After a week of travelling for work and only boring running training I thought I’d post my initial thoughts and progress on equipment selection for the X-Alps.
First, and most importantly, the paraglider. Of course, as every pilot knows, Ozone have dominated the competition scene this year with the amazing R10.2. For the first season in many years I was not competing, if I had, I’d be flying one! Many pilots choose to fly light-weighted comp wings in the X-Alps too. It has a lot of merit, as every ounce of performance you can squeeze out of your wing is distance that you don’t need to cover on foot, but it is not the route I’m taking.
My point of view, from talking to previous X-Alps competitors and studying the type of flying and conditions in which the flying was done last year, is firstly that one of the most critical things in the X-Alps is simply being able to launch and land in some of the most unlikely places. Secondly, even if there are epic cross country flying days, the ability to get the most out of the day will depend as much on the mental and physical fatigue of the pilot than on the speed and glide performance of the wing. My experience of flying long XC’s in the Alps is that 8 hours in the harness is incredibly exhausting, and being on comp wing will add to that exhaustion (over the last 15 years I’ve flown both comp wings and serial class wings at different times). All my flights that have ended prematurely have done so because of making a bad decision aided by fatigue rather than lack of performance. So finally the choice for me is a high performing serial wing which is beautiful to fly. I have every confidence that the Mantra M4, currently being developed by Ozone will be every bit that wing, given the performance of the Delta (EN C) and R10.2 (Comp) it stands to reason that the M4 will be equally impressive in its class. The fantastic team at Ozone have offered me a wing made from lightweight materials to compete on. How cool is that! The only requirement which I will still need to look at with them once the wing is ready is the ability to pack and unpack the wing in a very short time. Some athletes flew as many as 9 separate flights in a day in 2009, if you waste 10 mins packing and then 10 mins unpacking that is 3hrs of the day gone! It needs to be possible to throw the wing out, fly and then stuff it away equally quickly!
As for the harness, I’m still working on that one!
For the rest of the equipment lightweight is obviously the predominant requirement. The lightest helmet (and apparently the leading choice amongst X-Alps competitors) is the Petzl Meteor. Not actually a flying helmet, rather a mountaineering helmet it is none the less one of the lightest available at an amazing 235gr. This time it is the UK importers, Lyon Equipment who have offered to provide this for the competition. Thanks guys! I already have a lightweight reserve (although I need to see if they have made them any lighter in the intervening 2 years since I bought this one!) so really the last big bit of flying kit to sort is the harness.
Once I have the flying stuff sorted I need to start thinking about equipping our team for the ground part of the race too. More to come in a later blog.