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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Then he had me go to full speedbar. A different animal
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
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
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.
1. Dan Schooler does a small collapse by pulling down a small
2. Phil does a big asymmetric collapse by pulling hard,
fast and far while stepping on the speedbar. As you can see, it's far more
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,
my arms around the bottom of
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