GIN Leopard – Review
Gin Leopard Review – Andrew Williams
The last couple of years I have competed on CCC wings. Whether it be age, seeing my children grow, some bad air, recent experiences on the wing or just a natural cycle – a little fear started to creep in which meant I wasn’t flying at full blast and therefore not truly competitive, nor (and more Importantly) having as much fun. I decided to sell the CCC glider and look for something that would take the edge off for a season, but keep me in touch with the comp scene. Forever curious as to what was new on the market – the Gin Leopard was the obvious choice.
UKAirsports were very kind to provide me with a demo glider that I took to Switzerland to check out.
The quality of workmanship is clear from the moment you take it out of the bag. The cells are well finished, the stitching is clean and true and the wee touches on the risers give an aesthetic appeal.
The risers and lines are very clean and well
marked. The Leopard has an independent stabilo line, which is easy to identify. To my mind, this feature adds a touch of comfort, as it may reduce the need to spin out or stall out a cravatte, should it occur.
Packing it for the off, it became clear that the wing would take a little extra care. Supporting plastics are used over the majority of the chord of the wing and thus it is necessary to use the supplied pillow at the leading third of the wing and something else (in my case my harness) at the rear third to ensure the battens were not bent tight to risk deformation.
Standing on launch with a new glider is a daunting time. What are the vices? What input does it need? It turned out to be absolutely no drama. It rose as a block, steadied easily overhead and I was airborne in a couple of steps. Forward launch was also fairly straight forward with the wing reasonably prepared.
After take-off the immediate remarks from my mates already in the air were: “man that’s a very sexy looking wing.” Not all things of good form have good function, but in paragliding I think it generally holds true.
It is a serious wing. Any EN-D 2-liner glider with an aspect ratio of 7.12 will be. However, with that in mind the immediate impression was of a pitch stable, cohesive, compact wing. And the handling! WOW – exquisite. The combination brought an immediate confidence.
The brake pressure is spot on for my liking: taught enough that you can rest the weight of your arms without excessively braking the wing, and light enough that there is no chance of fatigue setting in.
I was flying the wing with the Skywalk Range X-Alps 2. It is a very good package for the hills and I felt well connected with the wing, but I certainly think that a standard weight harness with a seat board would allow the pilot to further extract the full spectrum and potential of the handling characteristics of the glider.
The handling is something that has to be experienced to fully understand. I find it remarkable. The wing tends to turn as a block. There is very little “wobble”. It has an incredible ability to turn on its yaw axis making it possible for very tight flat turns.
It can be turned on a six-pence: I had to open my turn and slow the cadence down just not to get dizzy! (I’m not joking).
Throw in some weight shift and the wing will bank beautifully and really lock into the core. Since it turns so well I think any pilot ready for this level for this wing is unlikely to spin it.
The brakes can be used with great finesse with a noticeable change in response from the wing depending on where the pilot holds the breaks relative to their body. Out to one side for a flatter turn using the centre of the wing, or more towards the chest for a more wangy turn using the tip.
The first climb showed its pedigree. The inherent pitch stability helps keep the wing incredibly efficient. It is perhaps not fair to compare the Leopard’s climbing ability to the sports class wings I had around me, but the difference was clearly visible and consistently so.
Entering thermals shows a neutral to perhaps slightly negative pitch behaviour. If you come from a glider that has a more aggressive nature that would tend to pitch forwards towards the rising air you have a choice: get used to the nature of the glider and what it tells you; or speed up the wing to make it bite more. I recognised the Leopard’s behaviour from the Gin Carrera Plus (an awesome climber) so was able to tune in fairly quickly. I felt no need to fiddle with the angle of attack by retrimming.
Where most wings tend to dive and rise in unsorted thermals, the Leopard tends to increase or decrease the yaw with limited pitch. It is certainly manageable, but is a trait that is different from other wings and takes getting used to.
Usage of the bar is very smooth, progressive and relatively easy on the legs and boy do you get a boost of speed. I reckon about 11kph on half bar and reportedly close to CCC on full bar. I got to over 20kph but there was still more left to push.
The toggles on the rear riser are a little short – only allowing for one finger either side to fully engage. It works fine, but I would have preferred ones a little longer for a more secure feel.
The tension in the Bs is a good bit more than I’ve experienced in other wings. In some ways it is more relaxing as you can hang a little on the Bs without slowing the wing unnecessarily, but for long transitions in turbulent air, I imagine the forearms may start to complain if stronger inputs are required. Since the wing is inherently pitch stable however, less input is generally required and the wing really responds well. I did not get the chance to really push the wing through snotty conditions to see how it handled those situations. I’m sure that time will come!
The shift from on-the-brakes to on-the-bar and visa versa is a cinch. The breaks only need a half wrap to be in full thermalling mode which means it is very quick and easy to release the breaks and get onto the bar, and perhaps more importantly, get off the bar and onto the brakes. No more numb hands from long taught brake lines needing a full wrap!
Big ears are not recommended due to the tension within the outer A lines and the potential to score/burn the canopy. However use of the outer B lines to induce “bunny ears” is a descent technique outlined in the manual. They go in no fuss and spring out to full span with ease. The descent rate is however, not remarkable, perhaps 1-1.5 m/s over trim sink rate together with half bar. On one occasion while testing the ears I ended up with a knot in my brake lines, due to the flapping, that I could not remove in flight. It makes me reluctant to use this technique in the future.
High aspect wings can tend to be all focus on XC and km crunching. However, it is easy to have some real fun on the Leopard. Wing-overs are a blast and within three turns you are easily over the wing. A high energy exit shows that the inherent pitch stability helps to prevent an excessive shooting of the wing. Of course it still needs checked, but there is that little bit in the back pocket to help you out.
After a few flights I tried playing with the weight. The large has a weight range of 105-127 kg. I was initially flying with 120kg. I loaded right up to 127kg and found that the wing became really dynamic – good fun perhaps – but no longer a balanced XC machine. Interestingly, the Bs became noticeably lighter. I then backed it down to about 122 kg and found that a reasonable balance with a manageable tension on the Bs, great response on the wing using the rear risers – a real visible flex / change in angle of attack with sensible input. The wing was a little more dynamic, but all the characteristic outlined above were still there.
The change in behaviour was quite marked over the range of weight I was flying. I think it important that every pilot find the sweet spot for themselves. I would likely choose to fly between 119-123 kg depending on the strength of conditions.
I’ll fall short in making a stab at the ability of the Gin Leopard to compete with best of the CCC gliders. Only in the sphere of competition will these curiosities play out. The Gin Leopard is fairly new to the scene and several competitions need to run their course and results posted for a true representation. However, I will say that it has been indicated from those that have flown along side one in recent competitions that the performance of the Leopard is very competitive.
2-liners are often retuned within defined tolerances by their owners to suit the pilots taste, so a comparison to other EN-D liners becomes a complex puzzle. Hopefully I have given you at least a sense of how the large Gin Leopard feels to fly “out-of-the-box”
Overall – it is an impressive, trustworthy package for serious XC hounds and those keen to push hard in high level competitions. It is also incredibly fun to chuck around!
A huge shout out to UKAirsports for sourcing a demo wing for me at relatively short notice. These sorts of gliders are not generally in stock nor readily for demo. Cheers fellas!
Moreover, I can say that my smile is back and I look forward to the adventures I will have with the wing.