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Skywalk Chili 4 Review

Spring on the Wasatch is quickly starting to change into summer, so I thought now might be a good time to pause, catch my breath and put together some quick thoughts regarding the new Chili 4 from Skywalk.

Before I dive in too deep here, it is important to understand a little about my flying style to help put this review into context. I am an advanced rated pilot and log about 150 hours per year in rougher mountain terrain. As such, I fly mostly hike-n-fly adventures or moderate XC flights. I do very little, if any ridge soaring. I enjoy the adventure of flying and to me searching for that beautiful high altitude view is much more rewarding than logging XC miles. I am a pretty conservative pilot compared to most, and therefore I often avoid the mid-day rodeo, and lean towards the late afternoon thermal flights in the high mountains. Over the last four years I have been flying the Skywalk Chili 3 and have roughly 500 hours on that wing design (and love it, love it, love it). Now that we have that out of the way, here are my initial thoughts on Skywalk’s new Chili 4.

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Wing top. you can see the additional reinforcing below the top fabric at every third cell, and every cell along the leading edge.

Chili 4:

So far this spring I have logged about 25 hours and about 250 km of XC flying through mountain terrain on this wing. I did spend about an hour or so ridge soaring in more laminar air. I know there are several technical articles and other reviews out there by dedicated test pilots, so instead of getting lost in the same mumbo jumbo, I thought I would instead share my practical thoughts on actually using this wing in the everyday paces of my flying.

Hiking:

The wing in it’s folded state is a bit more bulky than the Chili 3 design, likely due to the large amounts of cell reinforcements throughout the wing. It psychologically feels heavier to me, but the scale in my house shows pretty much the same practical weight; it just takes up a bit more room in my pack.

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Note the extra lines at each riser. All lines from the first cascade upward are unsheathed.

Pre-Flight Setup:

There are three more lines to deal with at the riser location than the Chili 3 (one extra A, B and D), but no big deal really. The brake lines have a single cascade from 1 to 3, which makes clearing my brake lines much more tedious. The lines are only sheathed in the lowest portion, then unsheathed through all the upper cascades. The upper cascades and brake lines are very, very thin. Dental floss looks thick in comparison to these lines. That may sound great, but since I am mostly launching from rocky terrain often covered in brush, these lines catch on absolutely everything. It makes the set up rather cumbersome and annoying trying to keep every little line clear.

Launching:

I found that the wing comes up really slow at first, much slower than the Chili 3 until about the 50-60 degree mark, then surges quickly. Much quicker than the Chili 3, but similar to the older Tequila 3…only a bit more dynamic. I think the slow inflation and surge is mostly a result of the shark nose technology. So you need to be on your toes to ‘catch’ the wing when launching in any air with energy, otherwise it will overfly you in a hurry. I feel that is totally expected for a wing in this performance category.

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One of many spring time flights this year around my local mountains.

Flying (thermals):

Holy Smokes! I can say with some confidence that this wing is a thermal hunting machine! It is clearly designed for one purpose, and that is turning in thermals. As such, I have found it is not a very playful wing to fly (like the newest Tequila 4), but is more of a precision flying instrument. It flies much flatter than the Chili 3, but is extremely responsive, requires very little brake input and slices through the air like nothing I have ever felt before.

The shark nose technology on this wing generates a very high pressure throughout the wing and is immediately noticeable. Feeling that much pressure in the wing I was a bit nervous at first. After all, high pressure means high energy and high energy usually means that it ‘explodes’ violently when it collapses. So, I pushed it a little bit inducing some 30%-40% asymmetric collapses. To my surprise, the collapse was not violent at all, and recovered very quickly and easily with minimal course changes. Really? I tried it a few more times just to be sure, and found with a little controlled weight shift I obtained the same results.

When entering a thermal the wing does not pitch up nearly as much as the Chili 3, but instead seems to slice right into it. Flying into some of the more violent spring thermals I was amazed at how stable the wing is, so much so that my confidence in rougher air has increased significantly. I am finding myself much more willing to go into “the bear cage” with this wing. The wing tends to snake a bit side to side over your head while on glide, as if it is searching for lift, but it induces absolutely no drift or swinging under the wing. It was a strange feeling at first, but now that I understand the “language” of the wing, that feature is awesome! It makes it very easy to determine if you should circle clockwise or counter-clockwise.

