Thursday, January 11, 2018

Paragliding Worldcup Superfinal - Task 2

My live action commentary from the action at the Superfinal in Rondanillo, Columbia.

The Live Tracking App is available on Google Play for $3.49.

To give you idea of what it's like to fly in these races, here is a video from a French paragliding team pilot, Teo Bouvard. I've added my best guesses of the time in the video around about where the screenshots were taken during the race. Teo posts video after each race. There is no commentary as as I'm sure editing takes him a long time already, but the videos are perfect to see what it's really like flying at the highest level in paragliding.

Task 2 - Jan 11 2018
Jostling for position at the start. The start line is the red line at the bottom left. Climbs were to 2000 m, the valley floor is at about 920m.The red exclamation marks are pilots where there tracking devices were not working for some reason.   Video -  0:56

It's 1pm local time and the race starts!  Pilots must fly from within the start circle (red shaded area) outside of it to start, then backtrack to get to the start circle, which is about 5km away to the top right.

 The field converges back on the good lift, then dives out over the flats to tag the 1st turnpoint.
  Video approx  1:34

Turnpoint one is reached in just a few minutes, and the leaders are already back in the mountains racing south to turnpoint 2. According to online commentary, there is little wind, so they'll be flying between 30 and 55km/hr, depending on whether they are slowing down to thermal, or going straight line on full speed bar. Video approx 3:20

After about 45 minutes, the leaders have picked a fast line down the mountains to tag turnpoint 2 and are already on their way back. The group of three on the right took a route not so deep in the mountains, and were 500m lower than the main group and just about to tag the turnpoint.
Video approx 5:25

After turnpoint 2, the race returns north, then pilots must cross the valley to turnpoint 3.

After flying back up the mountains along the same route they came down, the leaders head out over the valley. Climbs must be easy and fast, with the leaders up at 2300m, which is probably cloudbase.

At 1hr 40 minutes after the race start, the main gaggle is charging across the sugarcane fields in the valley to Zarzal at about 1200m, just 300m above the valley floor. Other pilots took more direct route across the valley, hoping to save time with the more direct round and gambling that they will find thermals without the main group to show the way.

At turnpoint 3 in the low hills on the east side of the valley, Russel Ogden looks to be in the lead, at about 1900m. There must be lift everywhere for these pilots to fly all the way across the valley barely without stopping to thermal.

The race slows down as commentary says there are fewer clouds in the next section of the course. I can't see that from home desk of course! Pilots gaggle up wherever the lift is working.

Zooming in to one of the groups, you can see how disciplined the worlds best pilots are. Lots of even radius circles, everyone turning the same direction.... The thermals must be fat and wide.

Halfway through the route up the valley to turnpoint 4, it looks like the whole field is pushing hard along the direct line up the low hills to the next turnpoint.  The turnpoint is to the north over the flats.
Video approx 6:10

Turnpoint three reached. The pilots that are still high (over 2000m) should be able to just tag the turnpoint and go on final glide to the end of speed (green circle), as it is only 7.5 km from the turnpoint. Anyone else may have to climb again or risk bombing on the race to the finish.
Video approx 7:13

As the field storms to goal at 50+ km/hr on full speedbar, I saw some sink rates up to 3.5m/s. That will probably mean a few pilots will underestimate how much height they need and end up landing a few km or even just few meters short! Video 7:40

The field piles into the goal field.  Ulrich Prince crosses the line with just 26m over the ground! That's not a lot of height to spare! These guys are pros and know how to calculate their final glide just perfectly. Video 7:50

Looks like an amazing race from USA pilot Cody Mittacnck, just 15 seconds away and two places from a top ten placing. After a three hour race and 94km, just three minutes separate the top forty pilots!  It's amazing that with this live tracking the results are available instantly!

That's all for today, have to get back to work!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Rat Race 2017 - Small plane flys through competition pilots

Just one of the many interesting things that happened at this year's Rat Race was this incident. Where a small plane flew right through the middle of competition pilots directly above launch.

This happened about 30mins after the meet director had advised the local airport tower that paragliders would be in the area.

