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Piloting the Samurai

Posted Sunday, June 3, 2001

By Alan Binnebose

Brian Germain of Big Air Sportz recently tweaked the design of his Samurai canopy and was kind enough to recently send me a demo to evaluate. The Samurai is a high performance elliptical canopy with airlocks and is based on the popular Jedei from the former Airtime Designs. A little background information may be in order here. A number of years ago, when elliptical canopies were first beginning to find their way into the sport parachute market, Airtime Designs (now known as Tony Suits) introduced the Jonathan. Brian Germain invented a system of locking air into a canopy that improved safety and performance. These "airlocks" improved a canopy’s ability to maintain pressurization in turbulence and during maneuvers, keeping the airfoil more rigid and efficient. Brian teamed up with Tony Uragallo of Airtime Designs and Brian designed the Jedei, the first canopy to incorporate airlocks. The Jedei quickly gained a loyal following. Unfortunately, after just a few years Airtime decided to focus on the manufacturing of Tony Suits jumpsuits and discontinued making canopies. Brian licensed the right to his airlock design to Performance Designs, which subsequently introduced the Vengeance.

Samurai DiveIn 1999 Brian re-entered the sport canopy market with the Samurai form his Colorado based company, Big Air Sportz. Brian utilized a new type of airlock called the PCS (Pressurization Containment System), which had a valve flap against both the top and bottom skins of the canopy. This was the Samurai Model 2000. In the past year Big Air Sportz moved to Zephyrhills, Florida. It brought the company closer to one of skydivings main centers of activity. This year saw the introduction of the new Samurai Model 2001. Brian proudly admits that it is a return to the Jedei design and airlock system. He took his basic design of the popular Jedei, incorporated changes that Jedei pilots asked for and kept the best of the rest.

The Samurai Model 2001 utilizes an air-locking system only slightly modified from the original Jedei style. The bias cut valve panels add a degree of cross bracing to the non-loaded ribs near the center of lift, reducing distortion. A closer comparison to my old Jedei revealed a change in the A-B line reinforcing tapes. They now converge at right angles below the top skin, providing two loading points that reduce the amount of visible dimple. Brian retained the cross porting of the Jedei; two vertically aligned circular ports. One very noticeable change is the use of Vectran on the brake and outboard "A" and "C" lines, while using Spectra on all inboard lines. The Vectran resists shrinking from slider grommet friction heat. This keeps the canopy in trim, but they wear quicker than Spectra and will need replacing after about 300 jumps. Inspect them often. One final change I noticed when comparing the Samurai 2001 to my Jedei was the addition of a reinforcing tape to the inboard brake line attachment points.

Samurai Pond SwoopThe Samurai 2001 is constructed of the same fabric used by Performance Designs from Performance Textiles. The fabric uses the new "Solar Max" fiber made by DuPont. It is very slick when new and requires good packing technique. The new Samurai packs about 5% bigger than non-airlocked elliptical canopies. The 120 that I jumped fit too easily into my Talon2 T-4 and seemed to be a perfect match for my Talon T-3. I used a standard PRO pack with each side of the nose folded in. After a few jumps, I realized I didn’t have to do anything with the nose and I still got superb openings. I used standard small rubber bands on my D-bag with the exception of the locking stows, where I used the larger size. My pilot chute was the standard 30" zero-p that came with my Talon2.

I jumped the 120 at a 1.8-lbs./sq.ft wing loading. This is the maximum recommended by Big Air Sportz. Wing loading should always be based on your skill level and experience. I currently have about 250 jumps on an 89 VX and was pleasantly surprised to find that the 120 Samurai provided all of the speed and performance I wanted and is much easier to fly. After logging 15 jumps, I found myself getting better surfs on the Samurai. The VX simply requires more pilot skill to get the most out of it.

Openings

I tried several sub-terminal openings on hop and pops. Every one was soft and on heading. They required very little steering by shifting in the harness or using the risers. Snatch force and opening shock were both very soft and comparable to the Icarus Crossfire. I tried to intentionally induce line twists by dropping my shoulder during deployment without success. I don’t have a death wish, but let’s face it; this is a common cause of many off heading openings. I wanted see how the canopy would react. A gentle, carving turn was the worst I could get.

Terminal face to earth openings were pretty much the same story. They required a little more steering by shifting in the harness during the opening sequence, but all of my openings were on heading. Dropping a shoulder during deployment at terminal did result in one opening with two line twists. The canopy flew straight and it was easy to kick out of the twists. I did one jump with a video camera helmet and again was pleased with the opening. There seems to be a very good balance between the snatch force and opening shock.

I deployed several times from a sit and several more after a 3-second track. All resulted in a noticeably higher snatch force, which was still very comfortable, and the opening shock was about the same as the normal face to earth openings.

Turns

Samurai Pond SwoopWhen jumping a new canopy, I like to do a series of turns using the front and rear risers to see how it will handle in case of an emergency collision avoidance situation. I do not consider a front riser turn with the brakes stowed as an effective method for avoiding collision after an opening and it can even be dangerous. An aggressive front riser input with the brakes still set resulted in a very sluggish and delayed turn. Mostly, the Samurai just bucked a little and slowed down. I’ve jumped many canopies and this is a typical flight characteristic. Next, I tried a series of rear riser turns with the brakes stowed. An aggressive input caused a very quick turn with a lot of over steer. It took a few tries before I could stop the turn before 270 degrees of rotation. The over steer is due to the riser input with the brakes stowed. The Samurai was very sensitive to harness input (weight shift) and was very easy to steer using this method, through deployment and opening.

