Dudek has been producing top competition wings for a number of years. The Snake is aimed squarely at the Slalom set which may seem like a tiny group, but the performance will appeal to skilled pilots of many stripes. I’m interested in this class of wings for both Slalom competition and, even more importantly, aerial filming. You’ll see why later.

Like all these competition rides, it is most certainly not for beginners for several reasons, especially if the speedbar is used. Number one, it is a full-on reflex wing meaning use of main brakes should be avoided when accelerated due to higher collapse risk. Number two is extreme responsiveness — something that even experienced pilots must build up to gradually. That is true of any small glider, though. Being heaviliy loaded changes handling dramatically.

My flight was on a nearly calm, 70°F morning near seal level at a clip in weight of 205 pounds using a Top 80 powered Miniplane. It was smooth up high where I did the speed test but bumpy down low, mostly by the end of the flight — about level 2 to 3 on the Bump Scale.

Handling (- trim in, – trim out): There are several aspects that set this wing aside. It’s not breaking new ground — these features have been used in other wings — but they’re very, very well implemented in this one. Look at the diagram at right to understand its steering. It’s brilliantly simple and extremely effective.

I had tried “2D” steering before and was disappointed. In fact, it seemed kinda gimmicky but, on the Snake, it works brilliantly. The idea is simple. Pull brakes DOWN like you normally do, up to about 6 inches, and you’ll engage only the tips which works whether fully accelerated or not. Keep pulling and you’ll also start to engage the main brakes. Pushing OUTWARD only engages ONLY the main brakes (no tips). You combine these actions as necessary depending on your mission. Using more main brakes withOUT the tips allows slower flight with less tendency to stall since stalls commonly start at the tips.

One desirable aspect is that pulling brakes down is what we do normally. So on this wing, just pulling down a bit will first engage only the tips. If you do so while fully reflexed–no problem. On other reflex wings you must use balls, tip lines, or something other than main brakes and, if you do so while fully accelerated, the consequence could be a severe collapse. From a human factors perspective the Snake’s setup is more forgiving. Of COURSE it can still be done wrong, and will be done wrong, and will bite just as hard. It’s just a skosh less likely on the Snake. 

One cool thing that I didn’t expect to like was Ryan Shaw’s unusual brake toggles. Finger Brakes, as shown at left, are tiny toggles intended only for one finger. It turns out that they work really well and are surprisingly comfortable. He says he’ll be selling them on his Paradrenalin site. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like it.

A note about handling. Skilled pilots will learn to wield whatever they fly, regardless of its steering method, skillfully. I’ve filmed top end pilots playing their tip somewhat complicated steering lines like a virtuoso. Don’t get too hung up over it. I do like it, obviously, but this isn’t what really sets the Snake apart.

Also, I flew a 16. Take any wing, shrink it down to that size, and you’ll have extremely crisp handling. It gets divey wihch is really cool as long as you know it’s gonna happen. An unsuspecting pilot who grabs a handful of brakes down low will be looking straight down with no way out. Be very, very careful at higher wing loadings. I find that wing loading (all up weight / wing area) is one of the most important numbers for anticipating how a wing will behave.

A lot of handling will depend on your mission. I don’t do acro so, if that’s your goal, talk to someone who has done it. I suspect that this might not be a good acro starter wing if you also want to do it more than once.

Inflation: All these modern small wings inflate so easy that it’s hardly worth commenting on. That’s not where you’ll likely struggle — it’s the run. You’ve got to generate more speed so, in calm winds, hope for some smooth runway and a clear climbout area.

Risers: It uses a three riser system with long trimmers typical of reflex and normal speedbar travel. Using Paap Kolar’s speedbar/trim interconnect, pushing out the speedbar lets up the trimmers for even more speed. I’ve flown this “PK” system first on a GTR and have been told it’s been used on other wings, too. The intent is to put your speed range in the speedbar, a trait sought after by pylon racers and video pilots who want speed without fiddling with trimmers. The system is wonderfully implemented and has the greatest speed range of anything I’ve flown: 13 mph. That’s an impressive achievement and, in my opinion, the single biggest advantage of this wing in competition.

Efficiency: It is highly, highly efficient, especially at speed. The best evidence was that I was able to go full speed while holding altitude. Of course I was at full power but, on other fast wings, at even lower speeds, I’ve descended slowly. That makes it’s enormous speed advantage more usable. You can come out of a steep, level, full power turn, get on the speedbar while rolling out and avoid climbing.

Speed: Sh*t hot–the fastest wing I’ve yet flown (admittedly, by only about a half mph). But more importantly, it has an enormous speed range using speedbar alone. I was amazed. And on full bar the handling is intuitive and crisp.

Raw data: (raw speed numbers added 12/25/2013 – I found my speed sheet)
  Wind run – 14, 43. Difference = 29, Div 2 = 14.5 windspeed.
  Speed range no brakes, PK system engaged. Trim slow = 28.5 mph, speedbar to rings = 21 mph
  Speedbar from none to rings 14 – 21, from none to full 15 – 28 mph.

The resultant speeds are 28.5 mph slow trim and 42.5 mph fast trim. That’s an ENORMOUS range, better than any wing I’ve tried. Since I had the PK system hooked up I didn’t bother testing the slow/fast trim setting because I left it set for maximum speed range.  The benefit of this is that you don’t need to fiddle with trims to achieve the maximum speed range. That’s awesome for both slalom and filming.

Small Wings and the Effect of Weight on Speed & Power Required.

Construction: Seemed well built with lines as thin as possible without being unsheathed. I tire of untangling that super thin unsheathed spaghetti. Covered magnets worked well enough and won’t clog with iron sand.

Certification & Safety: Like all these competition rides, they are not certified beyond load testing.

Overall: I’m a big fan of evidence-based understanding which is why I go through the boring speed tests. But these small wings are just plain fun, mostly because they’re so reactive. You can enjoy the 3D aspect of our sport so much more. And while this one doesn’t introduce anything COMPLETELY new, it offers refinement that sets a new standard and a useful speed range that is a competitive advantage.

If you are comfortable doing foot drags tracing a line in at least light turbulence, and consistently land doing a slider, you should be up to this.

Enjoy but be oh so very careful!

1. The Snake’s super simple “2D” steering.

2. This was a larger version of the wing I reviewed. Photo by Tim Kaiser.