The viewpoint in the video is almost identitical to where I was when this happened. I was probably a few hundred feet higher and a little further back than the pilot that made the video.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Elsinore from 9000ft

Some amazing photos shot by Aaron Price of me flying above lake Elsinore in Southern California. We climbed to about 9000ft in the Elsinore convergence, then went cross country to the east on the convergence line. Alex Chiang is in one of the photos on the green glider.

From that height the views are amazing,  you can see Los Angeles in the haze to the north, San Diego is to the south but too hazy to see, and the marine layer was rolling in from the ocean in the distance.

Climbing out over launch, which faces east. Launch is into thermals coming up the mountain from Lake Elsinore. The launch window is limited here, as soon as the sea breeze blows in from the West, launch is impossible as it blows over the back.

Looking south towards San Diego. Hazy summer conditions and incoming marine air means the visibility was only about 40km in that direction.

Looking west over the plateau which is at 3000ft, marine layer rolling in from the ocean is visible in the distance. Alex Chiang is to the right.

I got about halfway to the mountains in the distance, Aaron eventually made it to the base of them, landing in a tight spot. Gavin Freidland took his time, making sure to connect with the convergence clouds forming over San Gorgonio, climbed to 13,000ft and flew over the back into the desert, a truely epic flight.

Crossing the green, murky waters of Lake Elsinore. This is busy airspace for paragliders to be in. A popular skydiving dropzone is at the south end of the lake.  Flying over the lake we are over the flight path of the ascending and descending jump plane. Sailplanes also tow up underneath us, and private light aircraft and commercial helicopters flying VFR tend to follow the freeway to the right at between 5000 and 7000ft.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Proximity flying at full speed on an Enzo...

Amazing video showing how one of the worlds top racing pilots train. Full speed, less than 20ft from to the ground, on an Enzo2. Do not try this at home....

They are training for this sort of top level racing

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Rat Race 2017



Track Upload


OK Landing/retrieve notification 541-646-0501 ATT

SOS Emergency Notification Tom Chesnut 541-915-0187 Carrier is SPRINT


1. Send SPOT/In Reach Message:
 (Pilot Number) LOK (Pilot Name) 
 Example: #101 LOK Mike Haley
Do not turn off SPOT

2. Once you are picked up send a text message/SMS to 541-646-0501:
 (Pilot Number) PUP (Pilot Name)
Once PUP Message sent you can now turn off your SPOT

3. Make certain you have been acknowledged.
Check the bitly pilot page on your/anybody's smart phone. You should be green on the chart. (Info for bitly page will be available at HQ)
Or Come into HQ and sign the book.

Pilot List


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Self Made Touchscreen Gloves

Here is a typical modern paraglider pilot problem: You've downloaded XCTrack or another flight app to your smartphone and installed it on your flight deck. You feel very cool and up to date because you didn't succumb to that $700 flight instrument....

But now when flying, you find you can't navigate the touchscreen because you have gloves on.

Smartphone screens use conductive technology, which means they detect the current in your skin based on the fact that your skin is slightly moist. Sometimes if your fingers are too cold or dry, you might have noticed the touchsceen not working because there isn't enough moisture on the skin.

Touchscreens won't work at all with gloves. You can buy special gloves with conductive fabric on the tips, but who knows if those gloves are the right ones for paragliding, and who really needs yet another set of gloves. I keep losing paragliding gloves, the pair I currently like the most cost $10 at a gas station on the way to go flying one day.

Here is the low budget solution to make your gloves touchscreen compatible.

1. Go online and search for Conductive Thread. It took me about 5 minutes to find some for about $5 and it was delivered in 2 days.  You don't need very much. The thread has strands of silver or stainless steel in it. I paid $5 for 35ft  shown below, but the one from Sensa Thread is $2.59 and even comes with a needle.

2.  Thread a sewing needle with at least 8 inches of the conductive thread and knot the end so the thread is doubled up.  Stick you finger in the glove, because you need to be sure that the thread will actually make contact with your skin.  Carefully work the needle through the glove so you can feel the needle. Don't prick your finger! You need to be able to feel the needle and thread, because your finger needs to be in contact with the thread to conduct electricity from the screen to your finger. It's no use just sewing threads in the top layer of fabric.