I was very pleased with riser turns on the 120 Samurai after releasing the brakes. Carving front riser turns built up a lot of speed with only moderate pressure on the riser, much less than on the Icarus canopies I have jumped. Aggressive front riser input resulted in diving turns with considerable altitude loss, but not an especially fast rate of turn, although with a fair amount of over steer. It was very similar to my old Jedei 136. Again the riser pressure reminded me more of what I have found on PD canopies than Icarus. Carving rear riser turns were very predictable and had a higher rate of turn. Aggressive input on the rear risers caused the Samurai to turn very quickly with less altitude loss than with the front risers. Again, it had a noticeable over steer, but after a few turns it was easily anticipated and corrected. Rear riser pressure was about as light as I have ever experienced.

Toggle turns were a real pleasure. I experimented with both carving and aggressive inputs. Over steer with the toggles was almost non-existent. Toggle pressure was light and comparable to a Stiletto. I did find that with very aggressive toggle input, the line tension on the Samurai was less than I expected. Keep in mind, I was really pushing the canopy to its limits during some of these maneuvers and would not recommend them for most recreational pilots. One characteristic that I really liked about the 120 Samurai is it has a negative recovery arc. What this means is that after diving the canopy, the Samurai will continue to loose altitude until you "bump" the brakes a little to cause it to plane out. Why do I like this flight characteristic? Because it allows the pilot a bigger window of opportunity to dial in the surf. You can do your final turn aggressively at a higher (safer) altitude and not have to worry about the canopy planing out on its own at 15 or 20 feet AGL. If you do your turn a little high just let the canopy dive; it will maintain a descent and its airspeed. After only a few jumps, I got accustomed to this and after 15, I really loved it!

Glide

The Samurai has an excellent glide. I felt it was flatter than my 136 Jedei, even at the higher wing loading of the 120. It is by far flatter than my VX or any of the cross-braced canopies I have jumped. Instead of pulling down on the rear risers to flatten out the glide, I simply spread them a little. It was very easy to maintain and dramatically improved the glide. Deep brakes will give minimum sink rate as opposed to the best glide. The Samurai is pretty hard to stall; it just gets very mushy and rocks back. It even seems to fly backwards a little. Ease up on the toggles to slightly above the recovery point (about 3 to 6 inches) slowly and hold them there until the canopy recovers. The Samurai recovers very quickly and on heading. Lifting your hands too high as the canopy recovers allows for line slack and excessive altitude loss. By going into full brakes very aggressively, you can induce a dynamic stall and the canopy will "fortune cookie". Recovery is about the same, but be careful, over-reacting can result in a canopy that recovers with slack lines and possibly twist up. This is dangerous because it may not be recoverable.

Landing

Landing the Samurai is nothing but fun! You can use whatever method or approach that suits your flying style. The canopy has a strong flare and will fly slow enough so you don’t have to run out the landings on those no wind days. Just bump the brakes enough to stop your descent and pitch yourself under the canopy. Once you have planed out, use just enough smooth brake input to keep you close enough to the ground so you can unload the canopy by putting your feet down. When the Samurai no longer responds, put your feet down and finish the flare. This canopy rocks! Let it fly. Keeping the wing level during the surf is important, but with experience and practice, it is possible to do nice carving turns during the surf. This is fun, but it is also a good practical skill if you find yourself suddenly needing to avoid an obstacle during your landing.

Conditions and Turbulence

Samurai SwoopI jumped the 120 Samurai 15 times over a two-week period under a variety of conditions. My DZ is at about 1000’ MSL. Temperature ranged from the upper 50s to upper 70s. The winds were anything from light and variable to gusts up to 24 mph. I intentionally flew the Samurai into the turbulence on the downwind side of the hangar, some trees, and other buildings on an 8-mph wind day. It got a little bumpy, but in full flight, the Samurai handled the turbulence very well. I did this for evaluation purposes only and do not recommend it as a standard practice. It is nice to experiment a little under mild, controlled conditions though, that way you will have some idea of the performance parameters of your canopy for when you find yourself in a situation where you have no choice.

Conclusions

The Samurai Model 2001 is one of the best high-performance canopies available today for the recreational jumper. It is not the "handful" that the highly loaded cross-braced canopies are. It is fun to fly and provides an extra margin of safety for the pilot who wants performance. The Samurai is for experienced canopy pilots and the wing loading you choose should be appropriate for your piloting skills. I would definitely recommend jumping a demo of the Samurai if you are in the market for a high-performance elliptical canopy. We all have different tastes, likes and dislikes but do yourself a favor and try one of these canopies before buying. OK, so what is the downside? Well at $1790, they are not inexpensive, but you are getting a superb, custom-built canopy from a small company that specializes in excellence. Besides, Big Air Sportz has a Client Referral Program that will refund you $100 for every new sale you refer to them. The Samurai could end up being a real bargain!



About the author:
Alan Binnebose
Number of jumps: 1450
Jumps last year: 250
Time in sport: 10 years
Exit weight: 215 lbs

Recent canopy experience:
Icarus VX 89; Crossfire 119; Safire 149; FX 88, 93, 95, 99; Jedei 136, 120; PD Velocity 96; Vengeance 107; Stiletto 135, 120; Sabre 170, 150, 135, 120; Spectre 180; PD 170; Diablo 150, Triathlon 170, 160

Alan is also the moderator of the Dropzone.com Gear and Rigging Forum

All photo's by Marcus and Janine of cyberjester.com



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