Purchasing the first glider is always a challenge. The article describes my steps from very beginning to first 100+ km flights and reading this story of mine could give you some insight what you can appreciate and what you can hate on your first paraglider.
An information for new to paragliding. All commercial paragliders are tested by EN normalized safe tests and then certified to a (the safest) A, B, C, D and CCC (competition class) category. During recent years there were a signifficant progress in EN-B gliders and today they varies a lot in behaviour causing an unofficial split to (safer) low EN-B and (more performance) high EN-B. This new “hot” or “high-end” B gliders cause a lot of confusion especially to newbie pilots as they have the best safety/performance ratio, right? Or not?
Before the license
Before I got my license I “flown” 6 different paragliders (Mac Trend 2 (B), Gradient Stream 2 (C), Mac Lucky 3, Gin Bolero 4, Gradient Bright 4, Gradient Golden 3 (B)). The story is long and not important. I felt an amazing feeling under all of gliders and also not any difference between them, except one: Mac Trend 2. This glider was without a technical check and used by me to groundhandling training to avoid forgetting everything between the courses. Getting it above head was very very difficult compared to other gliders.
From the basic course I arrived with opinion that best gliders are the from the brand that school uses. When I was choosing to purchase my first glider I did a comprehensive research on the market. Czech market has 4 active manufacturers. I read all materials on their webpages, I have read many internet discussions and found a common verdict. Every pilot/manufacturer/school says the brand he is flying is the best. It is not surprising as you see this in different areas as well, starting from cars and ending in pencils. Psychology has a definition to this behaviour talking something about brain confirmation of your choices.
I found this conclusion as completely useless and called the only paragliding pilot I knew asking for his recommendation, he had a very clear opinion and a month later I purchased a used glider directly from manufacturer in the town I lived – Gradient Golden 3, a “low EN-B” in today’s market.
My first local flight attempts were not successful, the wind was too weak most of time and I had no idea how to identify thermal activity except cumulus clouds on the sky.
With still hot license in my pocket I went to Greifenburg (Austria), to meet my first thermals. I knew this place from one of basic courses but there were no thermal flying included before. Greifenburg is a strong thermic site (+5 ms is common there). First impressions of thermal I regretted not taking my brown underwear.
Air felt very turbulent I and had a big respect and some fear. I argued several times with myself to try it little bit longer, successfully. I flew each day, often “alone” as the xc conditions were not perfect for my new friends. As I did a lot of groundhandling before, taking off was never a problem and landing zone is big, well known from a basic course. Each day I spent at least an hour in the thermic air. Training of collapses each day before landing paid off soon – first real collapse was near the ridge but without any issues. I did my first 10 thermic hours there. I really appreciated that my glider was calm!
Trying to fly
When I returned to Czech republic, full of confidence, I realized that here is a challenge not strong thermals, but weak thermals. First really big challenge was to be on a right place in a right time…but the topic of this article is not a weather. In my country, I faced these issues:
– there is a little time to catch a thermal, usually 30 seconds
– most thermals are weak and small (1-2 ms)
I spent most of time parawaiting or preparing/packing the glider and going back to take off. I was glad to have sheated most of lines as the unsheated parts got entangled often. I loved small ridges because I could do many attempts in a day. I hated packing/unpacking but lots of practice improved my speed very much. If I bought concertina at beginning it would be better, as packing during windy days was very difficult (and slow). Now I can un/pack in about 2 minutes! I tried a lot of flying but when I was in thermic air for 30 minutes, it was a big success. Soaring in ideal conditions were easy of course, but that bloody weather forecasts skill…
I damaged my glider on one small and rocky take off. It stucked behind a rock and I teared little bit the middle of the glider. That day I congratulated myself to have the manufacturer in the same town, as I had repaired glider next weekend in my hands. Be sure weather that weekend was perfect and I had my first 1+ hour thermic flight in my country filling me with nonsurprising amount of satisfaction and confidence.
I realized that some fly mechanics was difficult to understand for me and after 11 months from getting a license I attended SIV training in Hallstat. Weather was poor but those lousy 8 flights gave me a superb confidence and a lot of new knowledge. A few weeks later I went to Greifenburg again and used new techniques as I got “lucky” to win a massive frontstall, and massive asymetric collapse on speed, causing me 2,5 twists because of incorrect reaction. Again, I really appreciated the relative calmness of my glider despite completely wrong input and that day I flew my first 50 km – what worse could happen I said to myself, relaxed and let it fly :-). I did also my first 30 km xc flight landed away from take off a day later, unfortunately my GPS died in middle of the flight.
First bigger successes on local ground came when changed my harness to lighter one (Supair Delight 1). I had to purchase a lighter rescue, I bought lighter shoes and removed some useless stuff and I loss a total of 7 kg in equipment weight. The sensitive harness combined with less weight paid instantly. I was able to stay in weak thermals with a way higher probability and when I landed, going up to take off were much easier and faster. Both speeded up gaining other required skills and minimized a fear from premature landing. I realized my glider needed a deep brakes input to have short diameter of a turn. Before SIV, I would not be brave/stupid enough to try it.
Soon, I flew my first long XC flight – 122 km. Cumulus clouds were quickly dissapearing before forming but my skills to get up in weak thermals and a lot of patience paid off. I landed near my uncle to visit him, probably I could do 150 km. I did not feel any lack in performance that day! Despite not pushing the speedbar, many pilots on EN-C/D gliders landed far sooner. I felt only lack of my bladder capacity, fortunately this is an easily solvable issue for males.
My third visit to Greifenburg I already had some nice flights in Kobala and Lijak. That day was the day of several new xc record flights in Alps. Thermals 7-9 ms were common in the core. My friend had a new used Aspen 4 (EN-C) and we took off together. Going up I was usually slightly faster but going to next thermal I arrived always lower and slower. My friend used a half bar often, as I did. As I was exhausted from previous long flights I decided to return soon but that day I realized I need more performance! Next month after testing UP Summit XC 3 and Gradient Nevada I purchased a new glider – Nevada (“high” EN-B) because of safer feeling.
For me, the performance was not required for a long time! Interesting fact is when I purchased a better performance glider, it took me a 7 months to fly some nice xc flight. Many pilots believe that higher performance glider gives them better performance xc flights, definetely not my case.
I have never identified a clear answer why it took me so long to get nice xc flights on Nevada. I believe the reason is combination of high respect of more dynamic, bigger fear because of the higher sensitivity, and generally not great weather that summer. Unfortunately planned SIV was canceled 2 times because of the bad weather, to elimitate the fear/respect factors.
I tried several low EN-B gliders: Axis Pluto 1, Gradient Golden 3, Ozone Buzz Z4 and Sol Ellus 3. The difference is in handling, and small things like making ears, I did not notice any “great” performance in any of them. Compared to Nevada, they all will be beaten massively on speedbar, but almost not visibly on trim speed.
Make your own decisions. I can only recommend to forget hot EN-Bs and choose between safest and very safe gliders based on height of mountains you plan to fly often.
- almost every pilot tells you the brand (s)he is flying is the best
- get a basic course before a purchase
- performance of glider is not important until you master all basic skills, and it takes longer then you think
- being on top of weight range is bad in weak conditions
- SIV can improve your skills instantly
- collapses on speed can be nasty on a newbies’ glider as well
- bravery does little help, experience does a big help
- fast repair service of your first glider will be beneficial
P.S. many pilots feel offended when you put their favourite glider outside high EN-B category. Despite your positive intentions, think twice before sharing your opinion 😉