3. Make eight to ten stitches in a random pattern, with at least a couple of stitches going right through the material so that you can feel the thread with your finger inside the glove. You can be very neat or tidy, or just make it random. It won't really make much difference to the performance. Just make sure the threads are near the tip so that when you use the touchscreen, they will be in contact with the screen. Trim off any excess thread when you have enough stitches. Make sure some of the stitches go right up to the tip of the glove.

4. Test the finger on the smartphone app, and add a few more stitches if it is unreliable.

Worked perfectly!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nearly threw my reserve today....

Close call today while flying XC from Elsinore. We had fairly strong east wind and I was heading out into off the plateau towards Murrieta.  I got a 50% asymmetric collapse on the left side, and very quickly rotated nearly 180 degrees. The collapse didn't come out because of a cravat in the wing tip, which sent the glider within seconds into a strong vertical spiral, with the leading edge facing straight down. GPS analysis showed maximum descent rate of -12.9m/s. That's like flying directly towards the ground at 30 mph while spinning around in a amusement ride.

I could immediately feel the g-force pushing me back into the harness. For a couple of seconds I thought of pulling my reserve as I was probably only about 1000 ft over the ground and a locked in spiral can be very hard to get out of very quickly.  Then instinct kicked in and I pulled hard on the right brake to counter the rotation.  My Delta 2 came out of the spiral as fast it as it went in... violently, and almost immediately. No smooth controlled SIV spiral exit here.  Then I had to get the cravat out in strong sink with a 3:1 glide into wind, over a golf course and expensive homes, and with my heart rate still doing about 150 beats per minute.

The huge sink got even worse to about a 2:1 glide, then I blundered into a beautiful fat strong thermal just on the last scrubby hillside between a subvision with only a single possible landing area.

It was the best thermal of the day, no turbulence at all, and the only thermal of the day that actually went straight up! It took me backup to 6500ft again, more than enough to fly back over the plateau and continue to work my way down the mountains.   But the whole adrenaline rush of collapse, recover, then intense thermal had me mentally too taxed to go on flying over complex terrain in these full on conditions.  I was feeling dehydrated and nauseous from the sheer intensity and unpredictability of the conditions and the collapse.  I had to admit to myself that I just don't fly enough for this amount of flying drama to not be really mentally exhausting.

I turned back into the wind to get out into the valley and went straight into huge sink as soon as I hit the east wind again. Burned though 5000 ft of altitude to get just 3 miles further down the course!

Looking at the tracklog of the thermal, it starts to show some west push from the sea breeze at 5000ft. Possibly what caused the sink and turbulence was the sea breeze starting to blow through and crashing into the east wind flowing up from the valley, Forcing it down or to compress.  My experience with Elsinore is that it is often like this,  - either huge thermals or huge sink, with little in between.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

GPS Dump on Android

A couple of weeks ago for the first SoCal XC League event of the year, I realized that I didn't have any Waypoints in my GPS.

Reavis saved the day for me by using his phone to upload the .wpt file to my Flymaster from his Android phone.

I'd heard of pilots using phones as flight instruments and have been running XCTrack for a while. However I'd never seen anyone actually use GPSDump on phone.  You need the Waypoints already installed on your Flymaster for this to work. This will score you lots of kudos on the hill when pilots turn up to fly and haven't got the right waypoints (Thanks Reavis!). Just make sure you carry the cables with you.

 I haven't found a way to install trackpoints into GpsDump from the phones file storage.

It does seem like some phones don't like GpsDump. I tried this on my old Samsung Galaxy S5 and GpsDump refused to communicate with my Flymaster. Possibly old drivers or Android version.  Recently I upgraded to a newer phone and it worked immediately.

Step 1. Install GpsDump
1. Search for and install GpsDump from the Google Store

To Download Waypoints from Flymaster to GPSDump (assumes waypoints are already in the Flymaster)
1. Connect a MicroUSB On-the-Go cable to your Android phone
2. Connect the flymaster USB to the On-the-Go cable, and plug into the Flymaster
3. Open GPS Dump and tap WPT
3.Tap READ
4. GPS waypoints will download
5. Waypoint list will display.

To upload to the other pilot's Flymaster
1. Swap the cables to the other pilots Flymaster.
2. Turn on the Flymaster.
3. On the phone, Tap WPT 
4. Tap WRITE
5. The way points will upload to the Flymaster
6. On the Flymaster, push the menu button. Waypoints/Task should be highlighted. Press Enter/F3
7. Check the waypoints are displayed.

