Review By Alan Hills (SkyWings Paragliding, NZ)
I don’t often get time or feel inspired enough to put pen to paper about different miniwing qualities and behaviours – mainly because it’s been a while since anything has come along offering qualities that are significantly better.
Miniwings for high wind soaring are one of my personal obsessions and I spare no effort in finding the worlds best – life is too short to fly lesser wings. I live in Auckland, New Zealand with large picturesque sea cliffs and conditions that are often strong, laminar and superb for high wind soaring/speedflying. This is unusual in the world, so we are lucky and constantly looking for better miniwings to give us more fun in our smooth 20-45km/hr coastal winds.
This obsession has led me to find and introduce a long line of best in class miniwings to NZ for Speedflying and high wind soaring. The Ozone Zero 2 offered as good a set of qualities as you could get. This does not mean it was best or couldn’t be beaten in particular qualities, but just as an overall package.
Enter the new brand PHI (pronounced fee – means ‘the golden ratio’). PHI’s designer Hannes Papesh, one of the longest and most creative paraglider designers in the world, with a long stream of world firsts in paraglider design (previously with his company Nova) has now set up his new company, PHI and has the worlds best test pilot, Mike Kung as part of his team. Mike has recently been demonstrating some of his amazing, world leading ground handling and small wing flying skills on the very small sizes of Sonata and Viola – check out his extraordinary dune soaring skills
Mike wanted a few Sonata 12’s specially made to demonstrate in high wind – and Hannes asked if I wanted some – as I’m always begging for the building of very small wings. Yes please! But I wondered if the 12 projected size would be a bit small and not so versatile. No need to have worried – no one has more experience and skill in very high wind than Mad Mike Kung. (And one of the first ever small wings from Hannes – the Shockwave 12 still enjoys a special place on my shelf – it was the first and maybe only wing to go 100 km/h and is frighteningly efficient and exhilarating to fly – like no other! )
It was a complete surprise then to find the new PHI Sonata 12 (14 flat), when flown repeatedly back to back all day compared to the previous champ, Zero 2 – revealed a bunch of not small improvements across the board. I was actually a bit shocked to find such significant improvements after all these years of refinement.
First and most noticeable was the ease of launch and ground handling – the Sonata 12 was much easier – coming up smoothly to the top without a sticking point or overshooting. Nothing like the Zero 2’s two-stage launch – stopping three quarters of the way up unless applying a much stronger pull to get it through that stage.
The big benefit to the Sonata’s behaviour is that it made for better, easier and safer launches every time and much easier ground handling around the paddock and up the slopes. In light or no wind the Sonata and Viola are the very easiest to launch and do not even require a touch of the risers – just a quick push forward and they will pop overhead like few do and all should! This is a huge pleasure after the difficult light wind launch qualities of so many miniwings!
Next was the feeling of easy, coordinated connectedness and cohesion in the wing as a whole – the Sonata feeling well more smooth, coordinated and coherent – and then the biggest surprise of them all, the turn is considerably more dynamic and accurate, and easier to co-ordinate and be precise with – a much more satisfying turn and a bigger smile on the face.
Interestingly, the Sonata 12 (14 flat) seems to be more efficient and easy to soar than the Zero 2-15, which is 1 meter bigger and should have won in this quality.
They’re both made of the same best 30D cloth – currently the toughest and most durable and reliable cloth, but the Sonata uses orange weedwacker nylon rods and requires no special packing or care, whereas the Zero 2 has harder plastic rods that require flat packing and a concertina fold, and for many that will mean a concertina bag as well to facilitate that – which adds extra weight, volume and cost. So Sonata can be packed any way, any how – which is much more enjoyable and an advantage to many.
Also the lower lines are all sheathed on the Sonata offering a significant advantage over the Zero 2’s unsheathed lower lines, which offer no advantage on a miniwing.
Sonata risers are much easier to work with, with a long unhindered C riser. In high wind this can be an important safely feature allowing more control and a much easier killing of the wing. Brakes are held by unique magnetic brake keepers that are easy to use and keep clean.
Price is also better on the Sonata and all the qualities we’ve talked about are also present or even better on the lightweight version, the Viola. The Viola is certified right down to size 12 – unheard of in miniwings. And Viola comes in a full range of sizes from 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24 & 26.
I’ve flown, tested and sold most miniwings in the search for the best, and once a new best is found, that’s all I fly until it’s superseded. Call me biased if you like, but please try it yourself – it will surprise you! I look forward to your feedback.