Paraglider Wing EN Ratings And How To Stay Safe

Understanding paraglider wing ratings is key for every pilot buying their own equipment. The wing is the heart of the paragliding equipment, and choosing the right one is essential.

Two main standards govern the certification of paraglider wings: the EN 926-2 standard in Europe and the PASA standards in the United States. These standards assess paraglider performance, stability, and pilot demand under various conditions. They categorise wings into different ratings, helping pilots select a wing appropriate for their skill level and flying aspirations.

Breakdown of the Different Categories

  • EN A / LTF A: Beginner Wings
    • Characteristics: Maximum passive safety and very forgiving flight behavior.
    • Technical Specs: Generally, lower aspect ratios for stable handling, fewer cells to reduce complexity, and durable materials to withstand beginner errors.
    • Impact: These wings are designed to keep surprises to a minimum, allowing novices to focus on learning the basics of flight control and thermalling.
  • EN B / LTF B: Intermediate Wings
    • Characteristics: A balance between performance and safety, suitable for pilots with some experience.
    • Technical Specs: Slightly higher aspect ratios than EN A wings for improved performance, more cells for better aerodynamic efficiency, and materials that offer a good balance between durability and weight.
    • Impact: These wings provide enhanced performance for cross-country flights while maintaining a level of passive safety that forgives pilot errors.
    • Who is it for: Most people buy a ‘low’ EN B wing during or after their club pilot course.
  • EN C / LTF C: Advanced Wings
    • Characteristics: Designed for experienced pilots who demand more performance.
    • Technical Specs: Higher aspect ratios for excellent glide and speed, a greater number of cells for precise handling, and lightweight materials for optimal performance.
    • Impact: EN C wings require active piloting skills to manage their dynamic flight characteristics, offering rewarding performance for competent pilots.
  • EN D / LTF D: Competition and Cross-Country Wings
    • Characteristics: Top performance wings with less emphasis on passive safety, for expert pilots.
    • Technical Specs: Very high aspect ratios and numerous cells for peak aerodynamic efficiency, often constructed with high-tech materials for minimal weight and maximum strength.
    • Impact: These wings cater to pilots competing at high levels or undertaking serious cross-country challenges, demanding advanced skills for both safety and performance.
  • EN/LTF CCC (Competition Class)
    • Characteristics: The pinnacle of paragliding competition wings, with cutting-edge technology for unmatched performance.
    • Technical Specs: Extreme aspect ratios and the highest number of cells, using ultra-lightweight and strong materials, often incorporating rigid structures for improved aerodynamics.
    • Impact: CCC wings are for the elite competitors, requiring top-tier piloting skills for handling and safety.

What Makes the Difference?

The paraglider wing’s technical specifications affect its performance due to the basic principles of aerodynamics that govern flight. The key specs—aspect ratio, number of cells, and material choice—each play a role in how a wing behaves in the air.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio of a paraglider wing is the ratio of its span (the length from one wingtip to the other) to its average chord (the average width of the wing). A higher aspect ratio means a longer and narrower wing shape. From a physics standpoint, wings with higher aspect ratios have less induced drag for a given amount of lift. Induced drag is the resistance created by the vortices at the wingtips as the wing displaces air. A long, narrow wing has smaller vortices and thus less drag, making it more efficient. This is especially true at higher speeds. However, narrow wings are more susceptible to turbulence and require more skill to control.

Number of Cells

The number of cells in a paraglider wing influences its structural integrity and aerodynamic efficiency. Cells are the vertical divisions within the wing, created by sewing together the top and bottom surfaces and adding internal walls known as “ribs” or “partitions.” A higher number of cells means a more complex wing structure with more internal connections, leading to a more defined aerodynamic shape. This complexity allows for smoother airflow over the wing and reduces drag, contributing to better performance. However, it also makes the wing more challenging to manage, especially in unstable conditions, as the increased precision in shape can translate to more pronounced reactions to air movements.

Material Choice

The choice of materials affects a wing’s weight, durability, and how it inflates. Lighter materials can reduce the weight of the wing, making it easier to launch, especially in light wind conditions. Advanced materials also offer better resistance to stretching or deformation, maintaining the wing’s optimal aerodynamic shape over time. However, lighter materials are less durable and require more careful handling and maintenance. The material’s ability to retain air also affects the wing’s internal pressure, which is crucial for maintaining shape and stability during flight.