Download a track and submit it online

In competitions or local league events, it can be very useful to download your track and submit it online right after you fly. If you don't have one of the newer flight instruments with built in mobile connectivity, here is how you do it.

To download Tracklogs from Flymaster (Draft)
1. Connect the FlyMaster to your phone using MicroUSB and On-the-Go cable.
2. Open GpsDump on your phone
3. Click TRK
4. Tap READ
5. The tracklog will save in the location set in MISC/Preferences/Data Storage/Tracklog Data Storage
Note: I haven't managed to get this to work.  Any readers know why not? Email me at if you know what might be going wrong.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Laguna Meadows

Crossing Laguna Meadows at about 7500 ft in the first SoCal XCLeague race of the year

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Blossom Valley

Short film of the classic crossing to 'El Cap' from the Blossom Valley launch in the mountains east of San Diego.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

How to quickly verify .igc gps log files

Here is a very quick and easy way to check .igc files before you upload them up to Leonardo or XCContest.

This is an free online tool that allows quick viewing of a .igc tracklog file. There is no registration or other information required, just upload the file and click View.

The detailed flight analysis is quite neat. It has a useful feature that shows thermals and transitions with average climb rates, something Leonardo does not do.

Thermals are marked in green, transition or glides in red. The flight analysis even shows which way you turned in the thermals. From the table below it's clear I have a preference for turning left...

This is nice to provide a little big more analysis about the day and see how strong the thermals were. You can see in the screenshot from the Average Vs (m/s) column that this was a very slow day.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Thermalling with Sailplanes

Amazing video of a German pilot flying at the edge of the alps in southern Germany.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Paragliding World Cup Superfinal Videos

A collection of videos from the 2017 Paragliding World Cup Superfinal from French team member Teo Bouvard.

I went on an amazing two week flying trip here at this amazing flying site in 2006. Two days from the end of the trip, I tripped over in a rough landing field and broke my wrist. My only ever paragliding injury in 16 years of flying.

Task 1

Task 2
Amazing scenes of 125 pilots in the air at 0:35
Beautiful shots of the green hills of Valedares with huge field of gliders at 3:25

Task 3

Task 4
Great thermalling action at 0:50
Watch transition from thermal to speedbar hand positioning at 1:50
Full stall practice on an Enzo at 3:30!

Task 5
100 gliders at cloudbase at :30!
Huge gaggle on glide at 1:20

Task 6

Task 7

Task 8
Plenty of big gaggle thermal action in the first 2 minutes

Task 9
Watch two pilots under reserve after mid air collision at 3:16

Task 10

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Palomar Launch Upgrades

Recent hard work by San Diego club members has resulted in further upgrades to our Palomar launch site.

Its now one of the most amazing and well thought through dedicated paragliding and hang-gliding launches I know! There are now four different launch slots as this site is flyable from SSE through to NW winds year around. The newest SSE launch is small with only space to setup a single glider behind a row of scrub. The dropoff is quite steep so if the wind comes directly in this direction, the small size is not an issue.

In summer the sea breeze can get strong here. The sea breeze tends to funnel around the San Luis Rey river valley from the NW creating turbulence behind ridgelines.  Palomar therefore is often favored as a winter site, as the thermals reliably work, often up to 6000ft  whenever the sun is shining. The valley winds are lighter in winter, and the clear air makes the spectacular view even more enjoyable.

The latest work included widening the main launch access area on either side, removing rocks from the grass in the edges in the HG setup area and around the top landing area, and building a trail for the new toilet.

Despite the large size of the top landing area, top landing here requires confidence as when the site is working, there will be a lot of lift all around launch and also over the flat setup and parking area. Pilots are often popped up as they approach or uncertain about how deep behind launch to approach to avoid potential lee side turbulence caused by the steep slope behind launch . With the grass edges cleaned up and the SSE launch area also cleared, there is more space for top landing options and final corrections if the lift on approach ends up being stronger than expected. This is a mountain, thermal launch combined with laminar winds coming up the mountain, so the top landing approach varies every single time based on the combination of thermal lift and upslope winds.  If you can't get down the first time, just go around again. It just takes practice, the last time I landed here I managed my best top landing here yet, at just twenty feet from my car!

