Paragliders: Test Flights

How To Choose The Right Paraglider (Test Flights)

 

If you’ve followed the whole series, you’ll now have a good understanding of what you’re looking for when choosing a new paraglider: which class of wing suits you, how to interpret performance claims, where you should be in the weight range, how important handling is, and what true safety means. Using those criteria you can filter out some wings and produce a shortlist.

If you’re lucky, you live in a major market where you can access demo wings.

But what should you do with them? How do you test a wing?

If you’re using the demo day to try and compare a whole range of wings with tests, you’re probably wasting your time. You don’t have enough hours in the day, and  you’re unlikely to make correct judgements. Even an experienced test pilot would find it hard. Flying conditions change so much, it’s difficult to identify what is due to the wing and what is due to the air.

What you can achieve on a demo flight is to confirm that the wing advice you’ve received is correct.

A good retailer will match you with a wing of the right character.

To give you an example, a friend of mine recently asked for my advice on buying the Advance IOTA. Now although I love the Iota for what it does within its class, I knew the pilot – a talented XC hound with over 25 years of flying. He enjoys flying advanced wings. I suggested the Iota might be too restrained for him; he probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much as a more dynamic wing like the Skywalk CAYENNE 5. So a wing goes from great to unsuitable depending on who is looking at it! The same wing gets a different review.

In an ideal world, you’d have a demo day with an instructor, who could observe how you get on with the wing and tailor his advice to your flying style. Then you can focus on some simple tests. Let’s check out that CAYENNE 5 together:

1. Construction. Consider the materials used. The CAYENNE 5 has sheathed lower lines, but the upper lines are unsheathed and very thin, so they might knot more easily and need more care.

2. Kiting. Any modern wing can be made to launch with the correct technique. Test how tolerant it is to poor technique, because this simulates tricky conditions.

Test the stall point: drag the wing down using the brakes and let it fly up again. The lower the wing can go and still recover, the better it will be in deteriorating conditions. A tricky wing will stall and drop back from high up. A stall resistant wing will fly up from ground level.

The CAYENNE 5 sits somewhere between these two extremes, stalling at around 30 degrees. It can be launched easily without using the risers, even in a light breeze. The brake travel is short, so heavy handed controls won’t be tolerated much. The wing can be easily ‘floated’ above the ground with good pilot input which makes it great for ground handling up grassy slopes.

Test the tendency to accelerate forward: it requires fast reactions to control this on a steep launch in thermic conditions. The CAYENNE 5 is a performance aerofoil that wants to fly so has a tendency to shoot ahead on launch if unchecked, especially if the risers are pulled too hard or for too long. You must have enough finesse to adjust the force on the risers according to the conditions and move under the wing to prevent plucking.

Try some tip touches:  steer it over to one side so the wingtip touches the ground. Can it be righted using just the brakes? The upper wingtip will stall on a tricky wing, making it bend and shoot across the wind when released. I like wings that tolerate this kind of abuse, because when thermals knock your wing about you can fly it back into position easily. It’s fairly easy to put the CAYENNE 5 on a tip and bring it back again using only the brakes. It’s even somewhat tolerant of bodged pilot inputs.

3. Handling. Once in the air, all of my attention goes towards wing handling, and it’s best to have thermic conditions for this. The CAYENNE 5 feels wonderful: it’s one of those wings that has such nice handling you do the first turn and shout “Yes!” It has reassuring brake pressure, without being tough or insensitive. When you pull the brake you feel a progressive increase in turn rate that is precisely controllable. And it responds fast.

4. Agility. Doing a few wingovers gives you an idea of how agile the wing is, and how well it manages the energy. Energy retention helps the pilot maintain speed through rough transitions but you don’t want too much energy, or you’ll burn up attention on active flying. The CAYENNE 5 offers a good balance for an experienced XC pilot. Even in the smallest, punchiest thermals we’ve been able to crank it round and stay in the core.

5. Feedback. Although it’s unlikely to get accurate performance comparisons on your local flying site, you can get a feeling for the wing’s feedback when gliding upwind. Can you sense where the lift is, or is the wing too dull? The CAYENNE 5 provided just enough information. It might be difficult to analyse what the wing is actually doing to provide the feedback, but if you alter your course based on what you feel … and find lift … then you know the wing is doing its job.

6. Stability at speed. It’s unlikely you’ll come across a wing that collapses on speedbar during a demo flight, so you’re left with two types of wings: those that don’t collapse but feel as if they might, and those that feel solid. I prefer my wings to feel reassuring at speed, as long as there’s some feedback coming through about the quality of the air, so I can back off when I need to. The CAYENNE 5 feels very solid on speed bar. There’s some dampening which reduces sensitivity and gives you reassurance but at the same time it transmits quite clearly what is going on in the air.

7. Safety. Most pilots will need to rely on the instructor’s advice here, but during my reviews I always test out the spin point and stall point of the wing to analyse how much tolerance it has for heavy-handed inputs, so that we don’t recommend a ‘hot’ wing to a clumsy pilot.

You might like to try a few hard turns (high up) and some low-level stall point tests (as shown in our other video). The CAYENNE 5 is surprisingly stall resistant, and showed no signs of spinning during tight turns in lift. There’s a marked increase in brake pressure making it easy for an experienced pilot to sense the point of stall, and back off the brakes.

Another safety consideration is how easy it is to get down if flying conditions deteriorate. Most manufacturers nowadays don’t recommend using B-line stalls as this stresses the materials. So the most common descent technique is big ears. The CAYENNE 5 is quite unstable in that the wing tips flap around, probably because they are very collapse resistant and so want to keep flying. The resulting descent rate is good, but the flapping ears slow the wing down. The alternative modern technique of tip-stalls using the B3s improves the speed and provides a more stable descent. The last option to get down is the spiral, which inexperienced pilots can find extreme. The CAYENNE 5 pulls quite high Gs in a spiral. High performance wings often do, since they tend to have longer lines, more energy and speed potential.

8. Landing. The combination of agility and tolerance for slow flying make some wings better than others when you’re landing in a tight spot. Can you control the energy of the wing easily during landing and put it exactly where you want it to? The higher aspect ratio and responsive handling of the CAYENNE 5 mean that a heavy handed pilot who doesn’t make a good enough approach might find themselves running out of landing field, especially if they’re used to a wing with less glide. Overall, we think that the CAYENNE 5 hits the sweet spot for blending performance and handling.

Don’t worry if you don’t get through all the tests, but you should at least try to fly your own (old) wing as well, so you can compare with something familiar. Buying a new wing is exciting. Take your time before you allow the right one to sweep you off your feet. 

Check out the great range of wings on our website.

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