25 September 2012

Glider Testing and Certification

The paragliding world does not stand still for long. There has been some great work this year by the DHV in doing in-depth safety checks on a range of EN B and EN A gliders. At the other end of the spectrum the working group of PMA (Paraglider Manufacturers' Association) seems to be making some headway towards a new definition of competition gliders.

It is widely recognised that the current EN classes are very broad. Within the EN B class this manifests itself in the form of gliders having quite different target markets. The "low end" B gliders are usually seen as suitable for beginners who are showing reasonable aptitude during their training. The "high end" B gliders are far more sporty and dynamic in their behaviour/reactions and are definitely not for the beginner! The DHV's work explored the gliders in greater depth than the EN tests in order to differentiate between the high and low EN Bs and EN As It makes interesting reading and can be found here on the DHV website. The first series of tests are here.

The EN D category has also seen an unofficial division into the recreational/classic EN Ds and the competition EN Ds. Even though they are all in the same EN class, Peaks, Mantras, Omegas etc are suitable for a far wider range of pilot than the Enzos and the Icepeaks. In effect  the EN D category has become devalued as a useful description of gliders' level of demand and security.

When the EN tests are next revised (due spring 2013), don't be surprised to see some further tightening of the requirements in each of the classes. Until then, when we buy a glider, we need be clear about it's character. Buying from a reputable manufacturer who clearly describes the target pilot for each of their gliders must surely be very wise.

Separate from this is a possible new definition of competition gliders outside of the EN system. This would seem the best way forward, particularly since limiting competitions to EN certified gliders does not appear to have helped safety. The responsibility of defining the criteria for the competition class seems to be resting with the PMA. I have just returned from Coupe Icare at St Hilaire and heard that the PMA has made considerable progress and aim for there to be a new competition class in place for 2014. This is encouraging news indeed, although I personally believe that agreement within the PMA agreement does not come easily!
The latest from the FAI on the subject can be found here.

14 September 2012

Epic Summer in The Alps

Well, what a summer! After what has been a frustrating UK season for many (myself included), it was great to finally have such fantastic summer flying. It really started with my Pilot Development Week in the Annecy region in July (see my earlier blog post) and then continued throughout August.
Over the top the the Avaris, looking SE to Mt Blanc
It is difficult to pick out the highlights, but flying along the Chaine Des Avaris and also my flight to the Mont Blanc Massiff are probably my two favourites.
Flying to Mt Blanc is one the flights that most Alpine pilots covert and with good reason. Before this summer, only on three days ever had pilots landed on top, but on 19th August an incredible 50-60 pilots achieved their dream. See XC Mag's website to read more.

Knowledge of the Alps is key and it was very interesting how conditions varied over quite short distances. Pilots less than 40km away struggled in stable conditions.
Mont Blanc ahead.
I have been flying in and studying the Alps for 20 years and there is always more to learn.

On 20th August it was my turn to try and the day after, with conditions still good, my wife Ruth was also able to make an attempt. Read our account here.

One of my ambitions is to feel as at home flying in the big mountains as I do when flying over the rolling green hills of the UK. At the same time I don't want to lose that feeling of utter awe. I have to say that I am loving the new experiences being thrown up all the time by this wonderful sport.
Clouds over Mt Blanc, I am glad I left when I did!
In a few days I will be heading off to St Hillaire for the Coupe Icare: the world biggest free flying festival. In 22 years of flying, I have never been, so I can not wait.
Read more about the Coupe Icare here.

T|he weather has a distinct Autumn feel now, but I am sure there are plenty of good days to come before the season truly ends. In the UK I have known decent XC flying to continue right through September and October. Bring it on!

09 September 2012

First Outing on my Icepeak 6

After 2 days of strong winds and frustration I finally got out on my Icepeak 6. I probably didn't have the ideal conditions for the first flight: broken early afternoon thermals with surges to 3m/s; an inversion; gusty wind and a tricky cliff launch site (Nant Sarah's in the Pennines). Most of the locals were complaining about the air after short flights and were contenting themselves with waiting for things to settle.
Ground handling and launch were absolutely straightforward and just as I would expect from a well sorted EN D glider. In the air it dragged me into thermals and absorbed turbulence with relatively little flexing. On bar it sliced through the sh*t very nicely. I suspect I was having a nicer time the guys on the lower end gliders! Thermalling was great and I really liked the direct feel and precision. I still love the M4 but the IP6 is altogether a sharper tool. Just what I was after. I really expected to that I would need to work much harder on my first flight. I have to say that my expectations are exceeded; I love this glider! Niviuk have produced a remarkable tool; thanks guys.
It is great to be part of the team. To find out about the Nivuik UK Team click here.
For the Niviuk UK homepage click here.

04 September 2012

Longest ever UK competition goal?

On Friday I had the pleasure of setting a 108km race to goal for the British Paragliding Cup in the Peak District. I had committed to helping the BPC and looking after our 8 and 10 year old so that my Ruth do the comp; so I then had the agony of watching pilots climbing out and starting the race whist I went swimming with the kids.
The first I knew about pilots' progress was a text from Ruth, who was down at about 80km. She reported a lot of cirrus and an unhelpful cross wind. Had I over set the task?
Eventually the word came in: 6 pilots in goal, led by one of the best XC pilots I know, Phil Wallbank. Result! Congratulations to all and commiserations to Ruth. She was top woman though!
The 2012 BPC Podium. L-R: Graham Cummings (3rd), Phil Wallbank, (1st, )Ed Cleasby (2nd) and Ruth