To begin this unusual test drive we have to... theory. Yes, yes, theory. More precisely from classification of modern paragliders. Power paragliders, paragliders for free flight, acro-wings - all these types of paragliders are known to everybody. But there is also a parallel reality of mini-wings which also differ according to their features and purposes.
Speedgliders. Small and very small (sometimes less than 10 square meters) wings with elongation in the region of 3, small number of sections, simple construction, no aerodynamics and monstrous speed. Close relatives of small area planing parachutes. They are used for gliding descents along the slope (in winter - usually when starting from skis), sometimes - for soaring near the slope in a very strong wind.
Speedflyers. Wings with areas from about 15 square meters, structurally very close to modern paragliders. Many sections, oblique ribs, short slings optimized by total length of slings. Elongation is usually lower than that of paragliders (4-5 units), though in some models it can even reach 7. They are used for steaming and en-route flights in conditions of strong wind and thermal conditions (first of all in mountains).
Our today's protagonist is a speedflyer. Not the most radical in this family of equipment, but having a very advanced design. Its purpose is hovering in very strong weather (we mean both wind and thermals), as well as paramotor flights. So here we go...
The intrigue starts right on the ground. The area is 21 square meters, and the manufacturer's recommended flight weight is up to 100 kg. Open class wings nervously smoke aside, as well as pilots who are not ready to fly with such a specific load. Elongation is 4.5. I haven't had any experience with this kind of elongation for probably 20 years. When unfolded on the ground, Syncro looks more like a big kite than a paraglider. A very advanced kite. Sharknose (Sky Country calls it Scoop), very high number of sections (54), oblique ribs, three-row strings, wires in the leading edge, no splices... Incredible mixture of paragliding antiquity and the most modern hi-tech simultaneously "loads" and intrigues. The shape of the wing is also intriguing - smooth, but aggressive, with roughly chopped off "ears". Color design - corresponds: calm color scheme, but chopped, harsh, aggressive contours. Perhaps only loose ends do not cause strong emotions - but they are not absolutely ordinary by the standards of non-motorized paragliding, because they are equipped with trimmers. Syncro is a warning to pilots - just by looking at it, you should buckle up and get ready for the adrenaline rush!
Take off, work with the wing on the ground
Check the trimmers! This is the first thing you should start with Syncro on the ground. The trimmer travel is quite large (especially when you think about the wing area of our test rider), and the Syncro gets very sharp when the trimmers are released. I can't compare it with other speed flyers yet, but I can tell you that with the trim tabs down in moderate to strong winds the Syncro takes off and fronts the start with 99 percent confidence. Personally, I simply lacked responsiveness and accuracy - everything happened instantly. Fully clamped trimmers - the "soaring", motorless configuration of the Syncro - make the start much easier, but the Syncro is still very dynamic, requiring extremely fast and precise piloting. A good way to simplify first starts is to take the Syncro out with minimal A-row work, practically with one body. In this case the Syncro is much gentler and gives the pilot the right to make small mistakes. In low winds the Syncro climbs with breathtaking ease and stands firmly overhead, despite its relatively light weight. A more thoughtful inspection revealed, that the ascent of the wing is non-linear - up to 60-70 degrees the Syncro climbs rather smoothly relative to the ground (by the way, minimal work with A-risers is enough for this purpose), but after 70 degrees it tends to pitch forward. Knowing this peculiarity of the wing, you can make rather comfortable taking off even in really strong wind, which is exactly what Syncro is designed for. I'm not going to rate it, by paragliding standards it's beyond good and evil.
The flight pattern of Syncro is so unusual that it impresses and intrigues even the birds. Raptors have long ago got used to paragliders, hang-gliders and various motor vehicles, and they don't show any interest in deltas, para-gliders and other gliders. But the Syncro got them interested! On one of my first flights a curious falcon was attached to the tip of my humpback horse. The speed of our flight was such that the bird had to catch up with me and stay close to me in a gentle dive...
Speed. Our everything! Actually it follows from the name of the class of equipment the Syncro belongs to. With trim tabs fully clamped (this is the balancing "non-motorized" mode of our test) airspeed is about 45 km/h. It doesn't look like much, which is a typical speed of modern paragliders on the first throttle stage. But Syncro almost never flies in balancing mode: any maneuver, even neat retracing of 30-40 degrees leads to powerful sinking, which is followed by impressive gain of speed. The first attempt to perform a compact turn ended with quite a decent wing-over with a roll of about 60 degrees and the corresponding acceleration. Impressive! And if you muster up enough courage and make a couple of real vingovers with roll of 90 or more degrees - the airspeed goes off the scale of 100 km/h. And now let's remember that we also have a minus-trimmer and a full-fledged, rather long gas pedal! I measured speeds on the gas pedal in straight flight, trying to avoid even small roll movements. The results, as the manufacturer warned me, are not exorbitant: something like 7-8 km/h increase on the first gas pedal stage and maximum up to 15 on the second one. Technically Syncro is also able to fly at higher speeds, but Sky Country considered that it is not safe, and limited the gas pedal stroke. The leading edge at top speeds is not even jingling: the load on it is enormous, and it's hard to imagine conditions that could bring a well accelerated Syncro to a collapse. However, it's even more difficult to imagine how the folding would happen at this speed if it did happen...
