How to Choose the Right Paraglider (Part Four: Handling)

Competition racers might think performance
is the main priority, but for most pilots, wing handling is more important. You want
to own a wing that makes you want to fly, and it’s the feeling of the wing as you pass
through the air that lingers with you, your connection with the shifting currents which
you can never get enough of. When the wing handling suits your ability,
you get exactly the response you want, when you want it. Not too much forward pitching,
but just enough that you can feel an approaching thermal and can cut through the gusts. Not
too much rolling, but just enough that you can dig the wing into a thermal when it tries
to push you out. Very little yaw, but just enough that you can whip the wing around in
a quick turn when you hit lift suddenly. ‘Just enough’ relies on your reaction speed,
which is unique to every pilot. This is determined by your currency, your experience, your training,
your natural ability and your health. A wing that a friend might describe as ‘docile’ might
become ‘hot’ in your hands if your active piloting responses are half a second behind
his. But when you make the right match, you will outperform all the pilots who have overestimated
their own abilities. When I say the wing feels ‘restrained’ you
probably understand that it won’t throw you around and perhaps it won’t turn as tightly
as you want but there’s room for misinterpretation: classifying handling is hardly scientific.
I take great care when reviewing wings to use words that indicate how the average pilot
in the class would experience the wing, not the way I feel about it personally, which
is probably ‘unresponsive, boring, low energy’ for an EN B. I react fast so I can handle
more movement from the wing and still be in a happy zone. When a wing lacks all the energy
I’m used to, it frustrates my flying. This is one reason why there can be disagreement
among reviewers. Apart from the difference in skills, there’s the difference in what
the reviewer considers to be his ‘ideal’ pilot he is reviewing for. If the reviewer is only
offering personal opinions, then the review is worth little to you: it’s unlikely you
will ever experience the wing that way. Flying conditions affect handling, in a big
way. You can fly a wing on one day, and think it’s really stable. On another day, the same
wing can seem unnerving. As the wind increases, more turbulence is created throughout the
airmass, especially near the surface or with any wind gradient. As you pass through these
gusts, the airspeed of your wing changes temporarily, which changes its lift and drag characteristics,
destroying an effective turn. It takes a lot of experience to be able to remove this noise
from the real data. Reviews are often flavoured by the kind of conditions the reviewer is
flying in. In part 1 we showed how the wing class influences
handling. The sweet spot is the Performance class (broadly, mid EN C). Designers have
the freedom to use more wing movement without the strict limits of the EN B test protocol.
Turns are not hampered by the unwieldy wingspan of Advanced wings. Pitch energy can be introduced
to provide acceleration into turns, roll authority can be added for responsiveness. In a good
Performance class wing like the Niviuk Artik 4, you get a balanced harmony, with just enough
freedom in all three axes. You really can play in the sky. Feedback is the way the wing moves in disturbances and transmits this information to the pilot.
I’ve flown Competition wings with low feedback and XC class wings with high feedback. In
the Performance class, I like the design approach of the Ozone Delta 2, which has moderated
feedback due to the set-back As. You probably won’t notice the smaller shifts until you
develop some sensitivity, at which point you are ready to tap into their potential. Until
then, the wing seems calm. Let’s not forget ground handling. Avoid wings
that drop back from 45 degrees or higher, are hard to bring back from the edge of the
window using the brakes, accelerate and overshoot, don’t fill quickly in zero wind forward launch
or are hard to keep pinned on the ground in strong wind. This can mostly be guaranteed
by staying in the XC class. However, none of the modern wings have such bad ground handling
that you can’t learn to master them after a few days of practice.
Although it’s tempting to generalise the character of each brand, it’s misleading because every
wing is unique: Advance’s Iota might be balanced, Niviuk’s Artik 4 responsive and Nova’s Mentor
4 steady, but their other designs might be quite different. Speak to pilots with experience
on the wings you are considering. For a long time in your flying progression
it will be your ability to thermal that will dictate your distance and not straight-line
gliding performance. Without a wing with sensitivity to lift and responsive turning, you’ll soon
be just another pilot packing up in a field watching the others drift by. Find a wing
with handling that supports your nature, and your performance will come as a result of
your eagerness to find another thermal just for the feeling of digging your wing into

12 thoughts on “How to Choose the Right Paraglider (Part Four: Handling)

  1. Thank you for taking the time to make these! They are always very informative and honest and have such a relaxing feel!

  2. Thanks for sharing your views. The site looks interesting too. It would be nice if you could mention the location where this video was  done.

  3. The one word you said when searching for your glider is health!
    I started last year because of my health and after my first couple of weeks of just ground handling with my old Buzz or what I call therapy, I put away my cane except for when very tired. The rest of recovery is taking a little more time, but cancer and brain surgery is in the past. Now to keep working on the body so flight happens.
    As to you oldsters out there looking up, Keeping healthy with a lot of ground handling can bring back senses you forgot you had and is a lot more fun than a gym! I won't mention the adrenaline rush! Screw cancer!

    Blue Sky's and safe Journeys

  4. i too would like to thank you guys who made this video series.
    i will keep these in mind when switching to another wing.

    happy flying to all of you! 😀

  5. Being an inexperienced pilot the most important thing to me is getting home after enjoying some flying.
    If I had to buy a new wing today I would probably get the Mojo 5. It's got so many reviews and demonstrations of it's safety. It also appears to fly just fine performance wise.
    I assume it's the most sold wing currently with Ozone being the biggest producer of wings and the Mojo being their EN-A flagship.

  6. Greg, Thank you very much for the series. It has been, and continue to be, an invaluable resource. Question: Can you clarify when you say "Delta 2 … has moderated feedback due to set-back As. You probably won't notice the smaller shifts until you develop some sensitivity". Also in a recent Cloudbase Mayhem podcast you mentioned sensing the risers through the speed bar & your legs. How do we learn to do this? What flying conditions will help develop this sense? Any help is gratefully received. – Cheers, Peter S

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