Mark Shaw (Instructor and previous owner/CFI at Peak Airsports) writes:
My first impressions of the Pi: First of all, I couldn’t believe how small the bag was – we are talking complete package here – glider and harness / rucksack. Next to a standard paraglider backpack, the Pi package looks to be about a fifth of the size. The rucksack turns inside out to become the harness, and is called and ‘Easiness’. Quite a few manufacturers have been producing these rucksack / harnesses, but for those who have never given that much thought to how they work, the Pi / Easiness package is essentially a paraglider rucksack that turns inside-out to become the bag on the back of the harness. A helmet mesh bag is included, which sits externally on the top of the bag. When the Easiness is operating as a rucksack, the glider (in its inner bag) sits inside the rucksack, and the leg supports sit inside the bag as well, at the bottom of the bag. Remove the paraglider, turn the bag inside-out, and you have a harness, with two point fastening. There is enough space in the Easiness rucksack for the emergency parachute and back protector, an inflatable cushion that zips underneath to provide protection to the base of the spine. The package would work well as a tandem passenger harness, through its compactness and simplicity, weight and airbag. The harness has the option to fit a front-mounted emergency parachute, that routes through semi-enclosed bridles to the shoulder attachments. I was pleased to see sheathed, fully protected and well-stitched webbing in this area of the harness, as well as all the other main structural points.
If you are used to looking at the standard one-inch-plus thickness webbing of harnesses, this harness is going to come as quite a surprise, as the webbing is quite a bit narrower, however it is reassuring to follow the lines of webbing that make up the main structural points of the harness to see just how beautifully it is put together. No seatplate here, but large padded leg supports with a network of webbing underneath to so there are no pressure points. A couple of hours flying in this harness didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. With no seatplate you feel much more connected to the glider.
The glider itself is a little work of art. The reviews you read of Advance gliders usually say something like ‘built with typical Advance attention to detail’, and to appreciate what that means you really need to inspect the glider very carefully, difficult to do on a windy hillside! The wing is very carefully stitched throughout, which is what you would expect. The plastic rod leading edge formers sit in their own reinforced little pockets, and the cell walls or ribs have a network of reinforcing material distributing the load from each line attachment point. Every cell has a line, and at the top level they are unsheathed. These lines need careful looking-after, something you are reminded about on the glider’s inner bag, where a notice draws your attention to the lightweight materials and the requisite care needed. All these upper lines eventually meet at the standard thickness and sheathed lower level lines, which are connected to the soft, flexible and very thin risers, of which there are only two per side. It is easy to look at these risers in flight with a certain amount of trepidation as they are so thin (especially if you are used to looking at normal, thick webbing risers) but it is reassuring to read that they are rated to support a metric ton, each riser. I have always thought that the overall quality of a wing, and the care and attention the manufacturer puts into a wing is summarised in the quality of the risers; and these risers, with their heavy duty and neat stitching, slim line brake handles and miniature magnetic brake attachments are very well put together and look very nice indeed.
I got a couple of hours ridge soaring on Rhossili on the Pi demo I had borrowed. I was up amongst the ‘full size’ wings, belting up and down the ridge really enjoying the wing’s ability to carve the air in turns, and the conversion of speed to lift with the application of the brakes. Rhossili was like a gigantic skateboard park for me. I was able to nip in and out of the contours and features of the hill in full confidence that the wing would respond immediately and directly. I have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable flying experiences I have had in 22 years of flying paragliders.
Earlier this week I had a great time bombing up and down the ridge on Rushup Edge, a lovely hill with a gentle slope that I would have expected to sink out of, given my weight on the wing. It is such a shame that this is no longer a DSC club site! Climbing well in the lift reminded me that this is not some mattress-looking mini wing, even though it has the dynamic responses of a little wing with high wing-loading. Again, I am slightly flabbergasted that this wing is keeping me up in the lift band so well! I was lucky enough to borrow a GoPro camera, and the results of my first in-flight camera recording can be seen below . Since that day, I have also got some big top-to-bottoms in, in an attempt to get ready for hiking up some Scottish mountains this winter.
Going small and lightweight a completely different way of flying, one that harks back to the very beginning of paragliding – the freedom of flying unencumbered by a huge bag, an instrument tray with a gps, vario, ball compass, etc. The major differences are of course the comfort of the Easiness harness and the fact that you are flying a wing (not a modified parachute, as we were in 1990)! And what a wing this Pi is. I am really impressed! The French have this word “homognit” that is used to describe paragliders that tick all the boxes; I don’t think the English equivalent word is used in the same way in the paragliding world, but this is certainly a well put together package and the French word seems to summarise this wing perfectly.
I have had a lot to do with Advance over the years, I have seen first hand just how rigorously they test anything new before bringing it to market. They have steadfastly held off from the small wing market for a while; the Pi has been a long time coming and has clearly had a lot of thought put into it. I have been keen to get my hands on one ever since the initial press release. It has Advance’s exemplary level of build quality and attention to detail, down to the last stitch. The Pi package opens new doors for me in terms of getting to hills that would be knackering to walk to with a full size 20kg pack, a glider that can easily be stowed away in the boot of the car, or easily carried as a backpack if cycling out to a hill. It soars beautifully, and feels like you can get it to climb and dive like a hang glider. I’m having one!
– Mark Shaw, paragliding instructor and ex-CFI, flying since 1990.
See the Advance website for more info and please contact me if you’d like a demo.