As well as it's spots, The leopard (Panthera pardus) is distinguished by its opportunistic hunting behaviour, strength, and its ability to adapt to a variety of habitats including arid and mountain areas. It can move at speeds of up to 58 kilometres per hour (36 mph). Phil Clark takes delivery of his Gin Leopard (high-end EN-D 2-liner) and takes to the skies.
After years on a EN-D 3 liner (Advance OMEGA 8), I'd been flirting with a CCC 2 liner (Ozone Enzo 3) for the last 18 months, perpetually torn between full competition race kit and a hike-and-fly setup. I liked the 2 liner enough to change my ultralight pod harness (Advance LIGHTNESS) to a full-race pod harness (Genie Race 4). The GR4 made flying a lot easier, but due to family and work commitments, I struggled to keep the currency where it needed to be for the Enzo 3 so I decided to stop kidding myself and let it go.
But I still liked the 2 liner feel and handling, so was more inclined to get a high end EN D 2-liner style of wing (e.g. Ozone Zeno, Niviuk Peak 4) as opposed to an EN D 3-liner like the Ozone Mantra M7 or Triple Seven King. Advance have the new OMEGA XALPS 3 (EN-D) coming out, but as much as it had the Nitinol reinforcement and no packing issues, I wanted more cells (more performance) and a heavier cloth (more durable, lower cost).
The Gin Leopard ticked all my spots. I really liked the Gin GTO 2 when I reviewed it but there wasn't enough of a step in performance to justify the switch then. I was optimistic that the Leopard would be just the thing I wanted: enough of a step but not as demanding as a CCC wing. All up I am at 96 kg (more when I carry water), so I chose to fly the small size (85-102 kg).
Gin Leopard: construction
The risers are quite stiff and easy to sort with only two central A lines plus a baby A and stabilo on a ratio system. The three B lines are all looped (to allow for easy trim corrections) and the T bar handles are in a comfortable position. The brake line doesn't have a swivel, instead the line runs through a low friction ring. The brakes have nice clunky magnets for securing to the risers.
The glider came with a packing pillow but I'm actually wrapping it around the front of my harness with just one fold to get it into an XXL Gin bag. The rods are quite thick around the first 50cm from the leading edge, the thinner rods then run for much of the rest of the chord. I plan to leave the glider in a concertina pack when I'm not flying and also to alternate the direction of the single fold when I do pack into the rucksack.
Gin Leopard: in the air
Pulling up in a reverse launch was much more like the Omega 8 (steady, measured) than the Enzo 3 (demanding) and after a short time handling the wing on the ground I launched for a few short flights. Winds were quite light and the lift was predominantly thermic so it took a little while for me to really feel I could crank it up (I was flying on a low shallow ridge, covered in bushes and trees).
I finally got up to about 1300 ft / 400 m AGL in rough 2-3 m/s climbs. Not the ideal day for a new glider but certainly good enough to highlight strengths or shortcomings over the hour.
I found it climbed well, had a good turn of speed at trim, responded well to weight shift in the turn as well as initiating the turn. Somewhere between the Enzo 3 and Zeno in terms of how solid it felt but nowhere near as aggressive as the Enzo with its behaviour when partially loaded. I didn't try the speed bar or any extreme attitudes. I did overshoot the first top landing though, that's usually a good sign!
Gin Leopard: first impressions
I still need to experiment with speed, handling at speed, wingovers, stall point, forward launch and such but first impressions of the Gin Leopard are very good. Easier to launch, nicer to turn, plenty of energy retained but mellow enough (for the class) and full of purrr-romise. Gotta have at least one cat pun! [Editor: purrfect.]
Gin Leopard: update 1
Two word review... "Freakin' amazing!!!"
On Monday I dragged my sorry carcass up Tal-y-bont in the Brecon Beacons in southeast Wales, with race harness, regular wing, 2x reserves plus water (Leopard and Race 4 kit comes to 23kg). The winds were light, fickle conditions but easy launching and climbed well, stupendous glide back from the far side at the end of the day.
Tuesday, rough trashy air at Mount Caburn (a small hill) in East Sussex, lots of short flights to total an hour but the glider handles it well. Launch is easy for the class, much easier than the Ozone Enzo 3, Ozone Zeno, Niviuk Peak 4 and UP Meru, definitely on a par with the Advance OMEGA 8 there, can't quite bump it up without pulling A's though but it doesn't have that pow-ee kind of snatch to it when you bring it up. Another short stint with the speed bar and it feels kinda heavy but it's okay. B control again is heavy (compared to the Enzo 3) but good.
Wednesday had a work thing to do out on trails with mountain bikes, managed to fall off a bunch, I'm much safer going flying!
Thursday, epic day at Dunstable Downs hills in Bedfordshire. First flight, turned left and sailed over the hump to reach the power lines with ease, normally that's quite tricky and needs a certain level of caution / commitment. Feeling totally comfortable with the level of crank that can be applied to the turns now. It goes where you want and when you want but appreciates the airflow over the wing, best to keep the speed up. Second flight saw me a few kilometres upwind with a long glide on bar, half to three quarters is as much as I've pushed but that's quick enough, with a fair reserve of speed too. Ratchet pulleys in the harness definitely help maintain speed bar position.
Friday, another day cut short in order to get the kids from school but I launched as soon as I could and didn't land until I had too, almost all of the flight was out of ridge lift. Nailed the spot landing today too!
Longest flight so far at just over 80 mins... education theories suggest it's best to learn in small doses, it's why I've had more little flights than one 10 hour epic. Now I feel ready for the long flights and although Friday was fairly mellow Thursday it was about as boisterous as it gets in the UK, the glider was totally cool and much more manageable than the CCC class. It's not a 'hands off, mucking about with cameras, fly it through anything' kind of glider though. It does need you to pay attention but in that respect I'd say it's an ideal step into the 2-liner world to bridge the gap between Bonanzas and Boomerangs. I like that it's a little heavy, in that it then cuts you more slack if you're a bit too ham-fisted with it (within reason). You still need some subtlety and finesse but not as much as you do with the Enzo 3. I think it's between Enzo 3 and Zeno in terms of demands on the pilot and general feel. Everyone says it looks lovely but I've only seen it from underneath.
It's been a long time since I landed with that much grin on my face and now done so twice in two days. I certainly don't feel I'm missing out from not having the Enzo 3 because the Leopard is such an all round great piece of kit and I'm very, VERY happy.
Gin Leopard: update 2 (04/10/2020)
It takes a while to really get to know a wing inside out (hopefully it stays inside in!), and how it behaves in 'sporty' flying conditions. Having flown his Leopard for a good while now, including a paragliding trip to the Italian Dolomites, Phil knows much better if he made the right choice. His summary feedback is wholly unambiguous:
The Leopard is incredible. It's a stunning piece of kit. Every time I take it out I wind up landing with the biggest of grins! What does it for me is every time I punch into wind at half bar, everything else gets left behind except the CCCs which it's on a par with. But it's so much more manageable than the CCCs especially in the rowdy air.
This is the most manageable high performance paraglider I've ever flown, I just can't adequately state how extremely happy I am with this wing / harness combo! Freaking awesome is what it is! I absolutely love it. The Leopard was very well behaved in the bigger air of the Italian Dolomites recently.
There are definitely worse gliders to try a forward launch with, technique helps too, natch. Wing overs can get really big, really quick, but the challenge is to keep it smooth, controlled and consistent.
I reckon I have the best all round XC glider ever produced!!! I'm not giving the Leopard up for nothing!
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