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Gin's Philosophy: an interview with Louise Crandal
Remember we are a privileged species. In a global perspective of four billion years, we live inexactly the right time where there is a means to effortlessly soar the sky like a bird. Tender this privilege dearly, for you are the freest among free human beings." Gin Seok Song, Gin Gliders designer.
During the trip to Mongolia, Gin and Louise had plenty of time to talk. From these long discussions around the fire in the middle of nowhere, Louise Crandal, World Champion Paraglider but also a journalist, took the best parts to write this interview...
Question: Tell me about your test team and the way you develop gliders?
Gin: The test pilots fly at different levels so it ’s not only top pilots flying in competition who test the gliders. The problem with good pilots is that they can fly any shit, but a sensitive pilot cannot fly certain gliders if he is not comfortable or if the handling is bad.
Our philosophy is that the glider has to fly without any worries for the pilot and it must be massively forgiving so that the pilot only concentrates on the flying and thermaling -and not on the wing. We make a lot of prototypes to reach this target. Some pilots may say that a glider is okay, but for me it is not acceptable if something is not perfect.
Fortunately Ogi and Se Yong feel the same way. The three of us now have the same taste. We know what each other speaks about. If the glider moves too much or if we have to fly with too much brake it is not acceptable for us.
Other manufacturers will say to the pilots that they just have to control the glider if it moves too much, but we want the glider to do the work. It can be scary for a weekend pilot to fly a glider that moves a lot and a scared pilot is not a good pilot.
Some pilots may say that a glider is okay, but for me it is not acceptable if something is not perfect.
To reach this target we trim first and if it doesn ’t work we re-design completely. Sometimes we make a new attachment point or a new angle of attack and try it out, but if it doesn ’t work -which means that we don ’t like it -we try to learn from this and get as much information as possible. After that I design again in order to make a comple -tely new wing because it ’s often small changes that make big differences. That was the case with one of the Bolero Plus prototypes, which was really okay to fly and sell, but I didn ’t like it because the feeling was not right. The glider didn ’t give me enough feedback.
We want to give the gliders our touch and this touch is difficult to catch, but in general we always fly first and test later. If a glider flies the way we want it will generally pass the tests as well. We hardly ever fly in calm conditions, but in ‘real ’ conditions with thermals, wind and turbulence.
Question: How do you get the test pilots to understand what you want?
Gin: I explain to the test pilots exactly what I want from a new glider, my target. Then I teach them how I design –I don ’t have many secrets –so that they understand what is inside, the philosophy. That way they work better. If I just give them the wing they cannot explain what is wrong and why. If they have input information they can give output as well. The development has to be a forever and ongoing brainstorm –it has to be open. Sometimes a problem comes from a completely different place than we expect. That ’s why I try to show how I design. Then they can think themselves and we can stay closer in our work. If we don’t exchange all the information it creates a distance between us. We need to have a good relationship. Ogi, Se Yong and I have been working together for ten years now. We understand each other, we all fly a lot and have the same aim for the gliders and what we consider the most mportant is comfort in the air. I teach my test pilots how I design–I don ’t have many secrets–so that they understand what is inside, the philosophy of the glider
Question: Why does it take you so long to make a new glider?
Gin: The prototypes are always able to fly ‘straight from the computer ’, but it takes a long time before we are happy. Even when the glider is okay I keep working on improvements all the way to the limit of time. But we are always over the limit. Eric and Mr. Choi are often mad at me because I’m always late. But we want to make good gliders we can sell for several years. Now that I’m my own boss I enjoy the fact that I can spend the time I need to finish a glider when it’s finished and not when I run out of time. It took 14 months to make the Oasis and I ’ve stopped counting the months I’ve spent on the Bolero Plus, but it ’s well over one year.
Question: Why is it so hard to make a simple glider?
Gin: The entry glider is the most important wing. The first impression is very important because you will keep the first wing you have for a long time. If you start on a Gin normally you will stay – that is if the glider is good of course. I want to give the pilots my feeling straight from the beginning. That ’s very important.
It’s harder to design a class 1 glider than a comp wing because it has fewer cells and therefore it deforms more from the original design when its in the air. The Boomerang in the air is not so far from the original plan form. It’s hard to understand and predict the deformations so now I’m developing a new program to analyse which deformations we can expect and estimate what it will be like in the air. Then we will have a more correct shape.
It has been fun working with a professor who designs big airplanes because like me he works by trial and error.
I’ve started working with the Korean Air Force Academy to have a better theoretical base in order to know about the deformations not only in practice but also in theory. But it has been fun working with a professor who designs big airplanes because like me he works by trial and error.
I’m not exactly a specialist in aerodynamics but I speak with a lot of aerodynamic professors and I was quite happy to hear that the way they work is similar to the way I work. They say that the practical way is the best. On the other hand this way costs a lot of money and time.
Question: Tell me about the production...
Gin: We try to combine the best materials. All gliders are made of Porcher Marine. We use different materials for diagonals, ribs, top and bottom.
I get the webbing for brake handles and risers from France because they make them just like I want them, even though I could get them for one third of the price in Korea, but they are not the quality I want.
Each detail needs to be push over the limit.
I don ’t like a hard brake handle. If you wrap it has to be soft and after many hours it has to be like new. The brake handles are a very important part of the glider because it ’s the main link to the wing. The feeling has to be right.
We buy the best thread in the world from Germany because we had too many problems with the external stitching. Now we don ’t have many problems even with the external stitches. With a normal thread we get problems if people launch from a rocky takeoff.
