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Paraglider review: Ozone Octane

Wednesday 6 September, 2000

Not the right Octane… this guy does acro with a shirt over his head, flying an Ozone Octane FLX. Tenuous link to show gratuitous acro footage

Published in issue 70 of Cross Country magazine, the Ozone Octane was one of the most popular gliders in its class. Hugh Miller went for a spin

The Octane is the product of seven months of hard developmental flying amongst the sun-baked rocky ridges and parched valleys of the Maritime Alps, southern France, a region blessed by an average 300 flyable days each year. I know this to be true, as I lived there in 1999 and was continually having to pull the blinds down on the epic skies that tempted me away from the chores of editing.

So, if Rob Whittall, Dave Pilkington and Bruce Goldsmith (now departed) set themselves the task of creating a sports wing oozing more pleasure than a tub of Hagen-Dazs, they would have absolutely no excuse to get it wrong. I had high expectations for the Octane. Would I be disappointed?

Unwrapping the glider, the first thing you notice is the slinky cloth that slides through your hands. This is the Gelvenor 45 gm2 material that Ozone have chosen for the Octane’s top surface. Greg Hamerton, our reviewer in South Africa, reports that over there Apco gliders, also made from Gelvenor, last for well over 400 hours under the harsh UV of the African skies, so you can count on its track record of durability. The Gelvenor cloth used on the Octane is silicon coated 49 gm2. The undersurface is a light grade of Porcher Marine.

‘V-ribs’ are incorporated into the cell design of every second cell, reducing line usage to one line attachment at every third cell wall. Tape is used to seal both sides of the cell openings and the trailing edge against wear and tear, and the black risers are narrow at 20 mm, giving a slightly racy feel to the machine. The speed system is the conventional two pulley system, with the D risers remaining fixed as the A risers go down by 17 cm with the B’s and C’s float to keep the profile change linear. The brake handles are comfortable for the majority of us who fly with wraps. A Velcro opening at the trailing edge tips, called the ‘butt-hole’ (could Rob have had some say in this name?), is for dumping grit and insects out of the wingtips.

The Octane isn’t the most steady of wings on the ground. When reverse launching, only a gentle pull on the As is needed to get the sail soaring above your head, and you’ll need to be competent at your ground handling to dab the wing’s twitches as it waits impatiently for you to turn and run. On a nice slope in nil-wind, you can launch the glider without pulling the As at all. Just from playing about in a gentle breeze, it was immediately apparent from the feel of the wing that it is no dummy’s wing: playful and energetic, the Octane needs to be controlled. In strong winds I found I had to used the cross-hands method as the glider is up and flying only nano-seconds after you pull the risers.

I first flew the Octane on an English summer day when someone upstairs has turned on his vacuum cleaner and pointed it right over launch. Within moments I was cranking into a 6 up climb, delighted by the positive vibes the glider was giving me. Brake pressure is light and smooth, and travel is far shorter than on the Electron or Proton. Banking requires just short pulls in the brakes, and feels more like squeezing open a throttle than hauling in line. Precise, and with a pleasing amount of energy retention, thermalling the glider feels totally natural.

After an hour or so of thermalling around at cloudbase, I forgot I was on a paraglider. The Octane felt like an extension of my self, with my nerves running out through my fingertips, up the brakelines and onto the fabric, which responded immediately to my thoughts. Or something like that, anyway.

The team have exceeded their design brief of producing a fun glider; the Octane is electric. But its precise handling takes it out of the ‘second glider category’, which is what many assume DHV2 certification implies. It feels too sporty to be easily recommended to a pilot wanting to trade up from his or her first glider. It’s a top-end DHV2, similar to say the Windtech Quarx or Sigma 4 in its market appeal, and I think a pilot who hasn’t served yet his or her apprenticeship of lots of active flying in strong conditions will find the Octane unnerving.

The glide feels good. I’m afraid that’s as objective a statement as I can make, having not flown it extensively against other gliders. During my twenty hours of testing, I flew a 40 km triangle with Graham Steel alongside on his competition Omega 4, and Graham had a smidgen of a better sink rate and glide, but the large Omega 4 is legendary for its performance despite its age. Greg Hamerton went out for an afternoon’s testing against a medium Proton with an identically weighted pilot. He reported that ‘on trim the glide is identical, with the Proton maybe 1 km/h faster. On full speedbar it held an identical glide and speed to the Proton over two minutes (against an equal weighted pilot, both on Mediums). And the glide at full speed is good – I could use the bar all the way to pass other pilots on a crossing without losing much on altitude.’

What I did learn is that the Octane gives loads of feedback through speedbar pressure, allowing you to feel your way through the air and trim the glider to suit. If you’re embarking on the serial circuit and want to win, you may find slightly better performance in gliders at a more relaxed certification level. But if this doesn’t sound like you, I’m sure the Octane’s energy will keep you buzzing.

One of Ozone’s early philosophy’s was to incorporate long brake travel in their gliders, but this idea appears to have gone out of the window. One of the reasons why the Octane’s handling is so good is because it has short, tight travel. With one wrap, it starts to drop back into stall with your arms three-quarters of the way to full extension. But it’s not an easy glider to spin. With both brakes up high, I tested hauling down on one side as hard as I could to initiate an amplitude-max spin, but the glider just slowed a little, then dived into a spiral. Next I tested its flat spin characteristics. With both brakes half down, I buried the left brake. The glider slowed, reluctantly, then there was a ripple of fabric noise as the left wing slid backwards. Pressure remains high during the first 360 of the spin, and the signal from the glider to pilot was blindingly obvious: let up and let me fly.

If you can’t deal with collapses you shouldn’t be on this wing, as it does need constant small, precise inputs in strong conditions. The DHV tests recoveries from collapses- and obviously the Octane does just fine on this score- but the reports tell you nothing of how frequently the glider collapses, or if there’s any warning beforehand. The Octane offers a huge amount of feedback before the leading edge folds. I raced along under a lifty cloud on nearly full-bar to see if I’d get hit, but only suffered minor attrition at the wingtips. The wing tends to fold in gradual steps, and does not unload as a big chunk. I also flew the glider close into a low ridge in a crosswind, and its agility allows you to surf through the grot. Are there any conditions when flying this glider wouldn’t be fun?

Within a few minutes of testing an Octane, you’ll know whether this is your kind of glider or not. It is a responsive machine that a pilot coming up with the more forgiving handling of most DHV 1/2s may find too excitable. But, for the many experienced flyers amongst us who yearn for sensitive handling in a stable machine, taking off on an Octane will feel like coming home. During the development of the Octane, the Ozone team have worked their passion for flying into the very fabric of their latest creation, and the result is a synthesis of pure pleasure. Seven months well spent, I’d say.

Projected Area 23.35 m2
Projected span 9.55 m2
Projected Aspect Ratio 3.91
Root chord 2.85 m
In-flight weight range (kg) 80-100
Certification: DHV2
Vmin in review 23 km/h
Vtrim in review 37 km/h
Vmax in review 50 km/h
Reviewer’s weight 94 kg

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Updated January 2011

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