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How to I choose a hang glider? Especially your first couple...

As we wind down the 2020 flying season here in Canada, we turn our efforts into planning for the spring.  We had a very productive 2020 training season even though COVID brought some challenges....at least hang gliding gave us something to do outside, in small groups and it was easy to keep our distance.
I turn to doing theory talks during our long winter - it keeps hang gliding in our mind and work on expanding our knowledge for when the thaw hits in the spring.  As we prep our grads (or close-to-grads) for kicking them out of the nest, one of the first things they have their eye on is their first glider.  It is always an interesting talk as they are pretty jazzed to get out there with the mentors that await them at our local club, SOGA
Here at Instinct Windsports, we are fortunate enough to be dealers for multiple brands of gliders.  It allows us to recommend, fly, service and sell a wide variety of gliders to help our local pilots make informed decisions on the options out there rather than pushing one brand of glider on them.  Between our two instructors, we have the skill, experience (and varied weights) to fly every and all models and size gliders we sell.  We pride ourselves in being very active pilots on all levels of wings.
I don't really like hearing pilots argue about what brand is the best.  All brands and models fly a bit different - it is best to fly them all before you buy.  I don't recommend AGAINST owning any of the gliders mentioned below - my view is that we are fortunate to fly hang gliders at this point in history because they are all fantastic gliders and you can't go wrong - as long as you fly the glider that suits your style, feel and skill.

I put together a couple charts below here of all the makes and models of gliders Instinct Windsports sells/recommends (some models are missing on purpose).  The values in the coloured bars are educated values I have created and I realize are very much my opinion.   However the 'H' ratings for each of the gliders are the values directly from the certification bodies (HGMA and the DHV) - any other values that are out there on the market are just dealers 'opinions'.

 

I thought it was interesting that the two lines intersect as you migrate from an H2 to an H3 glider - I think that it shows that after you move on from an H2 wing, you should be in tune with your realistic skill level. 

To me, the light blue area as a margin of error the glider MAY help you with when, not if, you make a judgement error. 

Hover your mouse over any of the lines and bars in the charts for detailed values.

This graph below just adds the rough cost a new glider as well to throw that into the equation.

More Performance doesn't equal more fun

Taken right from WillsWing's article - today's lowest performing glider on the market (the Falcon at time the article was written) is higher performing than the highest performing glider on the market in 1980 - and they were flying 100 mile flights then.  Relaxed, carefree airtime is critical when you are starting out and for that matter, the 3rd longest Ontario XC flight in 2020 was on a Falcon3 - he got more airtime than the other pilots flying that day - what could be more fun!?

Do you need the performance?

At some point it is nice but for your first glider, I think it should be with truncated tips (not curved tipped).  That leaves you with an Alpha, Falcon or Malibu.   They are just so much more roll and yaw stable and especially since aero-towing is the big goal here in Ontario, that stability can make the difference between making aerotowing easily manageable or a stressful situation.

Flat land flying

I can see even in the mountains, you could easily enjoy a Falcon/Malibu for much longer than in the flats.  They have ample performance for ridge soaring and light thermal flights.  Here in the flats, once it gets over 15-20kmh winds, it is very tough to have a multi-thermal soaring flight on a Falcon/Malibu without being forced to go cross-country - the thermal drift is just to great to thermal up and confidently make your way back upwind to get back to where you took off from.

At that point, we see the curved tip gliders bring a nice performance advantage.  The next step up is the single-surface, curved tipped gliders - the NorthWing Freedom and the Icaro Piuma.  We find they winch-tow as easily as a Falcon/Malibu but when you crank on speed on these H2 single-surface gliders, they don't drop out of the skies.

The 'problem' with ANY curved tipped glider is that it is very tough to keep them flying straight while aerotowing when the pilot has very little experience.  Our club makes it mandatory to aerotow any curved tipped glider of any H3 and below pilot with a vertical stabilizer fin to help take away the roll and yaw instability that happens when you fly them fast (under aerotow).

Bar Pressure

Gliders with less bar pressure means it takes less effort on the pilot to fly them - you can move the control frame around with very little pressure from the glider wanting to return back to trim.  This is a desirable features for experienced pilots as they can conserve their energy for longer, marathon flights without fighting the glider.  However, it is my opinion that lack of bar pressure for a pilot that is NOT ready for that glider can be dangerous when trying to upgrade to that glider, especially while aerotowing.  Little or no bar pressure also means that the glider is NOT giving feedback to the pilot as to where it wants to fly on its own.  If the pilot has no frame of reference, they don't know how fast to fly it and that is when the dreaded PIOing can happen while aerotowing...and also when trying to figure out a tricky landing.

I think it is an amazing evolution with these next-generation H3 gliders (Sport3 & Gecko) that they are rather easy to fly and they relatively forgiving flare-window but they don't have much bar pressure, even at trim speeds.  I have seen some pilots coming off of a single-surface glider and trying them at demo days and they have a big eye-opener on their first launch. 

It isn't just with aerotowing as well - with the no bar pressure comes easy pitch changes and if a pilot can't manage that (know where trim is and how to keep the nose-angle proper) it can bit them when trying to winch tow. 

