This question comes up frequently, especially when someone buys a wing that claims to be certified but later finds out it’s not. If there’s no label describing its certification, it’s almost certainly not certified in that size. Some wing sellers say that certification is irrelevant because maneuvers are not performed with a motor. I contend that it is still valuable, and here’s why.
Certification primarily describes how a wing behaves in normal and abnormal situations. The excuse “it’s different with a motor” is only minimally true. Does a wing hang back unnaturally? Does it have any undo tendency to spin? Does it recover predictably from collapses? Does it tend to shoot forward excessively? These tested characteristics all apply.
By far the most recognized certification standard is European Normalization (EN), which classes gliders as EN A through EN D. The DHV (German Hang Gliding Association) adjusted their own standard to be about the same and calls it LTF but still gives it 5 levels: 1, 1-2, 2, 2-3 and 3. Here are their testing standards.
Testing is done by a very few companies using modern measuring equipment and flight test protocols. Every attempt is made to be objective.
Training is among the most dangerous phases of a pilot’s flying life and wing choice matters a lot. Before a pilot gains control over oscillations they should stay on EN A wings in the right size (withIN the certified weight range) and responsiveness. Some of these wings can be too responsive, though, so certification is not everything.
Ideally the school has “school” wings of various sizes that they can use for training. I wouldn’t want the liability of doing otherwise given what we know now. Once a pilot reaches PPG-2 level with 40 or so flights, including good pendular control (stopping the swings) then they’re probably ready to upgrade. But why? A school wing can serve pilot quite well for years.
Flying over Placard
In training students should stay within the wing’s placard weight. Two reasons: instructor liability and student’s desire to not crash. Being within the weight means that you 1) get the glider’s tested behavior and 2) are more likely to survive accidentally pulling one or both brakes too far.
When testing beginner wings, I try to reach full arm travel for a couple seconds to see how the wing behaves. On some designs, especially in smaller sizes, or those with the brakes tied very short, it’s will stall or spin (I obviously let up before it progresses). But this is something new pilots sometimes do—it need not be a death sentence. Many well-designed and configured EN-A school wings pass this test. Obviously thorough instruction, with simulator practice of getting in the seat properly, should avoid the practice, but reality can be a bitch and students have died or been made lame after crashes. How sadly unnecessary.
Certification is not perfect but it’s beneficial. And in my experience, an EN C wing is different in important ways differences but look at the tests—they are things we care about regardless of power.
Adding thrust introduces significant potential problems that are not tested but doesn’t obviate the value what is tested.
Choose Wisely and Survive
Choosing a more forgiving wing can be an important part of making the sport less risky. As you gain experience, especially if you strive for maneuvering precision, moving up can offer more speed and other options. Just make sure you’ve really mastered that pendular control, including in somewhat bumpy air while controlling the swings, and quickly damping what mother nature doles out. That’s one way you know you’re ready to handle a “hotter” ride.