Avid blog-readers who have already realised that I will likely name my future children after paraglider brands will also know that I’ve recently completely refreshed my stable. The wonderful and capable Swing Mistral 4 that has served me since 2006 went into hibernation last year when I acquired a MacPara Eden 4 for paramotoring, which (embarrassingly) outperformed the former glider in unpowered flight as well – no doubt due to a 5-year advantage in newer technology. The Eden is a great wing, and deserves its accolades as an ideal single wing for flying with and without power, but over the course of a year of paramotoring I came to realise that (like in free flying) I love long cross-countries and exploration, and the reflex paramotor wing technology has proven itself to be ideal for fast, stable, efficient flying. I began to research PPG wings, and test-fly everything I could. My desires: a wing capable of good top speeds (65km/h or more), which is still easy enough to launch that I can get away at altitude (5000’) carrying a full fuel load, DSLR camera and emergency supplies, and is fuel efficient. If possible, I wanted a wing that can be flown free (without motor) on occasion, so that I only have to take one wing on trips where packing space is an issue.
In the meantime, while my search progressed, a friend offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse on a Gradient Avax XC3: a high-performance paraglider with beautiful handling and a history of setting records. While I’ve flown many high performance wings and enjoyed many of them, I’ve always resisted spending large quantities of money on the upgrade, but after flying the XC3 a few times I was completely hooked. All gliders have their personalities, quirks of handling, etc. The XC3 and I were made for each other: from the second flight it was completely intuitive and connected flight. The wing still feels tiny above my head, but she immediately follows where my thoughts go, has a glide ratio of more than 10:1 and gets there fast! The deal was made, and I’m spending the winter getting to know her completely so that we can disappear into the distance come summer.
Once I had the XC3 to fly, and knowing that I would need the cash to buy another paramotor wing, I took a leap of faith and advertised the Eden 4 for sale. As a testament to the popularity and versatility of the wing, it was bought on the same day. I was a pilot with an engine, propeller and no aircraft. Fortunately, lots of people had motor wings for sale, so I went on a test-flying spree and tried offerings from Paramania, Apco, MacPara and Dudek. Apco’s new Lift impressed me; the slightly older (tour de) Force certainly had the speed, and the MacPara MacJet was impressively stable in lumpy air with the trimmers wide open. Reading online reviews and talking to plenty of pilots kept my thoughts turning back to one wing, however: the Ozone Speedster. It seemed to fit the requirements, I could find some videos of people free-flying it with ease, and the top speeds were impressive (65-70km/h). I’ve liked every Ozone wing I’ve flown, but never had the pleasure of owning one. A local Speedster pilot summed it up nicely: “If money was no issue and I could buy any wing right now, I’d buy another Speedster!” To my frustration, the one wing in Cape Town that was the right size for me to test fly was off in Mozambique with its owner. The local dealer was offering me an attractive price, and in the end I took a leap of faith in the Ozone brand and ordered one without so much as a test flight.
As luck would have it, Ozone had the right size and colour in stock at their factory in Vietnam, and it arrived on my doorstep within 4 working days! It is the first brand new glider I have ever bought, and I took great pleasure in unpacking everything carefully. The wing was supplied with a great backpack, inner bag, packing straps, manual, decals, stickers, repair materials, and even two keyrings, one of which is a branded bottle opener, clearly for cracking open drinks in your inevitable post-flight bliss. I had added a compact/lightweight concertina packing bag (the Speedster has the same leading edge reinforcements originally designed for the R10) and lycra top. Everything oozes quality. I couldn’t resist the temptation – my car now features the Ozone and Gradient stickers (baby names, remember?).
Fate decided to taunt me, and despite the rapid shipping it was more than a week before I had an opportunity to fly the wing. I first took it for a little ground-handling one evening (she behaved very well), but the first flyable moment was a soar-able afternoon at Signal Hill. Two pilots flying earlier in the day had managed a flight to Kommetjie, and I arrived with others later in the afternoon hoping to replicate the feat. I am free-flying the Speedster 28 right at the bottom of its weight range (not the recommendation, but I bought mine with the intention of being able to launch with full fuel loads and emergency kit at high altitudes). The conditions were typical for Signal Hill: fairly strong (18-20km/h) dynamic wind with small thermals punching through. As with some other manufacturers, Ozone has designed the trimmers so that the loop can be clipped into the karabiner for free-flying (a useful safety feature, as the wing is only certified in this position), but due to the wind strength and my curiosity/wilfulness I don’t usually fly like this. Launching with the trims open to the marked line is reputed to be easier, and my ground-handling practice had demonstrated this well. I was soon off the ground and climbing easily. Also in the air was an Ozone MantraM4 (high performance paraglider) and several EN B/C (DHV 1-2/2 wings), making comparisons simpler.