Note: As both the launch and landing are on private property with sensitive owers, SDHGPA membership is required to fly here, and car parking placard should be displayed on vehicles at both landing and launch areas at all times. See the club website for details or temporary membership.

Photo:San Diego Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association

Friday, January 6, 2017

3D Airspace for USA

One of the difficulties for pilots in learning about airspace is the 3D nature of it. Airspace sometimes goes from the surface up to a particular height, and sometimes goes from a particular height up to another height

With paragliding, sometimes we fly around airspace that goes from the surface up, sometimes we may carefully fly right over it if we have enough height to safely glide across, and sometimes we fly underneath it.

In previous posts I've referenced the USA Airspace file at This is a very comprehensive file and useful to save as a Google Earth folder that you can toggle on an off as required.

Unfortunately, this file is made of simple polygons. In some cases, the airspace that extends from the surface is 'clamped to ground' in Google Earth terminology. This makes it confusing and hard to understand if the airspace does not extend from the surface. You have to do some mental gymnastics to try and figure out where can fly relative to the airspace. It is more an abstract mental exercise that a pure visualization one.

For instance, in San Diego our Little Black flying site is right under airspace that goes from 3000ft to 10,000ft.  A short distance away to the north, the airspace steps up to 3800ft. Then to the east, it steps up to 4800ft. If you are going to fly cross country from this site, you have to be careful not to thermal up into the airspace directly over launch where it is lowest, and then if the day is good, it is useful to know when you get another 1800 ft to play with as soon as you turn east wards.

Close to the popular XC route from this site, there is also a Class D airspace that goes from the surface to 3800ft. I'm not aware ever get high enough to fly right over this airspace, but the border of it is important, as it is close to hills that might be tempting to ridge soar low down in order to find thermals to continue and XC flight.

Example of simple 2-D airspace with flight from Little Black  
Tracklog: Chris Cote

In the example above from local San Diego guru Chris Cote, the flight starts under airspace, then you can see the pilot go towards the Ramona airspace (teal coloured circle at left, then change course to avoid the airspace and follow the sun and clouds.

For airspace that extends from the surface, Google Earth makes it quite easy to adjust an existing polygon to become a 3-D polygon that is much easier to visualize.

1. Click on the polygon from the airspace file in Google Earth.
2. Right click 'Properties'
3. Modify the Atitude to 'Relative to Ground' rather than 'Clamped to Ground'
4. Enter the altitude at the top of the airspace. In this case it is 1158m or 3800ft
5. Set the 'Colour and Area' settings to 50% opacity for both the line and the area, so you can see through it. Make the 'Color' setting "Outlined and Filled"

This results in a very nice 3-D polygon that is much easier to visualize.

For airspace that starts above ground, the 2D file is not easy to modify. It's easier to find a different Google earth file that was created from the start as 3-D airspace. This file shows US Airspace in 3D. Unfortunately this file doesn't have the Class D (the Ramona airspace modified above), so that was added in as a separate item in Google Earth.

The 3-D airspace give a much better appreciation of how thermalling up under stepped airspace can get quite complicated.You can see the grey semi-transparent blocks above the flying site, and the tracklog going close to the 3000 ft ceiling on the original climb. This airspace is so complicated due to the very large military airport at Miramar, and busy commercial airport in San Diego.

3D Airspace in Grey
Tracklog: Chris Cote

Thermalling out from Little Black under stepped airspace
Tracklog: Chris Cote

How do I edit a .KML File

When a text file is saved with a .kml or .kmz extension, Earth browsers know how to display it. 

To see the KML "code" for a feature in Google Earth, you can simply right-click the feature in the 3D Viewer of Google Earth and select Copy. Then Paste the contents of the clipboard into any text editor

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Future of Paraglider Design -100+ Cells

Three new gliders from different manufacturers have given us a big clue as to what the next big wave of innovation in paraglider design may well turn out to be.

