Lightweight harnesses. Seatboard or Hammock?
Models tried: Nearbirds Zippy and Woody Valley X alps GTO.
I have tried to reduce my kit weight and dimensions this year. There are now plenty of new models offering pod harnesses with considerably less weight and bulk than my Kortel Cannibal.
Amongst the most desired, if the waiting list and price demand shows, the Impress 3 seems most popular. I actually had one on order, but with the long waiting lists looked elsewhere. After seeing the Nearbirds Zippy on the forum I ordered one and have been flying the L size for a few months.
The Nearbirds Zippy L
The Zippy seems to have copied its basic strap setup/geometry fom the Advance Lightness. However, it seems an improvement on the lightness in that it has decent buckles, some back protection and an inflated airbag style fairing (not so sure the latter would offer much protection though). The harness is very very light (around 2.5kg) and must be flown with a front mounted reserve with the reserve webbing attached direct to the riser karabiners. This ads for extra messing around before launch. There are no pockets accesible during flight, though there is a ballast storage space under the seat and a back within the inflated airbag behind. I had to fly with everything extra attached to a radio chest harness. The supplied reserve container has velcro for fixing instrucments, and if properly attached to the chest strap give a good view of the instruments.
The support of the pod relies on 4 lines (about the same diameter as brake line) for support of the feet/legs. Once in the hammock/harness this is the most comfortable harness I have ever tried – whilst hanging in the simulator. I have never had a pod harness which seems to keep your feet up without a lot of pressure and stomach muscle work. There is closing stystem which relies on one clip across from right to left and another line threaded across and held in place with a small metal disc to prevent it running out through a plastic eyelet.
Putting the harness on is a very pleasant due to the light weight. However, doing up all the buckles and clips is time consuming . The process is:
2 metal chest strap buckles
1 plastic chest strap buckle
Fit reserve (I left one side on, so only had to affix 1 plastic support buckle, then the reserve webbing through the flying Karabiner), then another clip to leg loops, then a velcro loop around the chest strap.
Clip for pod skirt.
Thread line right to left for pod skirt and hook in metal disc.
That is a lot to do, especially on a launch with your glider thrashing around! Plenty can go wrong. These were my errors:
Forget to attach reserve webbing on karabiner
Get pod closure lines hooked in the chest buckle maiking it impossible to get into the pod
Foul pod closure lines with various parts of harness making it impossible to get into the pod.
No being able to get into a hammock style harness is much more of an issue that failing to get into the pod of a seatboard style harness. For one your are hanging from your groin which can be uncomfortable (the zippy is well padded here). More importantly, much of the stability of the harness relies on your pressure on the footplate.
What is it like flying
Assuming you are now well set up an successfully in the harness the flying in nice conditions (ie. smooth thermals and limited turbulence) is very nice. I origionally flew with a too wide chest setting, but reducing to 42cm made a lot of difference to comfort without restricting further the weight shift.
Weight shift requires a whole body roll and is quite tiring as the harness naturally want to roll to nuetral straight. There is no ABS and the harness tends to roll a lot about this straight and level position giving plenty of unwelcome feetback in strong turbulence. Many of us have an inate tendency to drop our legs in turbulence – after all this should reduce twist tendence. However, this is not a good option with a hammock style glider as you will find it becomes uncomfortably unstable in roll.
After XC flights of 5hrs or more the thin shoulder straps did make for a little soreness, but not much, as the pressure there was much less than on other pod harnesses as there is litte need to push out hard with the feed and shoulders to keep supine.
Getting out for landing was easy, but best to stay in till late to maintain roll authority near the ground.
The best bit of all was packing it into its small rucksac and carrying away something almost half the weight of my previous set up.
The Impress 3
I have not flown this, but many of my guests are arriving with them so I´ve had a good look and we have talked a fair bit about its characteristics.
The hammock system is very similar to the Zippy, though with a degree of ABS. Like myself with the Zippy in strong turbulence – ie running the Convergence near Avila – these harnesses give a much higher workload. Getting into the I3 is also difficult, especially for shorter pilots. Many have adapted a home made system with a shock cord tied to their foot so they can find the opening and get their feet in.
Woody Valley X Alps GTO
However, where the Zippy is all minimalism, the WV is a harness with many extras and a much higher specification of build quality and details. Their geometry still relies on a long seatplate which makes it a much easier step to make for the pilot who already has an old style pod or is buying one for the first time.
The harness has a similar number of set up straps as the hammock style, but the factory setting (marked with red thread) seems perfect for most. I fiddled around a little in the shop simulator just with the pod length settings – a smilar method of adjustment as the zippy, but a little less fiddly as loop knots were acompanied by sliding balls.
The reserve is mounted under the pilot and extraction systems seems neat and very well thought out.
At take off the following:
2 metal chest strap buckles
2 buckes on the left side for the instrument cockpit (a safety system to prevent forgetting the main buckles)
1 nylon clip for the pod closure
There are lots of well thought out details such as hidden magnets to secure the pod further down. The closure system is not disimilar to the zippy, but using pulleys and line discretly away from the opening which prevents snagging. There are many nice details all well explained in the handbook online //www.woodyvalley.eu/download/manuals/en/GTO.pdf.
Flying the GTO
Very stress free as you are sitting immediatly on the long plate and can fully control the glider from a seated position so there is no rush or loss of control at this critical time. Getting the feet in is easy, fishing about with the feed or using one hand. I immediately had full control of weight shift easily and naturally, even though I have been over 2 months on a hammock style. Holding a bank angle or adjusting mid turn is was easy and far less tiring. With the hammock I would often find myself involuntarily pushing with my wrist on the riser to help keep my body over.
The GTO has neoprene and gives a tight seal so I soon got hot low down, but dropping your legs is no problem to get the air circulating as the harness maintains stability in turns or straignt. However, with the current set up of the pod I seem to need to hold my legs up, so that needs adjusting, or maybe you can only get that easy leg up position with a hammock?
What is the verdict?
I really love the lightness, comfort and looks of the zippy. However, the lack of inflight accessible storage, general wobbliness in strong conditions and lack full lenght back proteccion certainly weight against it. Also, you must be very focused on your set up before launch. With my attention on my clients also getting off, the general fiddlyness of getting ready along with the anxiety of not being able to get into the pod has been a real problem for me.
The extra few kilos for the GTO are more than outweighed by all its advantages of passive safety, user freindlyness and even ruggedness. That is the one I will be keeping.
My profile and needs are probably not too different from your average middle aged pilot looking do decrease the weight of his pack but still wishing to continue with the advantages of a pod harness : warm in winter and cool in summer (as you can wear shorts), glide advantage and perhaps becasue we think it makes us look cool!
If I was living in a temperate climate with long walks to take off and possible long walk outs I would stick with the Zippy. As I fly in a near desert environent with booming conditions and drive to launch and tend to stick to civilaization for landing, then the GTO isthe better option for me.
Zippy L with front mount container. 1 carefull owner 450€