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Gear Reviews posted by riggerrob

  1. I recently had an opportunity to get re-aquainted with the Racer Elite Tandem. Back in 1997 I earned my Racer Tandem Instructor rating by doing a couple of jumps on thier 500 square foot rectangular main canopy. In the intervening years I did another 1700 jumps, mostly on SET 400s. This past weekend I did three more jumps on a new Racer Tandem, all from Cessnas.
    I liked the Racer Tandem back then and I still like it today.
    In the intervening years, John Sherman heeded my advice in simplifying the drogue riser, but little else has changed on the container aside from the double main riser cover tuck tabs and some refinements to the main top flap.
    The first thing I noticed about the Racer Tandem is how much shorter it is than the Strong Tandems that I normally jump. The greatest size difference is in the reserve container, significantly thinner even with a Jump Shack 400 reserve. The center of gravity is also lower, closer to my own center of gravity.
    When I picked it up, I also noticed that the Racer is about 20% lighter than the
    The harness on the demo Racer Tandem is an "M+1", slightly too long for me, so that I had to tighten the leg straps all the way to the stops for a snug fit.
    The reduced bulk also made the Racer more comfortable when riding in the Cessna.
    Type 13 webbing makes the student harness a bit more difficult to adjust, but then it does not slip. The belly band is much lower, making it easier to keep the hip junction at the front of their pelvis. Attaching the side straps was a bit more difficult, but that will probably ease with currency. I had difficulty tightening the side straps for my first jump, but then I was jammed in the front of a narrow-body Cessna 182. Hee! Hee!
    With loose side straps, it took a bit more finess to fly the exit (read: I used ALL of my long legs), but once the drogue was out, I felt rock-solid laying on the student. Drogue fall was level and surprisingly smooth. The only variable was how much the students kicked.
    Only one student complained of discomfort under canopy, but she quit complaining as soon as I loosened her belly band a bit. She was also my only student who had any difficulty getting her feet out in front for landing, but then she was 50 years older than them.

    Openings were not consistent. The Firebolt 390 opened great with a tall, lanky male student, but when I jumped with medium to small women, line stretch was hard (but not as hard as a Strong F-111 canopy) with 4 seconds of slider-fall before the canopy inflated.
    After opening, I tried a rear riser stall and turns. Slow turns were easy, but it required everything I had to flare the canopy. Riser manuvers required as much muscle as a SET 400, meaning that I would not try landing it on risers alone.
    Pulling on the yellow main toggles revealed light control pressures and docile turns, slower than a SET 400. Grabbing the red flare toggles as well did not significantly improve turn rate. Toggle pressures were still light, even when my students forced me into an awkward, wide hands position. The Firebolt has the lightest control pressure of any tandem canopy I have jumped (Pioneer High-Lifter, PD 360, PD 421, EZ 384, Galaxy 400, Racer 400, Racer 500, Strong 425, Strong 520 and SET 400).
    Frankly, toggle pressures were so light that I cannot understand why they complicated the canopy with four main toggles. I have always hated extra toggles, even when I was jumping Strong 520 mains. The last thing I want to do is fumble for extra toggles while am turning onto final at a busy DZ.
    If I owned a Firebolt 390, the first thing I would do is tie all the steering lines to just two toggles.
    In terms of handling the Firebolt 390 reminds me of the Aerodyne Solo 270 canopy I test-jumped a week earlier, only more boring. Which leads us to question of how exciting student and tandem canopies should be. To my mind, the more boring the better. If a tandem instructor choses a canopy based upon how much fun it is for him, he is in the wrong business!
    Practice flares did not seem to slow the Firebolt 390 canopy by much. Despite holding all the toggles all the way down for 7 seconds, I could not stall the canopy like a Strong main.
    Coming in for landing, the initial 3/4 of the flare felt the same as a SET 400, lots of toggle movement, but the same tragectory towards the planet. Then the Firebolt 390 surprised me. Depressing toggles below waist level resulted in dramatic reductions in both forward speed and rate of descent. It surprised me with a ridiculously easy stand-up landing in 4 knots of wind!
    After the jump, the Firebolt's lighter weight and lower bulk made it easier to carry back to the hangar. Back in the packing hangar, the Firebolt's hybrid construction made it ridiculously easy to squeeze the air out - easier than a tired F-111 canopy - and the only thing different than packing a sport rig was attaching the drogue.
    Back in 1997 I concluded that Racer tandem harnesses were more comfortable than anybody else's and their main canopies flew significantly better as well, with lighter toggle pressures. After jumping the latest Racer Tandem with a Firebolt 390 canopy, my opinion remains the same. I like Racer Tandems.

  2. Today I jumped an Aerodyne Solo student canopy and got bored.
    The secanrio included: sea level, about 65 degrees farenheit, 10 knots of wind and a test jumper with 4300 jumps and 190 pounds (before dressing).
    I rolled the nose a little and packed the Solo 270 into a Student Sidewinder container (made by Flying High Manufacturing of Alberta). The new Solo has about the same pack volume as a Manta 290, while its combination of ZP top skin with F-111 bottom skin made it easy to compress, even for a brand new canopy.
    My jump was a 2 second delay from a Cessna flying at 80 knots, 3,000 feet over the DZ. Opening was so slow that I regretted rolling the nose at all! Line twists were easy to kick out of.
    Toggle pressures were light. When I pulled a toggle to shoulder level, turns were boring.
    When I pulled a toggle to hip level, turns got fast enough to be interesting.
    Stalls were impossible at the factory settings. However, when I took one wrap and held my hands all the way down, the Solo stalled deep enough to fold up and bump the rear corners together. The surprising thing about a deep stall with the Solo 270 was that it continued to go straight ahead, with hardly any buffeting. As soon as I released the brakes, the Solo quickly recovered, with minimal dive and end cells remained fully inflated through the stalls.
    At about 600 feet, I initiated a half-brake 360 degree turn. I was pleasantly surprised when I was easily able to complete the turn and raise the toggles in plenty of time for a stock standard, one-shot student flare.
    The Solo hovered! It stopped completely and I hovered with grass tickling my toes for three seconds before it set me down softer than I have landed in years.
    Next time jump I will not roll the nose at all. This is good, the less you have to do while packing a student canopy, the less likely to mess up on a busy day.
    I found the Aerodyne Solo 270 to be a boring canopy. Turns are docile with the toggle-to-shoulder technique preferred by first-timers. Packers won't whine, students won't complain about hard openings or hard landings and ambulance drivers will get bored, really bored.
    In conclusion, I would cheerfully hang a first-jump student under an Aerodyne Solo 270 canopy.

    Rob Warner, CSPA Instructor since 1982