Many pilots may agree that the Sharknose, originally patented by Ozone after it appeared on the R10 open class glider in about 2010, was the last major innovation in paraglider design. Ozone in a admirable move, did not licence the sharknose technology to other manufacturers. Instead, they released it freely, leading to rapid variations. The trickle down from open class to the gliders that mere mortals fly was rapid, and now even low end ENB gliders typically use some variation of the sharknose design.

The Journey to 100 Cell Paragliders

For years, paragliders cell counts have slowly increased. Like many innovations in paraglider design, high cell counts first turned up competition gliders. In order to squeeze as much performance out of the sail, it needs to be as smooth as possible. The air pressure that holds the wing shape create a billowing effect in the fabric between each cell, which creates many small areas of turbluence across the surface of the wing.

Once notable exception to the trend has been Bruce Goldsmith with his 'Cord cut billow' design for the leading edge. This is marketing jargon for a seam that goes diagonally above the cell opening. This in theory creates the opportunity to not increase the number of cells while still gaining some advantages of a cleaner profile.

Other innovations have been trailing edge mini ribs, which clean up the billowing of the trailing edge and keep it flatter, and even internal mid ribs on the leading edge.

The most successful competition glider today, the Ozone Enzo 2 broke the 100 cell barrier with 101 cells. It's close competitor the Gin Boomerang 10 has just a few less at 96 cells. With the Enzo 2's huge 13.4 m flat span, this means the average cell width 13cm.

Nova was the first to take the plunge and cram 99 cells onto an EN-B glider with an corresponding aspect ratio. The Nova Phantom has an aspect ratio of 5.19 and a flat span in the ML size of 12.9 meters, making the average cell with 12cm, even smaller than the Enzo.

As a comparison, my current Delta 2 with it's higher aspect ratio and 62 cells, has an average cell width of 20cm.

Average cell width only goes down if the aspect ration doesn't increase more than the cells you add. For instance, the average cell width on a Trango XC2 is the same as the Ozone Delta 2, because more cells are required for the extra aspect ratio.

Here is Nova's explanation from the Nova Phantom website, which very succinctly sums up why I suspect an increase in cell count is likely to be one of the most compelling directions paraglider design will take in the next five years. The highlighting was added by me for emphasis.

Are wings with many cells difficult to fly?
No, this is a misguided belief. A higher number of cells increases glider weight, but by using lightweight materials and structurally analysed and optimised slots, we could compensate for this additional weight.
But performance wings with many cells are more challenging to fly than EN A gliders with few cells.
Correct, but this is due to the higher aspect ratio, rather than the increased number of cells. There is no direct correlation between the number of cells and how demanding a wing is to fly.
How does a large number of cells increase performance?
The more cells, the smoother the wing – which means less drag. A large number of cells also provides ultimate stability. This helps maintain performance even in turbulent air.
In the photo below, you can see how the high cell count on the Nova Phantom almost completely removes the classic mental picture we've had for years of paragliders - that of a bubbly, billowy wing. The shape looks incredibly clean, also cleverly highlighted by the narrow contrasting strips of color that highlight the clean sharp shape of the upper size of the leading edge, and the lack of billowing between cells both on the leading and trailing edges.. 

Nova Phantom: ENB with 99 cells
Photo: Nova website

The next photo shows another brand new glider, Ozone's Zeno. This is a EN-D 2 liner with the super clean look of an Enzo. It has 78 cells on an aspect ratio of 6.9 and a span of 12.9 meters, giving the average cell width of 17cm.  This is only a slightly higher aspect ratio than the Trango XC2, one of the best sport class gliders available currently. The higher cell count gives is a smooth, slim appearance. According to Ziad Bassel, who publishes the most thoughtful and thorough paraglider reviews, this is the fastest EN-D wing available on the market today.

Notice the compression of the cells towards the trailing edge at the bottom of the picture. The wing tips of theses high aspect ratio gliders flex back and forth a lot and the high cell counts make this flexing even more visible.

Ozone Zeno
EN-D with 78 cells, but has the look of a high cell CCC glider
Photo: Ozone Website

This photo of two Enzo 2s spiralling (or thermalling) together shows both the the high cell count and the extreme aspect ratio perfectly. On the glider with its top surface showing, the flexing of the lower wing tip is clearly visible. The braking on the inside wind does exaggerate the aspect ratio somewhat.

