This is the most fun glider I’ve ever flown. The reason is a combination of super nice handling and high efficiency. After playing with Alex Varv’s loaner in 2004, I was hooked and, in spite of some trepidation over its lack of certification, I bought one. I have yet to fly anything that compares to it for pure carving fun but admit that there’s a some tradeoff in risk. Acro wings have great handling but rarely this kind of efficiency. This wing is not intended for acro.
I’ve accumulated an intense 100 hours or so including two competitions, some soaring and many tests of techniques.
Tested wing loading (projected) was 230 lbs per 19.4 m� or 11.8 lbs/m�. That’s pretty heavy. Using Flat wing area of 22 m�, the wing loading is (230/22) 10.45 lbs/m�.
Caution: I recommend this wing only to pilots who have mastered active flying; that is, keeping the wing exactly overhead even in moderate (level 3) turbulence. It’s incredibly light handling and rapid spin-up in a big collapse will necessitate it.
Handling (10): Awesome, its raison d’etre. When braked, the tips curl in which both slows them down and pulls them sideways. Other wings do this, too, but when combined with the high loading and efficiency it makes for incredible responsiveness. That combination of efficiency and handling is what makes it so alluring to me.
Like the Silex, pulling just one brake will dive it towards the ground. But incredibly flat turns are possible with more opposite brake pressure to prevent the dive. Anybody who says the wing dives in a turn is simply not controlling it. Yes, if you just tug on one brake, it will point earthward. That’s part of the reason why this is not a beginner wing and part of the reason why some pilots like it. If they want to dive at the ground, it will do so with predictability.
Inflation (7): Easy. Its so small that it doesn’t tug back so you can easily keep moving. But if it starts coming up crooked it’ll go over sideways quickly. If not for that characteristic I would call it the easiest inflating wing I’ve launched. Don’t overdo the A’s, like most MacParas, it’ll front tuck pretty easily. Being so clean it will also overfly you quite easily.
Kiting, on the other hand, is harder for a few reasons. 1) as the wing gets lower, trying to use the brakes will cause the tips fall back before effecting a turn. 2) it’s squirrelly. Where the fatter beginner gliders will recover from getting off-center with brakes alone, this one will require a step or two sideways. If you have a limited launch area (like the top of a motorhome) and high, bumpy winds, this wing will be more of a handful. This characteristic is common on high-performance soaring wings, usually rated DHV 2-3 or higher. 3) It overflies and front tucks easily, you must be a bit more proactive keeping it from surging. Make no mistake, you can master kiting this wing as well as any other, it will just take an hour or so with it in each condition you want to master. It requires a bit more attention than others.
Efficiency (10): It’s basically a scaled down comp glider�real high aspect ratio and with a bazillion cells, so it’s quite efficient. Even though it’s smaller, it has a better sink rate than my Silex and a much better glide ratio. My direct drive motor takes about 4700 rpm to fly the Silex level and 4400 rpm on the Spice.
This high efficiency allows for lots of cool flying and even soaring (be careful, though). On landing, it maintains its speed (energy) enough that you can flare and skim the ground for 15 feet or so before needing to touch without needing to swoop.
As you would expect, it has a higher sink rate owing to its higher speeds.
Speed (7): It’s not as fast as a similar sized reflex glider (Action, Reaction, Revolution, Etc.). Being so small, it’s even more sensitive to weight than a larger wing. So a heavy pilot will go like mad on this thing. I only weigh about 145 lbs so it’s only middling fast. Of course few gliders build such an overload into the published weight ranges as the Spice so those reflex gliders will typically call for a larger size at a given weight. In that regard, the speed is closer. The Spice isn’t that particularly fast (for the size) but its quite efficient at its higher speeds.
With trimmers out and full speedbar the glider is obviously fast. It’s also more susceptible to frontal collapses than other gliders I’ve flown. The 25 sq meter model is certified (AFNOR Performance) and doesn’t even have trimmers, possibly because it would have been difficult to certify. That explains why using trimmers and speedbar simultaneously risks a potentially wild ride in a big collapse.
Construction (5): Built soundly although probably not as stout as some others. I only say that because it’s so lightweight which is also part of its blissful inflation. It still passed the normal 8 G tests so, unless you’re doing intense aerobatics, its plenty strong. I’ve put it through enormous paces, especially high wind kiting, and has withstood all that beautifully. After over 100 hours its handling like it did on day 1.
The wing comes with trimmers, a stuff sack and speedbar. The trimmers are unusual in that there is a white line to indicate neutral. The manual doesn’t even describe the trimmers so I’ve done some testing. Minimum sink rate occurs with the trimmers set full slow and light brake pressure. Neutral (white line) is a good compromise and approximates the best glide ratio setting. Trimmers full out speed it up handily at some increased risk of frontal collapses.
Certification & Safety (2): Here’s where you sacrifice. The model I fly (22) is not certified probably because it would be too dynamic at the high weights allowed. The biggest risk, though, has not come from weird collapses, rather it’s come from pilots over-controlling it. The super responsive, light handling makes easy to get carried away beyond a pilot’s skill or anticipation. With little effort this wing can be turned to dive at the ground or let the pilot cause a severe oscillation very quickly.
As to collapse recovery it’s been surprisingly good. Although I’ve had a couple, it recovered very quickly with minimal input. But that input is critical, if she starts turning, it will get steep in a hurry. Also, collapses large (over 50%) while accelerated verge on the violent. Admittedly one of my collapses was pure stupidity. While flying along with a friend I spotted some geese walking on the ground. “Lets go get ’em” I said on the radio as I simultaneously pushed out the speedbar, flicked up the trimmers and let off the power. Of course the front of the glider tucked under! It recovered just as quickly when I reversed my bafoonery.
Another collapse happened while competing in the 2005 April convention. I was accelerated with the trimmers 3/4 out and it was turbulent. Most pilots weren’t using full trimmers (for good reason). In spite of 40% of the wing folding under, I was able to steer enough to remain in the course and complete the task.
I’ve also had a couple spins but it recovered immediately with hands up after only a quarter turn. It’s very sensitive to excessive brakes�more than other gliders. Due to it’s overloaded weights it is not very susceptible to parachutal stall.
In smooth air this wing is pure joy with minimal risk increase. But when it gets bumpy you must already be skilled at keeping it overhead. For the pilot who has really mastered such active piloting, it may be just as safe as any other wing.
This most certainly *not* a good choice for a first wing nor for pilots who fly infrequently or tend to be mechanical.
Overall: This is my favorite glider but I realize that it can bite easier than most. Enjoy, but be careful.