Differences between reflex paragliders and “regular” paragliders | See also Origins & Understanding of Reflex Gliders
There are some basic differences between reflex and “regular” paragliders that revolve around their airfoil shape (right) and riser set. All wings with trimmers lift the wing’s aft section but reflex wings do it more and with a different profile.
Much of the difference is in that the A’s and B’s are extremely loaded in reflex mode (trimmers fast) and so pulling down one A riser does very little. The center of pressure is farther forward and they are difficult to collapse. In fact, one reason why they had difficulty certifying the wings is that the test pilots couldn’t collapse them in certain configurations. Plus, the effort increased airspeed making the collapses even more dramatic when they did happen. But such a test isn’t very realistic.
One telling experience I had was while kiting. Being skeptical about the stability claims I took to kiting one on a brisk spring morning with the factory test pilot present. Kiting with the trims in was fairly standard and the glider behaved pretty normally but with less tendency to overfly me. Then he had me leave the brakes alone. The glider would come forward and go beyond where I thought it would have tucked (frontal) but it didn’t. It just stayed there. Bizarre. Same with the trims out, it was incredibly resistant to collapsing. Kiting was quite easy using just the tip steering lines.
A darker side emerged when I went to kite with the trimmers out using brakes. The wing collapsed almost immediately and was very difficult to kite. I was told it wasn’t designed to be used that way: with trimmers out and on speedbar it’s extremely stable but NOT with the brakes being pulled.
If a reflex wing is trimmed fast, unloads a bit, and you pull a brake, it is far more likely to fold on the pulled side. Most models recommend against using brakes while trimmed fast for this vary reason. A few do allow it but, in my experience, even these models are more subject to tip collapses if brakes are pulled in this situation.
When trimmed fast, use the tip steering toggles! Of course check the wing manual to see about your specific wing.
Another note is that most reflex wings do NOT allow the speedbar to be used with the trims slow. That common practice on free-flight gliders makes reflex airfoils susceptible to large tip collapses, especially if the brakes are used. Reflex designers logic that there’s no reason to use speedbar if you’re trimmed slow. To them that’s like hitting the brakes and gas at the same time.
I’ve flown quite a few reflex models and they have all exhibited tip collapses when flown this way. I was testing because of competition: I wanted to use brakes for turning while flying courses down low and wanted to find a balance between using medium fast trim, speedbar and brakes. What I found out was that it’s not a good idea! Some competition pilots who fly reflex wings use the speedbar for height control and wingtip steering for directional control. That, obviously, will take some getting used to.
If you want to fly fast with the least likelihood of deflations, reflex models are perfect. They’re a bit harder to launch although that has improved dramatically over the successive generations, are usually more sluggish to control but offer the best speed range in our sport.
Overall, these wings serve their mission well provided the get respect and understanding. Fly them how they’re supposed to be flown and you’ll do well. Experiment with non-recommended control inputs and don’t be surprised at the unusual attitudes.