I finally did it and took the MacPara Spice 22 (see Review) paraglider through a maneuvers clinic put on by Chris Santacroce.
Probably the most important bit to know is how dangerous this stuff is outside of a well-run over water clinic. My guts were nearly handed to me in a nylon bag. Hitting the water would have probably been survivable, hitting land would most certainly have not been.
Second, and even the clinic literature admitted this, if you go into a clinic as a PPG2 pilot, you’ll exit a PPG2. There’s no magic. Skill comes through repetition of success and you won’t get enough practice in just 3 days. You will get some tools, and a few things to rehearse, but their documentation was clear about being realistic about your skills.
The worst mistake anyone can make is overconfidence. One pilot, who wrote an article on his clinic, died a year or so later while taking on conditions that were greater than he. Mind you, I highly recommend the clinic, but know that botching many of these maneuvers can land you in a world of trouble. I know.
Steep, high speed, or high G maneuvers (where you feel weighted in the seat) carry enormous risk, especially on the Spice 22. Although the wing behaves quite well, it is very efficient, builds speed quickly and has dynamic recovery characteristics. Accelerated maneuvers are particularly wild. What I describe here are my experiences, yours may be vastly different. That’s why attending a clinic is the venue to experiment, not on your own.
I tried everything I set out to do although would have liked to a do a few variations of the spin, namely from slow flight, but was wore out. Five flights doing this stuff is plenty. All the maneuvers were with trimmers set to neutral or full slow. The most benign handling concurred with the full slow setting. I have one day of boat tow coming to me, maybe in the fall I’ll go back for round II.
This is something I’ve done a lot although usually it’s because I launch backwards from a soaring hill and fly that way for the heck of it. Chris uses it as a warm up exercise to demonstrate how being twisted is not a big deal and to prepare the pilot in case a maneuver leaves him like that.
The glider flies just fine. Don’t panic and fly the wing with the brake lines from above their pulleys. I’ve also done it with the motor but only with the prop stopped—think what would happen if throttle were accidentally squeezed. It’s a good low-risk introduction to unusual circumstances, too. Don’t pull brakes using the toggles, which are below the twist, since the input could get stuck
To turn around, pull the risers apart from above the twist. It naturally wants to come out in most cases, unless you twisted more than once. In my case I held myself in a half twist (I was facing backwards) by putting my arm behind one riser and holding the other to prevent untwisting.
A spiral dive, where the wing is pointed significantly downward, is very dangerous even on beginner wings. High G forces can cause a blackout and the spiral can become stable (locked in), meaning that it continues turning with no pilot input. So a pilot who blacks out in a stable spiral will ride it, unconscious, all the way to impact. The Asymmetric spiral avoids that fate by shallowing out slightly on each turn.
Entry is done by building smoothly to a steep, but not locked-in, spiral then letting off the control input (weight shift and brake) momentarily. The turn gradually decreases. With still moderate G loading, steer to steepen it again then repeat. Done properly, it takes about 3/4 turn to shallow and about 1/4 turn or less to steepen. It is still a very steep maneuver.
I’d been practicing this on my own but was letting it come too far out. Done the way Chris instructed kept it a very high descent maneuver (1200 FPM or more) without the trauma of a continuous high-G spiral.
To recover, just let off the controls. In a real nose-over spiral (wing pointed straight down) it may require opposite brake and weight shift to initiate recovery but don’t hold for long. An important part of any spiral recovery is to dampen the roll-out. If you’re turning right, then as it levels, hold enough right brake to dampen the recovery. If you let it come out quickly it will convert all that speed into a potentially dramatic climb that could unweight you (lines go slack) at the top. Besides being dangerous, it’s terrible form.
The Spice’s highly responsive controls make these easy and fun. Be careful, it’s easy to go excessively steep.
Left turn, swing back, right turn, swing back, left turn, etc. The Spice is pure pleasure for these.
I do wingovers a lot but Chris got me to do them steeper than I’ve done and more symmetrical. The free flight harness improves weight shift, too. Of course any control input, brakes or weight shift, is more effective during the higher G part of a maneuver. So at the bottom, when you feel the most G’s, that’s approximately the time to have the most input.