Understanding the Physics

At the heart of these specifications is the principle of lift, which is generated by differences in air pressure on the wing’s top and bottom surfaces. A well-designed wing creates a large pressure differential that efficiently lifts the wing with minimal drag.

  • Lift is generated primarily by the wing’s shape (camber) and angle of attack (the angle between the chord line and the oncoming air). A higher aspect ratio and more cells contribute to more efficient lift generation.
  • Drag: Comprises induced drag (related to lift production) and parasitic drag (caused by the wing’s shape and surface friction). Material choice impacts parasitic drag, while aspect ratio and cell structure influence induced drag.

Dangers of Higher Performance Wings

Higher-performance paraglider wings, typically falling into the EN C, EN D, and EN/LTF CCC categories, offer advanced pilots the opportunity to push the boundaries of speed, distance, and manoeuvrability. However, these wings also introduce increased risks and demand a higher level of pilot input and skill.

  1. Increased Sensitivity to Turbulence: High-performance wings are more responsive to pilot inputs and environmental conditions, including turbulence.
  2. Demanding Active Piloting: These wings require constant active piloting to maintain stability. Pilots must be adept at reading the air and making quick, precise adjustments.
  3. Higher Speeds: Higher-performance wings fly at faster speeds, which can reduce the reaction time available to pilots to respond to unexpected situations.
  4. Complex Recovery Manoeuvres: When things go wrong, such as a wing collapse or entering a spiral dive, recovery manoeuvres can be more complex and demanding.
  5. Increased Stall and Spin Risks: The flying envelope (the range of speeds and angles of attack at which safe flight is possible) can be narrower for these wings.

Cravats

A cravat occurs when part of the wingtip gets caught in the lines or wraps around the wing, causing it to malfunction. High-aspect wings, with their longer wingtips relative to their chord length, are more prone to cravats because their tips can more easily get tangled or caught in suspension lines during turbulent conditions or incorrect handling.

Partial Collapses

Partial collapses happen when a section of the wing’s leading edge folds under, usually caused by turbulence, pilot error, or a sudden change in air pressure. High-aspect ratio wings are more susceptible to partial collapses because their aerodynamic design makes them more sensitive to disturbances in airflow. The longer, narrower shape of these wings means that a disturbance in one section can more readily propagate along the span of the wing, affecting its overall stability. Lower rated wings, EN A or B wings have higher passive safety, meaning that they often recover from partial collapses without any pilot input.

Full Collapses

Full collapses occur when the majority or all of the paraglider’s leading edge gives way and the wing loses its aerodynamic shape entirely, causing a dramatic loss of lift. This can happen in severe turbulence or if the wing is flown beyond its design limits, such as flying too slowly (near the stall point) or too aggressively. High-aspect ratio wings are at greater risk of full collapses because their optimised performance profiles leave less margin for error.

Why It Happens More Often with Higher Aspect Wings

The increased susceptibility of high-aspect ratio wings to these incidents is primarily due to their design and aerodynamic characteristics:

  • Aerodynamic Efficiency: High-aspect wings are designed for efficiency and performance, making them more sensitive to changes in airflow and more likely to respond dramatically to turbulence or incorrect pilot input.
  • Wingtip Sensitivity: The elongated wingtips of high-aspect wings are more prone to deflection and entanglement, leading to cravats or initiating collapses.
  • Recovery Complexity: The complex shape and longer recovery paths of high-aspect wings mean that recovering from a collapse or cravat can be more challenging, requiring precise input from the pilot.

Mitigating Risks

Pilots flying high-aspect wings should have advanced skills and an understanding of their wing’s behaviour. Training specific to handling incidents, such as SIV (simulation d’incident en vol) courses, is crucial. Pilots should also practice active flying techniques to anticipate and respond to air movements and maintain control over their wing.

Pilots should gain experience progressively, avoiding the temptation to advance to a higher-performance wing before mastering current skills. They should also regularly practice ground handling and flight maneuvers to maintain and improve their skill levels.

Required Pilot Input and Skills

  1. Advanced Ground Handling: Proficiency in ground handling is crucial for safely launching and landing high-performance wings, especially in challenging conditions.
  2. Active Flying Techniques: Pilots must master active flying, constantly adjusting brake and weight shift inputs to maintain stability and respond to air movements.
  3. In-Flight Decision Making: High-speed flights in variable conditions demand excellent decision-making skills to anticipate and react to changes in the environment, navigate safely, and choose appropriate landing zones.
  4. Emergency Maneuver Proficiency: Pilots must be well-practiced in executing recovery maneuvers, such as collapse recovery, B-stall recovery, and spiral dive exits. Regular training and refresher courses in SIV (Simulation d’Incident en Vol) can be invaluable.
  5. Mental Preparedness: Flying high-performance wings requires a calm, focused mindset. Pilots must be able to manage stress, make rapid decisions, and maintain concentration over long flights.
  6. Physical Fitness: The demands of active piloting and handling higher g-forces in maneuvers require good physical conditioning.

