I don’t normally review school wings but I’m making an exception. More on why below. There are, no doubt, a number of good choices out there in this category but this is the one I tested. Also, I have to point out one to avoid: the “Power Atlas.” This is a school wing with very benign handling (that’s good) but with terrible inflation characteristics. There’s simply no more reason to endure that any more.
Why A School Wing?
My interest in these things arose from an accident last year that made me rethink what new pilots should start on. Everybody pooh-pooh’s the most benign beginner wings as dogs, thinking themselves “above” needing such training wheels. But that could be a fatal mistake. Paragliders with good super-basic handling are harder for neophytes to crash with excessive brake pull–exactly what causes a lot of student accidents and at least two fatalities.
Yes, you need enough handling to avoid obstacles, and to flare, and to enjoy, but many student handling accidents would either be avoided or be less severe on these forgiving rides. It’s mostly because they require so much brake pull that pilots won’t be as likely to stall or spin them. For example, on the Stardust, I could put my hands all the way down and it didn’t start to stall. Mind you, it could, but it’s just less likely. Of COURSE you still need expert instruction but this is just one more weapon in your war on risk.
One fatal accident in Canada a few years ago happened when the student held onto the brakes while getting into his seat. Obviously good training is important but EVERYBODY claims to give good training and yet lapses like this happen. Even a great instructor may have a moment of inattention and it would sure be nice if our gear made this kind of mental moment less-than-lethal.
Another fatal accident happened when the pilot got out of kilter with brake input and did one final wingover. He was flying a known hot rod, probably because he mistakenly thought his airline experience qualified him to skip the school wings. That’s obviously not very bright but I can’t see his arrogant assumption as warranting a death sentence.
I realize we won’t ever eliminate risk in this sport but see a lot of low hanging fruit, opportunities to make it safer, especially for new pilots who may not ever realize how much risk they’re invoking. I know how much risk competition is, and filming, and photography, and flying without a reserve, but new entrants don’t. This is one area we can improve.
Back to the Stardust.
OK, off the soap box on on to the Stardust.
Axis is a smallish Czech Republic wing maker of many years that has made a splash in the U.S. mostly through it’s Pluto line of gliders. They make quite a few other models but this abbreviated review is about their “school” wing, the Stardust. I weighed about 138 pounds and flew it on a 70 degree day with my half-full Miniplane. So I was on the mid to low part of its weight range. That’s good, it’s where you want to be, about 7.5 pounds per sq meter.
Handling: It’s perfect for brand new pilots: very benign. I could pull full brake on a side and it had no tendency to spin. Of course it doesn’t turn very fast but that’s the point.
Inflation: Easy. It doesn’t pop up quite as quick as some but it also doesn’t tend to overfly and front tuck. It’s a good mix, dramatically better than my early Santana and the Power Atlas.
Risers: Basic 4 riser system with trimmers and a speedbar. Not a lot of travel but it would be fine for new pilots to get used to these accessories.
Efficiency: It sacrifices some efficiency for its very benign handling and easy inflation. I didn’t try it on speedbar but suspect that the speed range would be pretty minimal anyway. It had enough efficiency to allow a decent flare. Not like hotter rides, for sure, but enough.
Speed: Not much. In the size you want this wing flown by yourself or your loved one speed is not a huge factor. It’s probably pretty average for the wing loading. Yes, it’s nice to be able to penetrate into a surprise headwind but suspect it’s even better to land under control.
Certification & Safety: This is where it shines. It’s not just that its certified as a beginner wing, it’s how forgiving it is to those ham-fisted moments that new pilots (as we all were) have periodically.
Overall: Great school wing: I highly recommend this one or its ilk for brand new pilots. If, after 100 flights, you find yourself wanting more, move on.