Another few tidbits is to keep some brake pressure on the top side as you’re going over and also to keep the wing pointed in the direction you’re traveling. If the high tip folds, you need more pressure there, if the down tip folds, you let it slide by not turning enough with inside brake.
In a way, the motor makes these easier by modulating thrust. Of course that needs to be learned gradually. And wingovers are a good learning tool because you don’t need to do them particularly steep to practice smooth control.
Your wing has a natural period where it would swing fore and after in decreasing intensity after a brake pull (or in turbulence). Pitch oscillations are done by aggravating that period with speedbar and brake input so that they get steeper. It’s much like how a child amplifies the natural pendular action on a swing set with body changes. Go too far, though, and when the wing surges forward, it will front tuck.
Start by stepping on the speedbar. Once the wing is diving, release the speedbar, pause, then add brake pressure then easing off. At the top, as the wing surges from behind, you hands are mostly up but a bit of pressure reduces the likelihood of a frontal collapse. Start gradually then increase intensity in way that maximizes the oscillations. If you go too far or don’t apply some brake as the wing surges forward, it will front tuck. That’s no big deal but it shows the forward limit.
One thing I wanted to try and forgot was to intentionally let one of these go too far and front tuck. I’ve done them quite a bit with power but have never gone that far. I have had a full frontal once when I let off the power, let up the trimmers and stood on the speedbar all at once. Duhhh!
The Spice is very responsive to speedbar so it would be easy to get a frontal collapse. Hold enough brake as the wing surges overhead and down to prevent it.
Front Tucks (full frontal collapse)
Pull the A’s all the way down then let up. It falls back a bit then restarts immediately. I haven’t done this maneuver since my first clinic in 2000 and it was less dramatic on the Spice than it was on my Santana which horse shoed.
On another one he had me hold the A’s longer and nothing strange happened nor was there any tendency to deform beyond the folded leading edge. When I let up it started flying immediately.
I’m wearing my free-flight harness with a life preserver. That front pouch is part of the harness and contains my reserve parachute. It limits how far my hands can move down in flight—that will become a factor for B-line stalls.
Why is the Spice A Handful?
I love the wing but believe it could hand someone their head on a platter if not given appropriate respect. I suppose that’s true of any wing but more so the Spice 22.
The three characteristics I believe make it so are:
- 1. Very responsive to brake pull. A little travel does a lot. It’s easy to manage, don’t get me wrong, but if you pull very far like on many other wings, you’ll wrap into a steep diving turn before you know it. If you fly by brake pressure (as we should), it won’t be so bad.
- 2. High efficiency. The wing will not give up it’s speed easily so a botched recovery from a steep spiral could be, shall we say, exciting?
- 3. High wing loading. Any wing flown at a high wing loading (pounds per projected area) will be sporty. The Spice amplifies that while having one of the highest wing loadings of any non-aerobatic wing.
The 25 meter version is certified, the 22 is not. That’s probably because it wouldn’t pass at the high end of the wide weight envelope they prescribe.
You do an asymmetric collapse (aka deflation or fold) by reaching up high on one A riser and pulling it down. Pull down both parts on split risers. A short, slow pull barely collapses some and a long fast pull collapses a lot. I’ve done them frequently on the spice but not accelerated. Plus, I’ve always steered straight after a brief pause. He had me pause even more. The theory being that, if you let the glider surge forward and turn a bit more, it will actually recover faster. That’s fine if you’re high but, with nearby terrain or pilots, you must steer. He had me do those, too. I did several where I let it dive and others where I steered straight with only a brief pause. It was easy to control in all cases. In the Spice I was unable to tell the difference on recovery speed with a longer pause.
Then he had me go to full speedbar. A different animal emerged.
I’ve done a lot of these while flying the motor but only unaccelerated (although I’ve done them trimmers fast). I’ve demonstrated how you can fly around with half the wing pulled down. Not with full speedbar!
I pushed out full bar then tugged hard on the right A riser. Wham! She let loose, diving more than halfway to the horizon and turning 60 degrees within a second or two. Chris had me hold the A riser down throughout. Let me tell you, with that much going on it’s tough. It wanted to spiral but brake input and weight shift was still able to steer it. The reaction was dramatic with speedbar on full. I believe that, when it whipped into that diving turn, I let off the speedbar immediately—more a reaction than any intended input.
