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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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Mind Those Toggles

One of my favorite aspects of paragliding has been mentoring new (and sometimes not so new) pilots through the years. It is a rewarding experience watching and helping others accomplish their individual goals. Sometimes these goals are small and simple, like learning to circle in a thermal. Others are more difficult like XC flying across an entire mountain range, or pioneering a new flying site. No matter what the goal might be, it is always a rewarding experience to both teach, learn and accomplish something together.  After all, as pilots we should always be willing to both share our experiences, and be eager to learn new things.

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Those waiting moments offer each of us great opportunities to learn and share.

So often in this pursuit of paragliding we find ourselves driving, hiking or just waiting around.  These transition moments offer great opportunities for questions and conversations to emerge.  One question that I have been asked several times through the years, is “how do you hold your toggles?” I found that a strange question the first time I heard it, so I shared my experience the best I could.  In the spirit of that question, I thought I would share my thoughts and experience as to how and why I hold the control toggles the way I do.

Stage 1: The Trapeze
The control toggle attaches to the brake/control lines of a paraglider and has a standard trapeze configuration. When learning to fly under direction of my instructor, I always held those toggles right across the bar. It didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t feel comfortable, nor connected with my wing holding them this way.  Besides, I seemed to want to hold onto the risers when flying this way, which is a big no, no in paragliding. Once I was flying on my own, away from instruction I quickly graduated on to the next stage.

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Holding my toggles in what I like to call “The Rabbit Hole” approach.

Stage 2: The Rabbit Hole
Watching others around me, and asking questions myself I quickly adopted the hand through the toggle, or “rabbit hole” approach. My fingers were finally attached to the line and I could feel my glider so much better.  With the lines at my fingertips and the bar on the back of my hand I felt much more secure and no longer felt the need to hold the risers, which is a good thing.  Also, while under normal flying conditions I felt I could easily get my hand out when needed. I flew this way for a long time, years actually, until…that one day. I can still see it vividly. It was a normal mountain flying day, active conditions, but nothing out of the ordinary. I was flying over and around a large peak near my home site (Lone Peak), a flight I had done many times. I was climbing in a thermal, turning steady to the right, when all of the sudden converging air turned my thermal into a washing machine. The right half of my wing collapsed leaving my control line totally slack. I fought for a few seconds then decided I should probably throw my reserve. As I reached for my reserve handle I realized I could not get my hand out of my toggle and it quickly became tangled. Because my hand was “through” the toggle I could not easily slip it out in a slack condition when I needed to.  I quickly gained control of my glider again and flew away safely, but in the aftermath I began looking for another way.

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Holding my toggles in what I like to call the “Bar Half Wrap.” Notice the bar in my hand, with the webbing and control line extending around the back of my hand and into my fingers.

Stage 3: The Bar Half Wrap
In the wake of my incident, I adopted a hybrid approach, something between Stage 1 and 2 that I call the “bar half wrap” approach. In this approach I hold the toggle like a trapeze, then wrap the webbing of the toggle and brake line around the outside of my hand until it reaches my fingers. This approach gave me the security I like to feel, and the ability for a quick release of the toggle whenever I needed it. Whether slack or taut just open the palm of your hand and boom, your free.  One thing I noticed a little further down the road was that on long flights, the bar actually kept the line from digging into my fingers which meant no more blood deprived (and warmer) hands. As soon as I adopted this toggle grip my flying seemed to progress rapidly to a higher level. I could feel my glider better than I ever had in the past. I could feel the surges before they happened, actually feel the thermals in the palm of my hands. This is the approach I still use today as it gives me both the security and intimacy required to fly successfully.

Will there be a Stage 4? Perhaps someday, as I am always open to new ideas. Well, that about ends my thoughts, experience and reasons as to why I hold the toggles the way I do.  It may or may not be the right way, but it works for me.  How about you? How do you hold your toggles and why?