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 (to the right of the intersection) shows a margin of error the glider MAY help you with when, not if, you make a judgement error. Conversely, the red area (to the left of the intersection) indicates how much your experience & skill level needs to compensate for the reduction in passive safety.
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 extra performance 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 and 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).
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 feature 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.
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 performance 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 extra speed and have confidence in your abilities - if you are already in over your head, adverse yaw can bite you fast!
Vertical Stabilizer fin
They are a HUGE help. As mentioned above, our club doesn't allow any non-H4 pilots to fly a curved-tipped glider without a vertical stabilizer fin until they get a lot of experience aerotowing that glider. One tip for upgrading from one level of curved-tipped glider to another (see the charts above) is that if you aren't comfortable removing your vertical fin and flying your current glider in challenging (turbulent, thermic) conditions, you shouldn't consider stepping to the next level of glider. Take some time working on removing that fin before you attempt the next level. And topless gliders are harder to tow WITH a fin than without....so you better have your towing dialed in without your fin on your Gecko/Sport3/U2/Litesport before considering towing a topless (winch or aerotow).
Confidence is important while flying - without it, we would probably never choose to fly. Over-confidence is easy to obtain and easily clouds our judgement. Hang gliding is such an emotional experience that we pilot dream about that epic flight to come so much so that we easily think we are better pilots than we are. Especially with the short flying season we have in Canada, it is easy for us to WANT to start our season with our hot new gear right where we left off last season (or two or three or four seasons ago). If you get a new glider for the upcoming season make a commitment to yourself to tune-up your skills with ample training tows in the early part of the season. Just because you USED to fly your past glider with ease, it doesn't mean you still can. Just because you have one nice tow in smooth conditions, doesn't mean your next one will go as well...tow lots in a day on your previous glider to get repetition before attempting your first flights on your new glider...and do that in SMOOOOTH conditions.
Summary & Final Words
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.
Model-by-model nose angle and span comparison of WillsWing gliders
Alpha vs Falcon
Falcon vs Sport3
Sport3 vs U2
U2 vs T3