Aerodynamic quality. Surprise! The advanced design allows the Syncro to fly at the level of modern "school-preschool" machines. With a number of caveats, of course. The main thing is to avoid roll and overclocking, trying to keep the plane as close to straight ahead as possible. If you succeed, the glide doesn't disappoint at all. In strong dynamics the Syncro flies at the same level as the intermediates, only much faster. In forward flight, the Syncro's glide is quite enough even to pass uncomplicated routes, provided of course that the weather is very flat or normal in the mountains. But that's only true in forward flight. Any maneuver with a roll results in a very rapid, collapsing buildup of descent. This is most annoying in thermals. Yes, yes, the Syncro can do it, and surprisingly well! You just need to be as close to the core as possible - it's not a problem for Syncro - and pilot fast but as smoothly as possible, without too much acceleration and pitching. Even in straight flight common paragliders in front of the Syncro look like sleepy flies, but in thermals the Syncro seems to be spinning around its own ear very fast. Of course, thermal spin on Syncro should be performed very carefully, smoothly and gently: by its difficulty of piloting the thermals the machine is closer to sport paragliders - two lines, but unlike them in case of piloting mistakes it punishes the pilot mainly by instantaneous increase in sink rate. But if you get used to it, you can punish common paragliders, which are not able to stay as close to the core of the thermal as you can on Syncro.
Maneuverability. By paraglider standards, beyond good and evil. Let's just say that the Syncro's maneuverability starts where the current competisons run out of room. About the same can be said about the difficulty of piloting. When I got into this machine, I quickly realized that it is possible to pilot it... by the power of thought. A barely formed intention to roll the boat provokes the pilot to make unrecognizable movements of hands and body - but Syncro feels and understands them perfectly! Aggressive work in thermals - 20 centimeters of brake travel at most. A short 30 centimeter move with one hand and the Syncro is in a full brace. I think, that a brave enough pilot may do a barrel roll on Syncro - it must be maneuverable enough. But there is also a reverse side of the medal. Accuracy, fluidity, quickness, sufficient for piloting of modern sports machines - it's only a level of entry that is necessary for full acquaintance with our experimenter. Otherwise it becomes simply dangerous to pilot the Syncro. The brakes on the brakes of the Syncro are an interesting feature. The brake travel is quite long, in spite of the small wing area; this is due to the small aspect ratio and, possibly, to the shark-knows. The upper third of brake travel is more than sufficient for flying in relatively calm air. The turning motion that requires compensation for pitching and roll makes you work very fast and with surprising amplitude - on the route in rough weather my hands periodically found themselves in the area of the carabiners. The thermal spiral, surprisingly enough, also requires quite a lot of hand use - otherwise it is a big drop. When working near strong, narrow kernels, the arm travel can be up to about half of the full brace travel. It seems that the Syncro achieves its minimum rate of descent in a thermal spiral on a significantly stalled wing. In addition, the glider behaves more quietly in this configuration. Well, the classical paraglider rule "don't interfere with the wing" does not work in case of Syncro - the wing should be actively helped. Well, at least in the thermals.
Comfort and information. This is not a paraglider! It is more like a hang glider or a glider. Any roughness in the air is transformed by Syncro into short, but unexpectedly powerful and sharp shocks, coming to the suspension. Approximately the same air behavior is felt through the pincers. "The fault" for this is primarily the high air speed of our figure. But it's not just her. Similar to the process of wing raising, Syncro tends to make short, but very aggressive rolls with an amplitude of 30 degrees. Apparently, this is because of the torque characteristics of the chosen wing profile. At first, powerful short flicks are very impressive and can even scare a bit - but they are practically unable to bring Syncro to the collapse. "Combat" folding of this miracle-apparatus usually takes place without any pronounced pitching movements - just a part of the wing immediately "disappears" and is restored instantly with a sharp pop. Flips and other movements made by the Syncro are more dangerous because they occur very quickly and dynamically. The Syncro is almost unstable in roll - many times in severe turbulence it experiences a slight roll movement which is not easy to calm down with the brakes and the body. In my first flights against a slope this effect interfered noticeably; I had to select an appropriate piloting technique. When launching in a strong wind from a tricky pad the Syncro is capable of going into a 45 degree bank - which can result in almost immediate upside down if you don't intervene immediately. Roll oscillations can also occur while climbing in thermals. The only way to avoid them is to work ahead by very precise, metered movements of the brakes and body, carefully selecting the tempo and rhythm of these movements.