Ozone Enzo 2 
CCC with 101 cells. The most successful competition glider out there today
Photo: Gleitshirm Direct Website

As I write this, the internet is abuzz with the last new high cell sensation. From one of paraglidings newest manufacturers, Triple Seven, comes the Checkmate prototype, which looks like it might have a cell count between 125 and 150. Apparently the Valic brother flew these to high results in a recent European competition. As the gliders are prototypes, they were not allowed to be in the official results. At a guess it looks like these cells are perhaps only 10cm or less.

Checkmate Prototype: 150 cells?
Photo: Paragliding Forum discussion board

The Bottom Line: Better Glide and Turbulence Behaviour with Increased Safety

In recent years, a number of highly experienced pilots that previously flew competition gliders noticeably stepped down to Sport class gliders. The glider of choice seemed to have been the UP Trango XC2 which was rated as EN-C, but which most people seemed to consider really performed (and required the piloting skills) of an EN-D.

Recently at the 2016 Rat Race I asked Mark Hardman, a well know instructor in New Zealand, whether people fly competition class gliders in New Zealand. He answered that basically no one does. This is because in New Zealand conditions, pilots typically fly close to very rugged mountains at quite low altitudes and sometimes windy conditions. No one really wants to be on a competition glider in those situations, due to the extreme behaviour if collapses do occur.

Where I fly in southern California, despite an abundance of flying site and flyable days, there are only a handful of pilots on CCC wings . With our flying mix of dynamic terrain soaring, thermalling, frequent low saves from baking hot air in rugged terrain, and razor sharp thermals from large boulder strewn hillsides, having a high aspect wing is not the preferred choice.

Record flights around the world still require the best gliders, a look at the gliders flown in recent records in the Brazilian flatlands confirms that. But there are very few pilots that have the endurance to fly 11 hrs and attempt to break 500km. In the flatland flying situation, apart from scary looking high wind launches, those pilots rarely get less than 1000ft over ground for the entire flight.

Pilots doing large triangles in the European alps have gradually decreased the class of glider they fly. Those flights typically are 6-8 hours, with a huge variety of flying conditions, from strong lee side thermals, ridge soaring, and crossing areas of strong valley winds. There too, outside of competition, stability and comfort for long flights is becoming the priority for the glider of choice.

The areas where ultra high aspect ratio wings really excel are flat out racing at top level, flying into strong wind (which XC pilots really try and avoid, but is inevitable in racing), and flat out distance racing such as necessary to break new records. For all other types of paragliding, aspect ratio seems to come at a high cost of increased pilot fatigue and stress for the extra performance it provides.

The really good news is the high cell gliders at the EN-B and EN-C level will in general increase performance for the same aspect ratio.  This may may make lower class gliders more attractive to XC pilots who still need enough glide and performance to feel they can confidently make bold XC decisions such as a committing transition between thermals,  without the worry of arriving at tree top height with the need to scratch in a unknown and potentially dangerous location.

They will also likely appreciate not having to be constantly actively flying a twitchy, high aspect ratio wing in order to still progress in their flying goals and challenges. Overall, the trend of not having to step up to a paraglider that is more difficult to fly in order to keep progressing in the sport will be a great thing.  In 2016, almost every San Diego site record was broken by a relatively new pilot flying a Delta 2.  It would be almost unthinkable to have flown a EN-D or CCC wing on many of the days those flights were made, but the Delta 2 has the mix to glide, thermalling, collapse resistance and solidity on speedbar to give pilots confidence to progress as fast as their skill development and time to fly takes them.  The arrival of a bunch of high cell count EN-B or EN-C glider could make the learning curve to more challenging flights or Sport Class competition flying both safer and more fun for many pilots.

A few predictions

1. High cell count gliders are here to stay. The increase in complexity will be compensated for by more sophisticated manufacturing and use of lightweight materials for the internal structure
 2. As high cell count gliders move down the glider classes similar to the sharknose did, we will see better gliders at EN-D, EN-C and EN-B level. Beginner and school gliders are likely to stay basic and probably much less affected by this trend, as beginners cannot really take advantage of the performance advantages.
3.  Chances are very high that if you are an intermediate or sport class pilot, your next paraglider will have more cells than your last one, even if you don't move up a glider class or increase aspect ratio.