Jeff Goin tries out the new Charger, a full reflex wing aimed at newer pilots.
Testpilot: Jeff Goin
Mac Para’s new Charger adds a unique capability to their lineup. In the realm of pilot desires, it scratches several interesting itches, primarily a desire to go faster with the safety of a reflex and the easier ground handling of a beginner planform. Less common would be for a budding competition pilot.
Tim Kaiser and I flew a 21m2 version in light winds on Top 80 Miniplanes. Warmish light wind gave way to a near calm by sunset, which let us sample various wind conditions. I'm no acro guy so there was nothing fancier than moderate wingovers, slow flight, brief spirals, footdrags, and plain old fashioned play. I tried all the various configurations of trimmers, speedbar and tip steering.
With motor, a sandwich and fuel, my clip- in weight barely passed 95kg giving me a wing loading of about 4.5kg/m2 (10 lbs) which is a bit heavier than most pilots fly.
The glider has all the modern treatments that help with inflation and glide ratio, not that Mac Para gliders really need any help with inflation but small improvements are still appreciated. Having those fancy nylon tube leading edges does mean you’ll want to keep them from getting bent. You can stuff it as usual but don’t use it for a body chair. Most pilots do some form of accordion fold to preserve those rib stiffeners.
It was very easy to launch - very easy. Light wind reverses, where backwards walking is needed, were easy. Even after letting it fall back slightly, it would recover overhead nicely once we scored some thrust. Trimmers were set about an inch from full slow.
Walking backwards like this is not a technique I would recommend - forward inflation makes more sense - but we wanted to see how it behaved. It shined. Most wings can be reversed this way, but easier inflators tolerate less finesse. In general, if you can’t kite while standing still, it’s probably better to do a forward.
Mac Para have always shone here which is good for motor pilots who frequently face flat ground, soft sand, and no wind. We all appreciate a wing that pops up smartly when trying to accelerate through the soft, superfine sand that’s endemic on some of Earth’s coolest beach locations. It can be nearly impossible to get a sluggish wing overhead when running in that stuff.
Inflation characteristics are important for mountain flyers but in a different way. Namely, models that inflate nicely in still air tend to overshoot and front tuck in strong winds on hills. Proper technique can easily overcome that, of course, but it’s something to be aware of - the flip side of easy inflations.
You’ll love the groundhandling. It’s got that beginner-looking chord, thick front to back, that lets even heavy-handed corrections work. If it falls off to one side during inflation you’re more likely to keep it together while bringing it back in line. That’s nice for dealing with confined areas where you may not be able to side step. Higher aspect models tend to stall a tip before obeying your more ardent commands.
Not surprisingly, given my heavyish loading, handling was pretty spry. A bit more subdued than some of their other models, but light and comfortably responsive, a fun ride. Any pilot who is willing to accept the higher speeds of launch and landing will enjoy the feel.
Tip-steering toggles are well positioned for easy grabbing but it was actually more natural to go for the tip-steering lines themselves. You’ll enjoy the toggles more for cruising around since they’re down at a lower, more comfortable hand position. They’re good for high speed cruising with the trimmers fast or on speedbar but work equally well trimmed slow. In turbulence, most pilots will want to trim slow and use the main brakes but some prefer to set the trimmers fast and let the reflex do its thing. In that case use the tip toggles for steering but always do whatever the pilot manual recommends.
Brake handles employ an adjustable second loop that you can size to your own liking which is nice but make sure it can’t get into your cage. Fabric covered magnets work as brake-keepers
so iron dust isn’t a problem. I like this method the most - snaps were kinda hard to remove and the old-style magnets collected iron dust. The only downside is how they like to stick in the wrong places.
Tip toggles ingeniously incorporate two methods of containment - old fashioned snaps and fabric-coated magnets. Have it your way. If you prefer tip-steering on the lines, leave them snapped to keep everything a bit cleaner.
I did not notice any left-right oscillation, which is saying something because at these heavier loadings oscillation is kind of common. I don’t even mind because corrections are minimal but still, it’s nice to have it mind the line.
I didn’t get to do a speed test but judging from the ground run it’s gonna be pretty quick for its size. It’s not the fastest but you shouldn’t be trailing the pack, either. As always, avoid using main brakes when fully accelerated. It has effective tip-steering that stays firm without any tendency for the tips to flutter or collapse.
Speaking of ground run, have your shoelaces tied; it’s pretty quick and will benefit from a healthy brake pull to lift off. That’s true of this class; these wings aren’t the big boaty boys of yore - you’ll need to fly it off the ground. Of course this is only if you’re flying it heavy like I did. Otherwise the extra speed will be less pronounced.
Obviously landing will be pretty quick, too, but the upside of high efficiency is that it lets you finesse the flare. I did most of my landings power off and had great fun skimming the ground while bleeding its energy with increasing brake.
I dabbled with heavy brake to see how well I could slow down and pulled quite hard with no tendency of a tip to go back. Any more pulling and I would have wanted to be at an SIV clinic but this was a helpful thing to know.
Pilots looking for more speed or a good introduction to reflex technology will enjoy this wing. Even if they never go on to compete, it provides a good measure of what flying higher performance rides will be like. At heavier loadings, like any wing really, it would not be ideal as a pilot’s first glider but that’s a question more for the buyer and their instructor.
For those wanting to step into reflex technology without all the skinny wing weirdness that accompanies some of the hotter competition models, this is perfect. Treat it with respect, especially during the honeymoon phase, and you’ll likely enjoy a lasting, satisfying relationship.
Cross Country 159 (May 2015)