Monday, April 16, 2012

Flying the Aeros Combat 13.5 GT - a review

I have about 15 flights now on the Combat 13.5 GT. During those flights I've experienced weak and strong conditions, well organized and turbulent thermals and slow and fast glides. So I think I'm starting to get a nice picture of how the glider handles and performs :-)

First things first. Launching. No problems there (under normal circumstances). Using 0 to 1/3 VG and using the backward position for the CG, the glider gives me a nice feel and has plenty of pitch, which helps finding the right angle of attack during the run.

Next is thermaling. This is where the 13.5 differs most from my previous glider, the 14.2. In well-organized thermals, it feels like the glider can be high-sided a little. It's not quite high-siding as I remember it from the Spyder, but the glider does seem to turn flatter and slower than you expect to be possible. Push it a bit too much and you immediately feel the loss of efficiency, but as long as you don't overdo it, the glider feels extremely well coordinated and efficient. This was a big surprise for me during a late afternoon flight in Bassano, my first thermal flight with the 13.5. But it was a very pleasant surprise.

In turbulent thermals, I can correct the glider faster than I could with the 14.2. I believe this already helped me during 3 low saves. Once in the first task during the winter race and twice during the first task in Bassano, not that it mattered there... But, during competitions, a low save can make a lot of of difference! And I guess that was my weakest point with the 14.2.

When I considered buying the glider, I feared I was not going to climb as well with it as I did with the 14.2. To make things worse, I put on 5+ kg during the winter and wasn't able to run them off due to an overstressed knee, so I arrived at the Aeros Winter Race expecting not to climb well at all. Now, after some practice with the glider and some tasks under the belt, I think, overall, I climb better with the 13.5 than with the 14.2. Maybe not in nice, light conditions - the big 14.2 was excellent for that - but definitely when things get more alive.

On glide, with full VG, the 13.5 handles noticeably better than 14.2. This was not the case when I flew Matjaz' glider. And I cannot say what causes the difference (settings, full technora?), but the glider is definitely less stiff with full VG, while performance is excellent. A 10 km high-speed glide next to Christian Ciech in Slovenia proved that.

It's also clear now, why Aeros put the moveable hang point in production. The 13.5 has a lot of pitch and it would just be tiring to glide without being able to move the CG forward. So, if you buy a 13.5, buy it with the moveable hang point!

Landing the 13.5 is considerably easier than landing the 14.2. The glider can more easily be corrected, especially at the lower speeds just before flaring, even with quite a bit of VG. This might very well be due to the higher wing loading. The loading surely also helps with clean flow separation when flaring.

So, I like the glider, now I just want the Belgian weather to show off in the coming months!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One week ago - flying in Austria

One week ago, we were on our way to Bassano. We drove from Belgium to Kössen. A cold front hit us at night and we woke up with a bit of snow in the valley. I expected nice post-frontal weather for a few days and was keen to fly. The cable car took us and our gliders to launch. Great service by the way! An 11 euro ticket and no surcharge for the gliders.

Launch is at 1400 m or so and it was pretty cold up there (-7). Looked like we would need some good clothing.

After I launched I had to work a little bit above the valley to climb to base at 1700m. With a dripping nose and cold hands, I flew to the south-facing slopes and hit two 3 m/s thermals on the way to the Inn valley. I planned to fly there, return and do a second out-and-return to Chiemsee. My plans were cut short however when I didn't manage to find anything on the leeward south sloped returning from the Inn valley. I was surprised to have landed after such nice thermals just a few minutes before. And being on the ground with nice clouds everywhere feels very stupid... Even more so because I slid through the mud after being surprised by a pretty strong gradient on landing and pushing out too late as a result. Luckily there was still plenty of snow to clean the harness :-)

The day was nice indeed, many people flew and the thermals lasted for a few hours. Toni Raumauf did a nice 77 km triangle to the Chiemsee, returning via the Inntal and the Wilder Kaiser.

The day after, we continued our journey and headed for Zillertal. My expectations were 3500 m ceilings on the second post-frontal day. However, as soon as we entered the valley, things looked very stable. Indeed, we launched late because we felt very little motion on launch. I had a hard time making any height, so I crossed the valley looking for lift on the west facing slopes, but I never got any higher than 1500m. Not high when the valley is at 600 m. The 2 hours in moderately turbulent thermals, mostly pretty close to the terrain were very good for my confidence in the glider though. It just handles the turbulences better than the 14.2 did. And it lands better too. Except for the landing the day before, all my landings with the 13.5 have been really nice. Long slow ground effect, slowly increasing the angle of attack until flaring gently. I'm a bit cautious about flaring too aggressively because I don't want to damage the tail. This results in 2 or 3 steps after landing, but that's no problem.

We stayed for another day in Mayrhofen and waking up the next day, the sky looked more unstable. But, we got warned that the Föhn was coming in. The launch looked nice and more active when rigging. The distant Föhn clouds which were visible earlier on had disappeared, but the local paragliding school warned us that winds were picking up in the valley. What to do? The first cumi's started to develop and they didn't look turbulent. But, as I was getting ready, more and more lenticulars appeared. No good sign, certainly not when the valley already had some gusts and the wind on launch shifted south as well. We derigged and left for Bassano.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Trofeo Montegrappa - poor weather

Just home from the Trofeo Montegrappa. We had one super-short task and today the weather was nice, so they flew another task. I had to leave early because I couldn't risk driving back on my own from Bassano after a flying a task. Gordon Rigg pointed out to me that a second category comp does not need 1500 points to be valid. Indeed, the sporting code only mentions this for Cat 1 events. Seems to be something we might need to review, in my opinion. I need more holidays and it's a shame that I always lose 2 days just for travel too... I'm pretty tired now, more writing later.