Listen to your feelings, ignore "step up" pressure. Photo: Jacques Paul-Stefani
Features, Gear Guide

Top Tips for Buying a Glider

Friday 24 May, 2024

When it comes time to buy a new glider, or any equipment, be honest with yourself, listen to those feelings, hear what they are saying and you’ll be on your way to making the right choice for you and your situation – and that’s the only thing that matters.

Depending on where you are in your flying career you will either be experienced enough to know exactly what you want and why, or be looking at a blizzard of incomprehensible terms and choices. Ed Ewing has some tips on how to navigate buying equipment for those newer pilots.

Ask other people: your instructor, coach or clubmates are often a good first port of call. Your instructor/school will most likely be a dealer for several brands, so will offer you these first. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s good to know that “other gliders are available”. Your more experienced clubmates will know how you fly and will be able to help steer you in the right direction.

Learn the language: like buying anything, paragliding and free flight has its own technical language. While some of it is jargon, lots of it is specific to us or aeronautics in general. Learning this takes time. Our jargon buster on our Gear Guide website is a good place to start. If you don’t understand some technical words – don’t be afraid to ask.

Understand the EN system: although everyone says “don’t buy on EN certification alone” you do need to understand what the EN system of A, B, C and D means, and what its limits are because gliders are often advertised as “mid-B” or “low-B” rather than “intermediate” or “beginner”. The EN B class is very wide, and the EN C class is also now spilt, into “high” and “low” EN C. The “high” and “low” refers to the demands placed on the pilot. Some of the consistently most-read articles in our gear guide online are around understanding the EN system and the EN B class.

Know what aspect ratio is: a short, stubby glider is less demanding to fly than a long, snaky one. That’s aspect ratio. Typically, a beginner’s paraglider has a flat aspect ratio of 4.5 to 5.0; a very demanding glider 6.5 to 7+. When comparing gliders take a note of the A/R. If one is wildly more than the other (say 5.7 compared with 5.2) then you know you are looking at a different class of glider, no matter the EN class is or how it is described.

Read the manufacturer’s information: it’s not all marketing blurb. Manufacturers spend years developing gliders and they are often very specific about how the glider flies and what type of pilot it is for. Read the website, download the glider manual, watch the videos. Manufacturers have little gain from selling wings to the wrong people – accidents happen, word quickly spreads, and the glider gets a bad reputation.

Read independent third-party information: dedicated forum threads, videos online and online and magazine reviews will all give you an idea of what the glider is like. Fan pilots (their brand is always the best), shops with gliders to sell, sponsored pilots, and pilots with axes to grind will all have something to say too, but read or watch it critically and develop your eye.

Know your weight and size: both your naked weight and your take-off weight (you and your flying kit minus the wing). If you are light, lots of gliders will be out of reach or you’ll be flying with ballast. Same if you are heavy. Either opt to be where you want to be in the glider’s weight range (bottom for floaty, top for dynamic, middle for Goldilocks). Or, with your accurate weight you can work out your wing loading for the gliders you are looking at. Wing loading is your all-up weight divided by projected area, in kg/m2. This typically ranges from low 3s to high 4s for EN B wings, and goes up with aspect ratio. A general rule is the higher the aspect ratio, the narrower the reasonable weight range becomes. See XC241 (July 2023) for lots more on that.

Know what you want it for: how much did you fly last year (currency) and where did you do it? That will give you a good idea of what this year has in store for you too, and will be a good basis for deciding on kit. Is the walk to launch getting tougher? Lightweight might be the answer. Use rocky take-offs? Choose a robust full-weight glider. Going for gold in the XC league? That Submarine has your name on it. Finally, think about your most dream moment: gliding past 100km; top-landing a 4,000m Alpine peak; vol-bivouac over the back in Bir. Now imagine you get a collapse. What type of glider do you want to be on when that happens? That’s also a consideration.

Test fly if you can: in some countries it’s possible to test gear with a dealer or shop, but in many there is just not the infrastructure. In which case you will be scouring forums and websites as outlined above. Beg or borrow what you can when you can by trying your flying friends’ kit, but never steal it – that would be bad.

Find more advice in our Gear Guide.

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