Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who's flying what?

All major paraglider manufacturers will be represented in this year's competition. There's a good mix of competition, serial and even DHV2 wings. Here's the quick low-down on who's flying what:

Gradient (6 pilots)
de Dorlodot (BEL), Skrabalek (CZE), Gebert (GER), Makkonen (FIN), Pascale (ITA1), Carter (RSA)

Axis (4 pilots)
Pennicuik (AUS), Payne (GBR2), Vrabec (SVK), Rejmanek (USA)

Gin (4 pilots)
Ogisawa (JPN1), Geijsen (NED), Jagla (POL), Muller (SUI2)

Advance (3 pilots)
Eichholzer (AUT1), Morillas (ESP), Maurer (SUI3)

Nova (2 pilots)
Fanderl (CAN), Matsubara (JPN2)

Ozone (2 pilots)
Wirtz (FRA2), Toase (GBR1)

U-Turn (2 pilots)
Sprungli (FRA1), Takats (HUN)

UP (2 pilots)
Coconea (ROM), Hofer (SUI1)

Mac (1 pilot)
Susa (SLO)

Niviuk (1 pilot)
Penso (VEN)

Skywalk (1 pilot)
Frotscher (ITA2)

Sol (1 pilot)
Gryaznov (RUS)

Swing (1 pilot)
Amon (AUT2)

It'll be very interesting to see how the different wings perform. The full-on competition wings like the Gin Boomerang 6 (flown by all the Gin pilots) and the Ozone Mantra R09 (flown by Wirtz) have the best performance in the air. However, in the normal version they have a lot of heavy internal structure and semi-rigid parts to help them maintain their shape at high speed. The X-Alps versions of these wings use fewer rigid parts to save weight, but this will compromise their handling and potentially their safety in the air. It might be that the friendlier competition wings like the Axis Mercury 09 (flown by Vrabec and Rejmanek) which are designed without rigid parts will fly better in their lightweight versions.

Pilots flying lightweight versions of certified wings like the Gradient Avax XC2 and the Axis Venus 2 will have less performance in the air but this may well be compensated for by the relative ease of piloting. We'll be improvising launch sites in the mountains and conditions won't always be perfect. Having a glider that launches easily - which is most definitely not a full-on competition wing with its structure removed - in extreme cases could make the difference between a passable launch and no flight at all.

Finally, competition wings are designed for maximum performance in normal paragliding competitions. These are short, intense flights lasting two to four hours and very different from the long multi-hour cross country flights we hope to do in the X-Alps. Competition wings are extremely demanding and tiring to fly. As fatigue sets in during the race only the very best pilots, like Hofer, Eichholzer and Maurer will have the ingrained reactions to continue to pilot them at 100%. Personally, I know that I will fly better for longer and be safer on my Venus 2.