higher aspect ratio (6 compared to 5.6), shorter lines and a higher recommended wing loading (1m2 smaller for the same weight). And with the risers reduced from 4 to 3, it’s definitely a step ahead to a more agile, responsive, high performance wing. I flew the Sigma 7 and found it to be noticeably more docile and a bit too stable for my liking. The 8 is sweet!

Summary*****

It’s an angel. It will keep you safe while exploring your limits. It requires some experience to get the most out of its quiet feedback and potential to be flown beyond its ‘calm zone’, but while you’re developing your skills it will keep you up with the pack without a doubt. I found the best climbing turn with a strong pull on the inside brake and a fairly constant dab of outside brake applied. In lighter thermals it will zoom around merrily on just a touch of inside brake. Everything about it is measured and predictable yet there’s enough life left to make it feel really good in the air. You’ll be kept busy when on speedy glides in active air, which is where you can make the most of its performance. Work within its parameters and it will reward you with efficient turns and controlled pitch and roll, but to get it firing on all cylinders you’ll need timing and finesse. Overall, the wing makes a pilot feel unafraid. I was left in no doubt that this is one of the top ‘sports class’ wings of 2011 and there is very little to be improved upon except for the fruit salad colour scheme. The Sigma 8 must be considered if you’re looking for safety, ease of use and performance in equal measures. 

More about the Sigma 8

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