Review by: Blake Pelton
Many have been asking about the much anticipated Gin Explorer. I was lucky enough to get to know it really well last week! Here’s a break-down of my experience with this new glider in Colombia.
It would be my first time paragliding in Colombia. I sold my old EN-D glider last summer due the amount of ballast I needed to get within the weight range. A week before my trip to Roldanillo, I was still without a cross country wing. I had a few loaner options lined up. But, a month before our trip, Chris Santacroce assured me that the all-new Gin Explorer would arrive in time. Cool!
“What the heck is an Explorer? …as in, Ford?” I jumped on the inter webs to learn more. I had a hand-full of flights on the Carrera a few years back and really wasn’t a big fan. At first look, I thought, “Gee, the Explorer sure does look like a Carrera.” I compared the raw specs. Explorer has the same number of cells as the Carrera, a very similar aspect ratio (6.1) and the same “EN-B” rating (whatever that means). So, what’s different? The obvious parts are that it’s surfaces mostly consist of the super-light Skytex 27 cloth, so the whole glider weighs substantially less. Also, it has a different line-plan.
Itching to crank in some thermals and with the big flying trip creeping up fast, I was getting less and less picky. I just needed SOMETHING to fly!! So, I waited with optimistic anticipation.
A week before my departure date, a new Gin rucksack found it’s way to me in Chris’ usual inconspicuous style. Lifting it literally felt like there was nothing in the bag. I looked inside, “Yep, there’s a glider in there. Wow, this thing is LIGHT!” I opened it up in my house for the usual ‘new glider’ inspection. Beautiful factory folds; check. That strip of nylon that ties the risers together; check. Stickers; check. “Looks good to me…let’s go fly it!” Nope, the weather outside was crap and never improved. I was stuck simply groping this brand new ride for a whole week. So, what else was there to see? Unsheathed Kevlar lines throughout. Skytex 27 everywhere except the leading edge of the top skin. I really love the finish work details; like how they put a piece Dacron sheathing both inside AND outside of the main lines where they meet the mallion, then, neatly sewed it all in place. The ‘shark nose’ or ‘EPT’ or whatever Gin decided to call it is the most dramatic I’ve seen. The plastic rod stiffeners are found exclusively in the top 25% of the chord – I dig this for weight and packing convenience. Velcro clean-out buttholes at the bottom of the wingtip cell. Internally, the wing looks like something out of a Victoria Secret catalog. The support structure is complex, but trimmed down to the bare minimum for maximum weight reduction; leaving a labyrinth of stringy nylon that gives this wing it’s shape.
“Is it time to go to Colombia yet?”
Finally. Headed to the airport at the butt-crack of dawn, a day of travel and before I knew it I was standing on a grassy launch near Roldanillo. I clipped into this mysterious new arrival. Little to no wind. I contemplated turning around for forward launch. But, even with a questionable half-assed lay out, one smooth tug on the middle A’s brought the Explorer up effortlessly over my head. It waited there patiently as if it was filled with helium. I casually turned and stepped into the sky.
A few hundred feet off launch, the beeps started loud and fast! The brakes seemed ‘soft and mushy’…nope, they are just a bit long for my taste. I took a wrap and was in business. A few other established gliders quickly joined above me. I cranked it hard in the core and sixty seconds later, I was above everyone.
“Well, that felt good!”
The winter rust quickly fell off. I was out-climbing every glider that circled with me which was surprising because I am loaded at the very top of the weight range of this (S) Explorer.
A few climbs later we were off on glide to the North and my flying vacation was underway!
As all boys do, I wanted to see how I measured up to the ‘competition’. Two of my best flying buddies were with me: Shad Coulson loaded 1k over the top on a L Delta2 and Derek Black also at the top of a ML Rush4 for comparison. After several side-by-side glides, we came to the following conclusions about the Explorer’s speed and glide:
- At trim: Glide and speed is the same as the R4 & D2, but the Explorer seems to have a noticeable edge in climbs.
- On full bar: The Explorer is clearly faster and with better glide than the R4. Speed on full bar is slightly slower than the D2 (as expected), but Explorer has better glide and decent rate – I seemed to typically reach the next thermal slightly behind the D2, however always higher.
Coming from years of flying EN-D gliders with big demands and big top-speeds, I knew the Explorer would certainly be easier to handle. But as a trade-off, I thought I might have to settle for some shorter flights. No question, it is a lot less drama than I’m used to! I absolutely loved being able to relax a on glides, enjoy the views, eat a snack or take photos of my friends. As for the flights, the Explorer FULLY delivered! In seven days of flying in Colombia, my shortest flight was 3.5 hours…and, I only landed thad day because all of my friends dirted near launch and flying alone isn’t nearly as fun.
On day two, supremely epic conditions were served up. We flew till our bodies hurt. Late in the afternoon and nearly six hours into the flight, we found ourselves 6,000 feet AGL above a welcoming LZ. This particular LZ came complete with shade, beer, friends and a swimming pool! By that point, I was fully convinced that the Explorer knew how to go UP really well. But how much fun is it on the way DOWN? I started with some small wing-overs to get a feel for things. I was quickly caught by surprise at how fast this wing winds up with positive energy. I was well past 90 degrees before I was ready. I reset and started the next batch a bit slower to find the rhythm. Once dialed, I found it to be super playful and very responsive. It goes exactly where you put it with solid pressure throughout. Once wingovers are established, only timely weight shift is needed to stay in it with a check on the brakes at the top of each swing. Spirals feel much more like a C glider than your average B glider; it locks in fast and doesn’t want to exit without some outside brake input. It felt like it would effortlessly turn over into SAT, but I din’t push the G’s that far out of respect for the low-drag unsheathed line set. Big-ish ears go in easily and are stable until you pull them into bigger ears, then they tend to flap a bit. Fairly typical of a glider with this aspect ratio. They come out clean and easy. Slowly with no brake input and fast with a quick jab. I induced an asymmetric collapse with all of the A’s on one side and was able to maintain my heading with some weight shift and outside brake…recovery is textbook ‘B glider’.
After a week of flying, I definitely bonded with the Gin Explorer.
My main conclusions are:
- This wing is definitely NOT just a “lightweight Carrera”. Different line plan, different trim, different aspect ratio and I suspect a more stable profile was used. Simply put, it feels safer and handles better.
- There is loads of horsepower available in today’s EN-B range and this glider is no exception.
- Light-weight seems to be the way to go. Aside from just being easier to cary, the benefits in launch, handling and performance seem to far outweigh the downfalls. Skytex 27 cloth has now been around for several years. The current evidence says that it lasts just as long as the heavier stuff – some designers argue that it might even last longer.
- I would recommend the Explorer to competent “EN-B pilots” that have flown some XC and are looking to extend their game. Also, more experienced pilots that are on the fence about buying multiple wings: i.e. one for ridge soaring/freestyle play, one for hike’n fly and another for XC. The Explorer checks many of those boxes! Save the money and get one ship that will satisfy multiple craving
See first impression video below (1:26)