When he had me do it while allowing nearly immediate steering input it was still dramatic but far less so. Pull the A, it collapses, dives and turns but then put in the opposite weight shift and brake pressure, the least you can to accomplish the job, and it will steer straight. Chris has a cool way of showing this with body language that suggests a relaxed, measured response to this sort of thing near obstructions. The intent is to prevent over controlling while concentrating on maintaining flight path. Yes, you do what’s necessary, but above all, don’t thrash into excessive input.
Accidental Asymmetric Collapse
On one flight, after finishing a few maneuvers I was fighting a strong wind to get back to the LZ. Trimmers were set fast and the speedbar was pushed out fully. It was bumpy. To the Spice, that’s like loading the gun, cocking its hammer and tossing it to the ground. Those who know the wing will know what happened next.
Enough of the right side folded up to turn me abruptly 120° as the wing dove down to the horizon. I let off the speedbar and applied brake but it happened very fast. She responded just as quickly but not before giving up a good 30 feet of altitude and ending up in big ears. These came out with pretty quickly. I got right back on course but with a bit less speedbar and a bit more brake.
It’s always important to use the least amount of brake possible but, in this particular case, that was actually a lot of brake as it surged. Then, as soon as it started coming back, I let off the brake pressure to prevent a big climbing swing.
That reaction, by the way, will not happen from reading it here, it must be rehearsed. Even a clinic won’t be enough to instill the reaction, but it will show you how to practice. And it must then be practiced. You have to get to the point where you can instinctively keep the wing overhead and recover from surges and turns in a very controlled manner. These clinics, given by capable coaches, are invaluable for that.
A B-Line stall requires pulling the B lines evenly and quickly. The wing falls back about 30° then you settle into a stable descent if everything goes right.
The first two times I tried, it wouldn’t enter a B-Stall. In fact, the wing surged and turned. It was strange. I couldn’t pull very far down because the short motor risers didn’t give much reach and my reserve, that sits in my lap, kept my hands from going down very far.
It was suggested that I try the “alternative grip” on the risers where you place your palms facing forward, thumbs down and twist the risers while pulling them down. That worked. The wing fell back a bit then settled into a descent. Mind you, pulling too far can cause the wing to horseshoe—the tips go forward while the center stays back. It looks scary and can expose complications. When I did my clinic back in 2000 it happened but came came out quickly with a tap of brakes.
For recovery, Chris had me let go of the B’s which worked well—the wing restarted flying with a moderate surge. Some instructors recommend letting the B’s up evenly and quickly but not letting go. They say that’s easier on the wing. Chris’s technique is more likely to give a clean recovery. If you let up too slow the risk is entering parachutal stall or other complications.
In the year 2000, during my first Maneuvers clinic with Granger Banks, I chickened out of doing stalls. This time around I intended to conquer that fear. Stalls are far different than any other aircraft I’ve flown. While technically meeting the definition of “exceeding the critical angle of attack,” they are more aerodynamic abortion than aerodynamic stall. The wing ends up flailing wildly as it falls trailing edge first. They’re involve high vertical descent speeds with a degree of uncertainty in recovery.
After rehearsing numerous times on the ground I was ready. The instruction was, from normal flight, pull both brakes down, lock my arms around the bottom of my thighs and hold them there. Hold them firmly. If a brake gets yanked up, abort the maneuver by initiating a recovery..
When my turn came I knew what to expect but that knowledge didn’t prepare me for the dramatic sensation. It ended up being the second most terrifying moment of my life (bungee jumping being the most). I held the brake toggles firmly, stuffed my hands as instructed and waited. I didn’t wait long. The wing first slowed then snapped. It yanked me onto my back. I thought I’d be tossed clean out of the harness into a head down backwards fall. Fortunately I stayed in the harness and fell under the now-bucking wing. When instructed, I let my hands up about halfway. He said that was too far and I lowered them a bit. The wing started reforming and then, when I put my hands up as instructed, it grabbed air and surged forward about halfway down to the horizon. As soon as it started coming back from that surge, I let my hands up for a normal recovery. Both stalls went this well.
I can see why he doesn’t want to do this with brand new pilots. I can also see why I didn’t want to do it at my first clinic!
