Lightweight gliders area a dream to launch.
What started out as gear for “hike and fly” free flyers has migrated into every niche of paragliding including paramotor. Over the past few years, they’ve entered nearly every maker’s lineup, too, which I really like.
The trade-off has always been longevity and durability. Given how much importance I give to evidence-based understanding I’ve never had much reason to say whether it’s worth it for most pilots. Now I have reason to say it is, especially for paramotor pilots who fly in calm air a lot.
My reason is a video put out by Chris Santacroce of Superfly who has an extremely active paragliding school that has been using these gliders for several years. His observation is that even with maybe 20% less durability, it’s worth it for the students.
Besides inflation, they are easier to deal with during transport, especially for traveling paraglider pilots trying to get their pack below luggage limits. According to his video, some people claim better handling, but I’ve never noticed it on the 5 or so examples I’ve flown. Maybe I’m not discerning enough. But the easy inflation and light wind handling on launch, though, is worth it to me. Super light wind reverses are another benefit. Yes, it’s still better to do a forward, but I get a kick out of the challenge.
The structural downsides include being easier to damage (don’t tug hard on snags), paying a bit more if it gets damaged, and longevity. It’s less likely to pass inspections much after 300 hours and/or 3 years depending on use. For motor pilots who tend to fly off grass at the edges of daylight, they may get much more use.
After seeing this video, it sure seems like a no-brainer for new pilots, especially given how it will help with inflation. After all, if you can’t launch, nothing else matters.
Single Surface or Hybrid
Single surface are a specialty subset of lightweight gliders that give up a lot of performance, at least what I’ve flown so far. They’re cool, to be sure, but aren’t as suitable for beginners on landing. They also require more power to fly level.
The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, with hybrids which have double surface partway back from the leading edge. They’re better than pure single surface models—and some schools use them in training (inflation rocks)—but I’m reserving judgement there. The one I flew still had a pretty healthy descent rate that needed arresting, even after using a bit of dive. The landing was reasonably soft, but I can see where a newer pilot, landing power off, might hit harder than we’d like.
Overall, I love the choices and will never have anything other than a lightweight glider. Call me lazy.
Fly often, flight light.