We have a special machine to cut the lines under the same tension every time so that they are perfect. A different machine takes care of the sheath so that the core of the line doesn ’t stick out. We care about the function for each part and all material is handpicked.
This is touch.
Each glider has a record. If we make a check after two or five years we know exactly which roll of fabric was used,exactly which lines,thread,coating etc. for service and repairing.
Every single glider is inflated in the factory. We cover the leading edge and inflate the glider like it would be inflated in the air.This way we can see every single wrinkle and of course if there are any sewing mistakes. If there is a problem on one glider we show it to the sewing ladies for them to see for themselves and understand why the sewing is so important. It ’s the best way to improve the production.
Every single glider is inflated in the factory.
In partnership with Porcher we have developed and tested the new Skytex "E85A", a new fabric finish that offers greater performance and durability. In addition, the coating is water-based and environmentally friendly.
Question: What can you tell about the different gliders?
Gin: Basically the gliders must be comfortable to fly. If you have to work a lot to fly, it ’s not a good wing.
For pilots who fly between 10 and 30 hours per year. The glider must be massively forgiving and fly no matter what the pilot does.
If the pilot has a problem he can put his hands up and the glider will bring him down safely. And of course it must give the pilot a good feeling.
Minimum 30 flying hours per year.
Similar to a class 1 but with more performance and more sensitive handling. The safety is almost like a class 1.
Because of the high performance the pilot has to fly a certain amount of hours otherwise he can ’t handle a class 1-2. Not because of collapses or what DHV test for, but for the feeling.
You get more airtime on an Oasis because it is built to climb and stay in the air and maybe that can cause fear for the class 1 pilot if he wants to go down.
Minimum 50 hours per year in different conditions –not only ridge soaring.
More like a DHV 2-3 but safer. Requires more piloting and has better performance.
Mostly for people who want to fly cross ountry and distance.
More than 70 hours per year in different conditions.
The pilot should fly in turbulence and spend most of the flying hours in thermal flying –real conditions.
It ’s close to a competition wing and requires a pilot who can handle an active wing and who really needs the performance. The 2-3 class is for pilots who fly a lot and competition pilots.
A competition wing has to be in harmony with the rough conditions.
A comp wing must be easy to fly, stable and forgiving so that the pilot doesn ’t have to worry about the wing.
I want comp pilots to be very safe because they have to fly in places they normally wouldn ’t fly in. They are more concerned about safety than anybody else.
If a comp pilot gets scared he can ’t compete and that ’s why good performance is second priority.
The glider has to be in harmony with the rough conditions. If the glider can't cut through the air it doesn ’t have a chance. That ’s why I use a special airfoil so that the glider can 'bite the thermals'. Flying along a ridge you just bite the thermals and climb when flying accelerated.
We never compare comp wings in calm air –we compare in real conditions. In turbulence you can see which glider bites the thermals and climbs and which glider just flies straight.
As for all he gliders -the pilots must feel confident and have fun.
Question: Do you still continue to fly in competition?
Gin: Yes of course,it is very important to design. I fly the Korean League, a few World Cups each year, and the World Championships.
Question: You don ’t call a class 1 glider a beginner ’s glider – why?
Gin: Class one pilots should stay on class one gliders if they don ’t fly a lot every year. A pilot with 10 years of experience is a good pilot, but if he doesn ’t have time to fly a lot he will be better off with an easier glider. That ’s why I don ’t want to call a class 1 glider a beginner model.
A pilot with 10 years of experience should fly a class 1 glider if he only flies a few hours every year.
Like airline pilots paraglider pilots should be taught to fly each new glider to help avoiding accidents and bad experiences.
In hang gliding we teach the student to be a pilot and then we end him into the air. You can put a big stone on a paraglider and it will still fly down. In some ways paragliding is almost too easy.
For all the level of gliders, the pilots must feel confident and have fun.
Question: And the future?
Gin: If we want to develop paragliding we –the constructers, schools and organisations –must care for the pilots –then the pilots will stay, have fun and keep flying.
Climb high and go further.
If you buy a new wing and get scared just one time you put the glider in the basement and during the winter you don ’t fly and then in the spring when the sun comes out the pilot will go for a flight again after four or five months on the ground and then he has a great risk of crashing because of the strong spring conditions. Then they stop flying – and there goes the future –for him and for the whole sport.
We need to have meetings with constructors, the DHV, the teachers – a representative from each section of the flying scene, and then discuss about safety, gliders and teaching.
Pilots should fly a minimum amount of hours to stay on a glider they have had for a while –like for the Oasis pilot. He should not stay on the Oasis if doesn ’t have enough time to go flying. He should fly the Bolero.
The teachers should feel -and be responsible for their pilots and take care that they fly the right wing.
Normally pilots take one step up every time they change the glider, but I think this is over now. You can fly XC with a Bolero and have lots of fun.
I see very good pilots flying Oasis because they got scared of their hot wings. On the Oasis they have fun and maybe they will go back to the comp wing again if they fly a lot.
If pilots always take the more difficult wing for sure they will stop flying.
If a pilot gets scared once he'll fly less, then he'll fly even less - get more scared and then it ’s finished.
The pilot should have fun in the air. Then he climbs high and goes somewhere else. That’s the philosophy in cross country flying.
When I fly I never plan to go somewhere. I plan to get high and when I get high I go somewhere else.
Climb high and go further.
Text: Louise Crandal