I’ve entered spins at least twice with the Spice. Both times were during spot landing attempts where I already had lots of brake pressure and both times I let my hands up the second I felt it go. Recovery was immediate followed by normal landings (one on the spot).
At the clinic, Chris had me do them from normal cruising flight. Haul down on one brake and let the good times roll. Spins turned out to be easy and predictable but then how “predictable” can a 2-count suggest? In fact, Phil had some excitement on his first spin. I’m impressed he did another. More later.
When I let both hands up it recovered immediately with a surge about halfway down to the horizon or less. Another thing, it doesn’t just spin cleanly overhead—it surges and bucks and moves around, sometimes well away from the axis of rotation.
It’s not just the Spice that does that—spins are not entirely predictable, at least to maneuver neophytes. One of Phil’s spins (on his DHV 2 wing) went pretty wild and he wound up in riser twist. Among my three favorite coaching lines of the entire clinic was Chris’s radio-born admonition as this spin degenerated. When the gyrations gained a spiral flavor, crackled commented “A little left brake would be nice about now.” Phil managed to regain control probably not long before thoughts of the reserve started dancing in his head. Chris suggested a more rigid posture and, sure enough, all Phil’s future spins went quite well. And he did quite a few.
Chris explained that doing stalls, spins and SATs is something he’s found best to avoid with newer pilots. They tend to end up in the water.
Here Phil Russman is just starting the recovery after a full stall.
The SAT is a bizarre maneuver. Imagine screwing into a right spiral until you’re pointed straight down after 270° of turn. Now pull full, and I mean full right brake while your left hand holds pressure against the left riser. You’ve already got lots of right brake so there’s not much left.
I’ll describe it to the right which is what I did. Take a wrap on the right brake and brace your left arm against the left riser near its brake pulley to insure you don’t pull left brake. Weight shift to the right and look back behind to the right. With that established, start pulling right brake. The goal is to get pointed essentially straight down after about 270° of turn. Somewhere near that point your instructor will tell you to pull the remaining right brake as hard as you can. Pull for all you’re worth. For me, I only got about 2″ of travel. And then the wing angles strangely on the horizon.
If done properly on a wing that can do it (not all can) the G forces will actually decrease and you’re body will be going backwards. In my case, it wouldn’t do it. I tried twice and Chris said the execution on the second one should have worked. He said the Spice 22 probably just doesn’t do it easily. It’s quite physically demanding, too, because you end up in a high-G scenario while getting into it. Recovery is to let up both hands then steer opposite the turn direction (if it doesn’t start recovering on its own). Dampen the recovery as always. Both Phil Russman and I had very sore arm muscles the next day. The same muscles, right tricep and some heretofore unknown left arm muscles. Poor Phil must have been worse, he did probably 5 SAT’s. I suspect that, like many other physical endeavors, the amount of exertion decreases a lot as you finesse exactly what is required and no longer need maximum effort.
As a reminder, don’t try this outside a clinic!
There are complications that could render you UNABLE to recover if done improperly. Being over water isn’t a guarantee but it’s an awfully nice warrantee.
When Chris responded to my list of desired maneuvers he warned me that this one could be dicey. He was right. I knew the Spice wouldn’t naturally want to get into this condition because it was highly loaded and likes to shoot overhead quickly. But I wanted to experiment. Chris told me that it presented the most likely way to get wet. Fortunately that didn’t happen but I sure came close!
My favorite coach line of the entire clinic was, while trying to get the wing into parachutal stall, Chris said “Prepare for a little surge…hands up.” At that moment my world went nuts. The wing immediately reformed and ROCKETED forward, thrusting me up and towards it. The lines went slack and I fell forward, somewhat head down, between the loose lines.
When the lines re-tensioned, Mr. Spice was not happy one whit. You could have fit the quivering mess of my wing back in its stuff sack. At the time I was holding the limp brakes at about shoulder height when I heard Chris say “give it some left brake.” Before I could actually act on that, the wing magically reformed into a recognizable shape, surged and restarted flight. My heart began beating some seconds later. I can’t remember if I tried any maneuvers on that flight but I doubt it.
Like I say, wait till you see the video. It looks for all the world like I did a loop over the top of the wing. I would love to take credit for that but it’s not what I experienced.