One thing I feel I need to make crystal clear. This wing MUST be actively piloted. This is NOT a low end EN-B wing and requires a high demand of active flying. I actually feel it requires more attention to fly it correctly than the Chili 3. However, if you do actively fly it, the wing is amazingly stable, solid, precise, and very comfortable to fly. If you do not know how to listen to the language of the wing, and react properly, I think you could get yourself into a little trouble.

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Ridge soaring at POM. (photo courtesy of Jonathan)

Flying (ridge soaring):

Like I mentioned earlier, this wing was built for a single purpose, and that is to circle in thermals. I did fly it at my local ridge soaring site (POM North Side). I do not fly that site very often, but felt I wanted to experience the wing in more laminar air. It was okay, but nothing that made me say “wow.” I took this wing to the ridge soaring site after I had about 15 hours of thermal flying, so when I landed I knew without any doubt that this wing was solely for climbing in thermals. I can only describe it like this. Driving a Nissan GT-R around town is just fine, and feels okay, but you will never see it’s full potential until you put it on the open road. This glider is a little bit like this car analogy. It’s just fine boating around in ridge soaring conditions, but you will never discover the magical potential of this wing unless you get it out the wind, and into the thermals.

Landing:

Like all higher aspect ratio wings, I definitely notice the increase airspeed when landing. I am almost always landing in low to no wind situations, so the jet flaps (unique to Skywalk) intermixed with a swing through approach make the landing pretty easy.

Conclusions:

I cannot say enough positive things about how well this wing flies in thermals. It is so freakin’ good! I have had a very hard time trying to explain it to friends, and have had an even harder time trying to put words to it here (obviously). The super thin cascades and unsheathed lines are a bit of a headache in the mountains, but in the end worth every challenge once in the air. For those who know me, know I was pretty reluctant to click into a Chili 4 as I absolutely loved the Chili 3 design. Honestly, since my first mountain flight with the Chili 4 I have not even had the desire to pull out the Chili 3. In conclusion, I would say that if you are a high-hour pilot, fly all the time, and are more versed in thermal flying, this wing will not disappoint. I have found that you do have to actively pilot the wing to take advantage of it’s stability and amazing potential. It speaks a beautifully clear language…and once you know how to listen and react, it is one sweet, sweet wing. Hope this review has been helpful, and I hope to see you high above the mountains soon.

Technical Data:
Wing: Skywalk Chili 4
Size: XS (extra small)
My Flying Weight: 88kg (this includes the weight of the wing, required for all Skywalk weight ranges)
Certified Weight: 70kg – 95kg
Classification: EN-B
Aspect Ratio: 5.65 (flat) 4.21 (projected)
Harness Used: Sup Air Delight II
I am a Skywalk Team pilot and do receive some benefits from Skywalk…However, this review has been honest and based on my own flying experience with the wing. If you are in the US and interested in a demo reach out to Jonathan at Utah Paragliding. If you are in other parts of the world, contact Skywalk directly for the nearest dealer.

Clouds

Hearing of the Wind

Last Saturday as I was flying above the north facing walls of Mount Olympus, a mass of violent spinning air slammed into my wing like a freight train. It was in that moment of heightened awareness I was reminded of a tip I learned many years ago. A tip that today allowed me to ‘catch’ my wing before it even tried to collapse.

Flying towards the walls of Mount Olympus on the Wasatch Mountain Range
Flying towards the walls of Mount Olympus on the Wasatch Mountain Range

Through the years I have learned that paragliding is a pursuit ruled by the human senses. Although air is initially invisible to the untrained eye, we learn to make decisions based on elements we can actually see and feel. As we advance in our flying careers we begin to see and feel the invisible air in a whole new way. We learn to watch the birds, the clouds, and the leaves sparkling in the breeze. We learn to feel the air in new ways, like the difference between base wind, thermals, edges, cores, and which direction the air is spinning. A combination of all these senses teach us how the air moves across terrain, and in turn helps us become better and safer pilots.

Several years ago when I was just learning to “see” the air around me and fumbling my way in and out of mountain thermals, a fellow pilot gave me a quick tip. He told me to make sure I always had a helmet where I could ‘hear’ the air with no obstructions. I thought that was an odd comment, but has proven to be pure gold in the advancement of my flying. Ever since that day I began to really notice how the air not only felt, but how certain air actually sounded. While flying high above the sparkling leaves and out of sight of many visual triggers, this tip allows me to actually hear an approaching thermal, or hear a mass of turbulent air coming my way long before I feel it.