Example Wings for Each Level

EN A / LTF A: Beginner Wings

  1. Ozone Mojo 6
    • USD: $3,500 – $4,000
    • GBP: £2,800 – £3,200
    • Performance Highlights: Known for its safety and stability, perfect for beginners.
  2. Skywalk Mescal
    • USD: $3,400 – $3,900
    • GBP: £2,720 – £3,120
    • Performance Highlights: Easy handling and forgiving flight characteristics for new pilots.
  3. Nova Prion 4
    • USD: $3,600 – $4,100
    • GBP: £2,880 – £3,280
    • Performance Highlights: Offers excellent passive safety and is designed to help new pilots progress confidently.

EN B / LTF B: Intermediate Wings

  1. Advance Epsilon 9
    • USD: $3,800 – $4,500
    • GBP: £3,040 – £3,600
    • Performance Highlights: A balanced wing that offers safety with a bit more agility and performance for progressing pilots.
  2. BGD Epic
    • USD: $3,700 – $4,200
    • GBP: £2,960 – £3,360
    • Performance Highlights: Versatile and intuitive, making it ideal for pilots transitioning to intermediate skills.
  3. Niviuk Hook 5
    • USD: $3,900 – $4,400
    • GBP: £3,120 – £3,520
    • Performance Highlights: Focuses on progression, offering stability, safety, and a touch of performance for cross-country flying.

EN C / LTF C: Advanced Wings

  1. Niviuk Artik 6
    • USD: $4,500 – $5,000
    • GBP: £3,600 – £4,000
    • Performance Highlights: Targets experienced pilots with an emphasis on cross-country performance and higher speed.
  2. Ozone Rush 6
    • USD: $4,700 – $5,200
    • GBP: £3,760 – £4,160
    • Performance Highlights: Offers a balance of performance, safety, and agility for ambitious cross-country pilots.
  3. Swing Nyos RS
    • USD: $4,800 – $5,300
    • GBP: £3,840 – £4,240
    • Performance Highlights: Designed for pilots seeking performance with a manageable level of passive safety.

EN D / LTF D: Competition and Cross-Country Wings

  1. Ozone Zeno
    • USD: $5,000 – $6,000
    • GBP: £4,000 – £4,800
    • Performance Highlights: For expert pilots, offering top performance for competition and long-distance flights.
  2. Niviuk Peak 5
    • USD: $5,200 – $6,200
    • GBP: £4,160 – £4,960
    • Performance Highlights: A high-end wing for competition pilots, focusing on speed, agility, and precision.
  3. Gin Boomerang 11
    • USD: $5,400 – $6,400
    • GBP: £4,320 – £5,120
    • Performance Highlights: Tailored for top-level competition, maximizing performance and efficiency for experienced pilots.

EN/LTF CCC: Competition Class

  1. Niviuk Icepeak Evox
    • USD: $6,000 – $7,000
    • GBP: £4,800 – £5,600
    • Performance Highlights: Elite competition wing, designed for the highest levels of performance and efficiency.
  2. Ozone Enzo 3
    • USD: $6,200 – $7,200
    • GBP: £4,960 – £5,760
    • Performance Highlights: Favored by world-class competitors for its exceptional performance and handling.
  3. Gin Leopard
    • USD: $6,100 – $7,100
    • GBP: £4,880 – £5,680
    • Performance Highlights: Offers cutting-edge technology for competitive flying, focusing on speed and cross-country efficiency.
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Max
Co-founder and Chief Adventurer

I am Max, the co-founder and CEO of adventuro. We are on a mission to help you get into the sports you have always wanted to try, or develop in the sports you love, exploring new skills and locations. We do this by partnering with the best instructors, guides, and activity centres to get a great spread from beginner all the way to instructor training.

For too long, it has been way to confusing to find your next steps, or even to know where to start when getting into adventure sports. I am an experienced and/or qualified paraglider, skydiver, scuba diver, freediver, power boat driver, snowboarder, kitesurfer, kayaker, mountain biker, surfer, dirt biker, wakeboarder, and sailor.

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