Feedback to the wing is mainly by brake load which can be varied within a very wide range without any noticeable change in the position of the arms. Again, similar to the sensations the pilot gets with modern two-row kits. Changes of speed, as I wrote above, occur so quickly and have such a wide range that it is difficult to refer them to informativeness in the usual paragliding sense. When searching and centering streams the main problem is not to find and center them (it happens by itself), but to pilot at fast enough tempo, keeping the device from "dives" and overruns, inevitable at any - even small! - piloting error.
Dynamics and power capacity. How should I describe it... "Beyond Good and Evil", multiplied by two - approximately so (plus or minus 146%). The ability to store enormous (by paraglider standards) amounts of kinetic energy and to convert it into altitude almost instantly, as well as the inexorable ability to "dive" instantly and accelerate wildly at any deviation from straight flight is another radical, inherent feature of Syncro. It is possible to say that this machine is literally created for performing wingovers, oblique loops (what the hell, probably even straight ones), spirals, swoops and other maneuvers accompanied by powerful intertransitions of kinetic and potential energy. The important point is that unlike classic paragliders, the Syncro is able to convert speed to altitude almost instantly. Such kind of behavior on a paraglider is fraught with very intensive "slides" and "freezes", which are inevitably followed by unloading and strong unloading - but fortunately Syncro has a phenomenal (again by paraglider standards) resistance to collapses. What is interesting, it was not so easy to perform a full-fledged swoop on the Syncro - when the engine is over-clocked before the land it reacts to smooth braking with brakes in a very peculiar way, it is "not paragliding-like", requiring a thoughtful getting used to it. Perhaps, it is the reason of rather abruptness of stall - the Syncro has practically no distinctive parachuting phase and goes to stall behavior at once in case of excessive hand travel.
Fast Descent Modes
In the case of Syncro this section of the test drive is more of a parody of itself. Descending on the Syncro is no problem! The problem is gaining altitude while keeping up with normal paragliders. A moderate, moderate pitch vingo (for Syncro it's 80-90 degrees) leads to a loss of 50 meters of altitude, no less. If it is not enough - make vingovers with amplitude of 120 degrees, losing 80 meters. If we need to descend even more intensively, we put Syncro in a gentle spiral. Make sure in advance that you have at least 300 meters of altitude left, because on every turn of such a spiral Syncro will lose 100 meters if not more. I don't want to fold my ears and, moreover, I don't want to use modes like "gas pedal ears" because the descent is fast enough as it is.
Dangerous flight modes
Asymmetric ("fight") descents happen very quickly and almost without warning. However, they recover just as quickly - despite its dynamic and nearly roll unsteady nature, the Syncro doesn't have time to even noticeably drift into an oblique roll. In short, "non-paragliding" behavior again.
I can't call it a test drive. It is more of an introduction to a new class of equipment for me - an introduction that breaks templates and gives really strong emotions. I think the best way to use the Syncro is to extend the range of flying weather for experienced pilots. In my native Yuca, there are often days when it's only relatively safe to fly regular, "normal" paragliders for a couple of hours in the morning and the same amount in the evening - because the wind gets too strong in the afternoon, especially near the slope. And if to take off in the morning and to wait for development of thermals near the mountain, it turns out, that powerful thermals are torn by the wind into turbulent wisps, which give mighty flutter, but they do not make it possible to climb in them. In such conditions the "abnormal" (or maybe "paranormal"?) Syncro is able to show its best qualities. Start in 10-11m/s wind? Easy! A route under a torn cumulus, at the height of which the wind is at least "ten"? Please, if you have enough accuracy and quickness of piloting. The flip side of the coin is the complexity of such flights, which are very interesting, but quickly exhausting. Another possible scenario for the Syncro - flying with a motor (which, by the way, is clearly recommended by the manufacturer). Also I think that Syncro is a perfect solution for those who like to "rub on the slope" ("waggas") and, probably, for beginners acrobats. And now for the sad part. I estimate the threshold of entry to be 200 hours of regular and varied flight time, with strong and mountainous conditions should account for about half of that flight time. With less experience the Syncro can be tried only on the ground, and the first ground attack will sober any pilot up immediately, even those who are ripe for speed flyers in general and the Syncro in particular.
I express my gratitude to Sky Country for providing me with the wing for the test flights.
Photo: I. Tarasova.