That leads me back to Saturday. I could hear the turbulent air approaching like a freight train, and knew by the way it sounded that it could mean only one thing. I tightened up the controls and was able to catch the wing surge before I actually felt it. If I would have waited until I felt the surge, it would have been be too late, and I would now be telling you a story about collapse recovery. Time after after time listening to the air has proven to be a valuable tool in my free-flight toolbox.

When it comes to paragliding, we should always remember to use all our senses, including listening, to better make decisions and thus more clearly “see” the air around us. By listening to the air while flying you can glean large amounts of information to help you make safer and more reliable decisions. If you are struggling with, or just learning how to thermal fly, try using a helmet where you can hear the swirling air around you….then of course, listen!

Happy flying, and I hope to see you high above the mountains soon.

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Pre-Flight Routine

It was a warm Southern California morning as we sat on launch, waiting for the first thermals to start rolling up the hill.  As we contemplated, talked, and speculated on the day a small group of local pilots showed up.  They were kind and offered their thoughts and advice.  As they began getting ready to launch we watched their preflight routine.  A fellow pilot in our group (an instructor) noticed the local pilot getting ready to launch had missed a few things.  He kindly pointed out that his speed bar was not attached, and that his reserve handle was broken and would not deploy if needed.  It was a great reminder to me that day that we should all have a solid and consistent pre-flight routine.

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Notice anything wrong here, besides the obvious speed bar attachment? Look closely at the make shift zip-tie reserve pins.

It is spring again, and many pilots who have not flown for a few months are finding their way back to the mountains. Regardless of whether or not your a new pilot, rusty pilot, sharp pilot, or an old timer pilot, we all need to find a pre-flight routine that works.  Making sure all the vital steps are followed is a great way to insure a safer flight.  Every pilot’s routine is different, and that is okay, so long as it works and is consistently followed….every single time!

 

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Since there is no right or wrong sequence, I thought I would share my 10-point pre-flight routine.  It may not be perfect, but it is one I have followed for many years and has served me well.


Pre-Flight Routine

My preflight routine begins as soon as I land from my last flight. I detach and fold up my wing every single time I land. This gives me a chance to do a proper line check and organize my risers in such a way that there is no guess work on the next launch.  It also allows me to quickly look over my wing as a whole during the folding process.  That way, when I am at launch I can be confident that my wing is ready to fly, the lines are clear, and properly aligned (A’s on top).

Another important aspect that should be discussed is of course whether or not to fly. This is actually not part of my pre-flight routine, because I will never even begin my routine until I am confident that the conditions are inline with my expectations and I have made the decision to fly.  To understand what I do to determine if it is safe or not even fly, please see my article on The Energy Equation.

We are now at the launch site and everything looks good and a decision has been made to fly.  All my stuff is now on my body, or packed in my harness.  My helmet is on and nothing but my wing and harness are on the ground. The 10-steps I do are quick and I make it a point not to stop, or be interrupted.  If by chance someone talks to me during the process, I start over and start counting again.

Step 1: I put on my harness, then leg buckle left.
Step 2: Leg buckle right.
Step 3: Chest strap left.
Step 4: Chest strap right.

I can usually take a break here, especially since my wing is usually folded up.  If I am flying with radios or instruments, I get them ready at this point and make sure the are turned on and checked.  I am about 60-90 seconds away from launching.  At this point I lay out my wing and unfold it.  I already know my lines are sorted and risers aligned so I can quickly connect to my wing.

Step 5: Riser left, until I hear the carabiner click.
Step 6: Riser right, until I hear the carabiner click.
Step 7: Speed Bar left.
Step 8: Speed Bar right.

I will often do another quick line check and make sure once again that the A’s are on top, and that the brake controls are pulled all they way out with no snags.

Step 9: Reserve chute handle check, just to make sure it is there and connected properly.
Step 10: Breathe.  This calms me down for just a few seconds so I can pause, feel the air and make the last metal preparations required for executing a proper launch.

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Paul, going through his pre-flight routine.

In the end, the local pilot decided he wasn’t going to need his speed bar, and that he didn’t think he would need his reserve.  He inflated his wing and set off into the sky.  As pilots, let’s all remember to follow a solid pre-flight routine. Regardless of what routine you decide to follow be vigilant and follow that routine every single time!  It is a great, and perhaps life saving habit to get into. Remember, If someone, or something interrupts your routine, don’t be afraid to just start over and get it right.  It makes for a safer and lower stress flying experience.  I hope to see you in the sky soon.