I still see very high value in the quintessential, legendary WillsWing Sport2 for the progressing pilot.  A decent performance jump, it aerotows nicely and has some nice bar-pressure to help with the transition.

Glider geometry

I wonder if the similar looks of ALL curved-tipped gliders deceives pilots when considering upgrading.  I have heard too many people say, "just skip the Sport2/3 and go right to a U2, it isn't much different".  Both great gliders but it is the little changes that can add up to a disaster if things don't go well.

To illustrate the base differences in glider planforms, I put together this graphic.  I scaled all the WillsWing glider models from their color-picker.  I took the size of each of their glider models that I would fit, scaled them to their proper span and lined up their noses to compare nose-angle and span - two parameters that add up to a great deal of a gliders inherent stability.

The image is rather busy so I hope you take the time to zoom in the best you can and compare.  I included model-to-model stepped up images at the end of this article if you care to compare.

Another big factor that pilots don't understand when upgrading is handling adverse yaw - something the single-surface gliders don't have much of due to their highly swept back wings.  Adverse is defines as "acting in a contrary direction; harmful; unfavourable"Yaw, rotation of the glider around the kingpost axis, is something we don't have much control over on a hang glider.  The quick explanation is that we start to do a turn in the desired direction and the glider yaws in the opposite direction at first.  It is more pronounced the slower you fly a higher performace glider.  This is a nasty combination when flying a higher performing glider for the first time since ALL your speeds are faster than you are used to flying on your old wing so your brain is fighting with you your whole flight wanting you to slow down some - and if you listen and slow down, you make the adverse yaw worse.  The key is to embrace a touch of speed and have confidence in your abilities - if you are already in over your head, it can bite you fast!

Summary & Final Words

The discussion of wing selection is always an interesting topic - Intermediate Syndrome hit us ALL in wanting the hottest wing out there.  Like it or not, most pilots view the level of wing they fly as what defines them as a pilot.  If we all truly flew a wing slightly BELOW our experience level, I think we would all have a lot more fun and progress FASTER to our goals.  Stepping into a glider that is beyond our current skill is obviously an accident waiting to happen.  
The problem is we all think our skill level is higher than it is and putting a definitive number on what it takes to fly a higher level glider is really an impossible thing to do.
So take your time in progressing - enjoy the process of BECOMING better.  Keep flying your glider until it is truly holding you back from reaching your CURRENT goals (which you should keep close in range).
The only OBJECTIVE way to really choose a glider you fly in my mind is to fly a glider that is at or below your pilot rating.  Even that is tough as the pilot ratings have a wide range of pilot skill and experience in them and some pilots (but not many) do acquire the flying skill to get their next rating but lack on doing the recommended readings and the testing to finalize their ratings.

Other Glider Selection Resources

Below are a series of links I urge all my students to become familiar with.  They are all articles that WillsWing has had published for ages and are sage advice that I am sure gets over-looked (shame on us).

How To Choose Your First Glider by Mike Meier
An Overview of the Decisions That Need to be Considered When Choosing One's First Glider

Is This The Right Glider For Me? by Mike Meier
An overview of our hang glider line with short descriptions of each model and the types of pilots, flight parameters and conditions for which they are intended

A Glossary of Hang Glider Specifications 
Explains all the key specifications and terminology seen on your glider placard and in your glider manual

Hang Glider Placard Specifications by Wills Wing Support
Hook-in weight ranges, operating limitations, as listed on our hang glider placards, for both current and non-current Wills Wing hang gliders. (Imperial and Metric units)

How To Get The Right Hang Height by Mike Meier
Discussion of hang height and hang angle with instructions for finding your desired hang height and properly specifying and ordering a custom hang loop. Notes on mains length with respect to WW Standard, DHV Standard, and Rotor harnesses.

Controlling Roll/Yaw Oscillations on Flex Wing Hang Gliders by Mike Meier
Discussion of causes and remedies for a common flying situation.

Pitch Stability & Center of Mass Location by Mike Meier
This article appeared in the December 1997 issue of Hang Gliding magazine as a sidebar to the article above

Reflex Bridle Adjustment and Maintaining Pitch Stability by Mike Meier
Reflex Bridles (luff lines) are an integral part of the stability systems of kingposted hang gliders. These systems don't generally require tuning or maintenance, but over the long term the effects of age and UV exposure on the sail can render the bridles ineffective unless adjusted. This article describes the problem, which applies to virtually all kingposted gliders (at least those made by Wills wing), and tells how to inspect and adjust the reflex bridles so that they can perform the intended purpose if neededSee also:

Aerobatics in Hang Gliders: Understanding Operating Limitations by Mike Meier
A discussion of the concept of "operating limitations" as they apply to hang gliders, how such limitations are determined, how hang gliders are tested, and recommendations concerning performing aerobatic maneuvers with hang gliders.

FreeFlightAdvice.com The Right Glider for me

 Model-by-model nose angle and span comparison of WillsWing gliders

Alpha vs  Falcon

Falcon vs Sport3

Sport3 vs U2

U2 vs T3



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