How to Choose the Right Paraglider (Part Two: Performance?)


So you’ve decided after watching Part 1 that
you are interested in the XC Class. We’ll take three of the top contenders in the class
and compare them. Everyone wants to know about performance. Looking at the specs I might expect the Iota
to be slightly faster due to the higher wingloading, and the Chili 3 should have better glide due
to projected aspect ratio. But the Mentor 4 and Iota have thinner lines so their glide
might be just as good. Then there’s the profile shape, toe-in or toe-out, line consumption,
and even the stitching style and fabric billow that reduces the real area. You can do this
kind of guesswork all day. There are too many factors that interact in the complex science
of aerodynamics. But we can test them in the air, right? Unfortunately, not. Here’s the big problem: you’re unlikely to
fly far in still air, and in ‘moving air’ thermals make accurate results impossible.
That was an Icepeak 6.23 vs an Icepeak 6.23. They are even the same colour. Here’s an Icepeak 6 vs Mistral 7, gliding
close. It looks like the lower class wing has more performance! The longer the glide
the more averaging removes inequalities but it’s still possible to glide for 10km along
a lifty line and make a worse glider appear to be the better one. I am 97kg on the Iota, Carlo is flying at
94.5 on the Mentor 4 and John is 109 on Chili 3. John’s on a larger size wing, with higher
efficiency. I am in a sit-up-and-beg harness, with more drag. Carlo has the lowest wing
loading. Already we are not comparing apples with apples. We are supported by a gas. It only needs to
have a few swirls to disrupt the results. Nothing is measuring the unequal movements
of the airmass we are gliding through. You’re also only seeing the performance of one unit
of a particular make and model, which doesn’t allow for manufacturing variations. Speeding
up one minute of gliding, we can see the start and end position are very similar between
that Chili3 and this Iota in that bit of air. No conclusions can be drawn, apart from the
fact that that there is very little difference between all current wings, even across classes.
So why the big fuss about performance? Let’s look at this another way. What kind
of difference are you looking for? I’d be interested in a 0.3 difference in glide ratio,
so one wing on 10 and the other on 10.3. But in reality, this equates to 30m ahead or 3m height gain after 1km of undisturbed gliding. That’s hard to see when you are constantly moving. For definitive data you’d need at least 10
glides of longer distance, but unless the air is calm you’ll have too much interference
to get repeatable results. When you introduce moving air you cannot separate the disturbance
from the performance. What you see is a single data point on a scatter graph of performance.
‘Climb rate tests’ are even more questionable. Minor changes in turn rate and style result
in different climb rates. The lift distribution is unequal in most thermals and nothing is
measuring the climb rate of the air the wing is being subjected to. The highest agility
turn often wins the day, not the best climb rate and this depends on pilot intervention.
The wings themselves are so close you’ll go blind trying to see the difference. On an XC flight, we mostly fly alone, we make
thousands of choices and each diversion puts us on a different line. When we do pull up
beside another pilot, we don’t know the wing size, wing loading, how much speedbar is being used or even how old the wing is. The pilot will be in a difference harness, and he’ll do slightly
different things to control his wing. We never get to verify our wing performance in a fair
comparison. If you’re not aiming for first place in international competitions, don’t
worry about the wing’s performance: if you’re on something current, it is about the same. Handling is much more interesting, because
it governs your ability to put the wing where you want it and to feel hints of where the
best lift is. Stability should concern you too, because
it builds your confidence and saves you from your mistakes.
Luckily, these are things which good reviewers can identify fairly fast. At Flybubble we
test all of our demo wings to learn about their characters. The Iota is mostly about ‘handling’, the brakes feel medium and linear but give a quick change of direction. The feedback from the wing is smoothened yet gives you a feeling of being connected with the air. A small criticism we could make is that the Iota’s back risers pull the tip cascade as well, which makes
strong wind control tricky unless you reach into the C lines. The Mentor 4 is all about a ‘secure feel’.
The brakes are medium to heavy, they grab at the air and the feedback from the wing
is low and dampened. We think the Mentor 4 spins more easily than Mentor 3, which was
more ideal for the class, but out of the three, you’ll be bounced around the least on the
Mentor if flying in rough air is your thing. The Chili 3 has a ‘performance’ character:
the brakes feel light and need a wrap because of long travel. The feedback from the wing
is moderate, subtle and slightly disconnected, somewhere between the Iota and Mentor. The
Chili 3 can get too lively for pilots with slow reactions, it likes to pitch and needs
active piloting because it is spicy. We could add much more. Little details add
up to make a big difference in your progression. If the salesman focuses on the performance
of the wing he’s selling and not on you, there’s a good chance you’ll be getting the wrong
wing. The right wing depends so much on the pilot.
We don’t produce lists of ‘best’ wings in each class, because they don’t exist until
the pilot has been put into the equation. We need to speak to you so we can match the
wing with your unique situation. Don’t be misled by a video showing one data
point on a scatter graph of performance. Talk to expert pilots with experience on the wings
you’re considering. There’s more to wing comparisons than straight line gliding. There’s more to
becoming a top pilot than buying a wing. We hope this video has helped you understand
wing comparisons. If you need good advice based on a broad range of brands, come on
over to our website and see what we have to offer. We love matching pilots with the right
gear.

13 thoughts on “How to Choose the Right Paraglider (Part Two: Performance?)

  1. If there is no prize in the PG world for such great videos, it should be soon created at Coupe Icare or elsewhere. Fantastic work done! Should be firmly placed on the homepage of the paraglidingforum.com for every pilot to see and learn from it…

  2. I am in a little difficultly, I would load it at 86-90 kg, and plan to get a Iota.
    Now really hard to choose. Size 23 is up to 85 kg. Those few extra kilos…? I would ask the designer. Size 26 is impossible to load fully.

  3. Great video. We havan't a youtube cannel like Flybubble in Brazil, unfortunately. I'm thinking to go fly in UK next year, what is the better time of the year? Can i rent the equipments?

  4. Greg, I love your videos, recently discovered. You have a nice calm, assuring voice, very informative and great photography/video scenes. Will look up more. Hope you and your team keep them coming!

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