Changing from the XC3 (EN D paraglider, which I am flying at the top of the weight range) onto an EN C paramotor wing (flown light) certainly takes some recalibration of the senses, but I was quickly impressed with how the Speedster performed. Turns with weight-shift were smooth and level. Brake input is progressive with good control of the speed range; adding firm pressure to some weight-shift achieves nicely coordinated banked turns. Adding the tip steering to the mix allowed me to really throw the wing around without losing pressurisation – what fun! The effect of the speedbar is immediate and impressive, but the sink rate does begin to suffer past about half bar. The wing was sensitive enough to hook into the small thermals and climbs well. Although I struggled to keep up with the M4, it was easy to get above the other gliders, and although efforts to fly into the now more south-westerly wind and get around the corner onto Lion’s Head were thwarted, the Speedster easily matched the other wings on glide. I eventually came in for a nice controlled slope landing with a butterfly flare at the end – point of stall easily felt and controlled. Flight tracklog here. I’ll be very comfortable taking this wing free flying in the future.
The next day dawned with moderate southerlies, and I was only due at work in the afternoon. I was itching to try the Speedster under power, and to try out flying at Muizenberg. There is a fantastic launch area there, with enormous lawns next to the river running from Zandvlei to the beach. I called on John, a friend and fellow Speedster pilot, who knows the site well. He was keen, so we met around lunchtime to commit some aviation.
A pleasant 16-18km/h breeze was blowing straight up the field. We rigged quickly between answering questions from enthusiastic onlookers. John is 80kg and flies a lightweight 80cm2 Miniplane paramotor, using the 26m2 Speedster. I am around 85kg, like to have a reserve and various bits of camera kit and fly a significantly heavier PAP 125cm2 motor; the 26m2 would be just fine at sea level, but I’ve invested in the 28m2 for better efficiency and flying at altitude. Launching with no breeze – especially those higher altitude launches – has been a challenge on my previous wing, so I was pleased to have a little wind for the first flight. I set the trims to the white launch line, did a reverse pull-up, turned, began to run and squeezed the throttle. The take-off was almost instant, taking me completely by surprise. I climbed out to 300ft rapidly despite easing off the throttle, and did a quick circuit to make sure John launched without hassle. He was off quickly as well; on a recent trip to France he says the Miniplane was able to keep the Speedster climbing on open trim at 2000m ASL. Very impressive.
We flew the short distance to the beach and then east along the coast, staying below 300ft. The skies were clear, and even with the southerly cross-wind I clocked 60km/h going in either direction with open trims and full speedbar. I’ll have to wait for a windless day or square course to get a true speed indication, but the wing is living up to its reputation. In the neutral position, it responds well to brake inputs, and the trick of using both the main brakes and wingtip steering together to get excellent manoeuvrability carries over from what I experienced in free flight. Once the trims are open, brake input causes the expected paradoxical roll and yaw that is characteristic of full reflex profile wings (read this excellent description), but the tip steering is light and efficient. Unlike stabile steering, the Speedster’s tip steering setup allows you to turn, bank and manoeuvre almost as easily as if you were flying with the brakes. It’s intuitive and very confidence inspiring.
At the Strandfontein Pavillion, which marks the border of the Cape Town International CTR (controlled airspace; no PPGs!) we turned back towards Muizenberg, enjoying the scenery. The sky was empty and blue, the sea and wetlands sparkled, the gulls soared the dunes and the spring flowers carpeted the fields. Matching speeds, I shot off some photos of John on his burgundy Speedster and wished he had a camera to snap my blue one. Next time! He had limited fuel, so after 45 minutes of relaxed flying he returned to the launch field. I made one low-level run along the beach, gauging the attitude/altitude control offered by the speedbar (very effective). Even on full ‘bar with open trims I was using only 80% of my maximum engine revolutions. This is great news for me, as it means I can fly much more efficiently – and hence longer, further, and higher. This was also with my smaller propeller (125 rather than 130cm).
I took a last turn out to sea, flying over the surfers at Muizenberg to check for any large fish with teeth lurking below the waves. None appeared. A quick downwind cruise brought me back to Zandvlei, where the Speedster treated me to a no-step dead-stick landing and then ground-handled easily back to the car. Flight track here. I’m still smiling.
The only question now? Whether the first baby gets named Gradient or Ozone… 😉