Review

A review of the Wasp SP by Paul Johnson of Freebird

I recently decided to upgrade my Wasp powered hang gliding harness to the electric start model. I’d been really happy with the manual start model but recent design developments and the electric start option meant I was tempted to upgrade.  A conversion from manual to electric is not feasible so I bit the bullet and ordered a new unit.

Due to the relatively recent introduction of electric start models to the UK I thought it may be helpful for others considering such an upgrade, or buying a unit for the first time, if I were to share my experiences.

Review

Choices, choices…

One of the main benefits of buying new equipment is that everything is specified to your exact requirements, and the Wasp certainly makes the prospective buyer think a little about what they want with its wide range of options. I opted for a red and graphite colour scheme – it must match your glider after all. As well as the colour being to my liking, the harness is also made-to-measure. I consider this critical for comfort if flying prone for lengthy periods, rather than sitting around waiting for the wind to change.

The standard one-piece carbon prop was my preference. It delivers slightly more thrust than the wooden version and is cheaper than the two-piece and folding carbon props.

My own Metamorfosi Conar reserve was incorporated into the harness, with radio and camera pockets situated just above the chute. I also asked for a snug fitting harness storage bag and heavy duty handles to aid lugging it around.

I also went for the standard mouth throttle. This makes launching a doddle as both hands are controlling the glider at all times. In addition to the mouth throttle, I also opted for the ingenious foot throttle. This sits neatly inside the harness against the foot board at the base, rendering the mouth throttle redundant for all but the first moments of launch …once into prone the foot throttle takes over. Should an abort be necessary simply coming out of prone again automatically shuts off the throttle.

Construction

I decided to pay Chris Taylor (Wasp builder) a visit during the construction process. This was an excuse to see my new toy being built, with the added pleasure of taking our esteemed Chairperson to play on the Big One roller coaster at Blackpool on the way home. She seemed to handle it quite well for a girl!

Hanging in the harness confirmed the benefit of the made-to-measure approach. The fit was a dream. Chris has incorporated a new design to attach the upper part of the harness to the main body, making getting in and out of prone simplicity itself. I could start the transfer to ‘gorilla’ by simply lifting my head from the full-prone position. There are also 5 mounting positions ensuring that the attitude of the harness can be adjusted to suit the pilots taste.

Visiting Chris at work during the construction phase really drove home the amount of effort that goes into the design and construction of the Wasp. Only top-quality components are used throughout, such as the CAA approved fuel pipe which is not used on any other units in the UK.

Battery

Chris has pioneered the use of a sealed Lead Gel Cell battery pack. This is relatively small and sits on it’s own dedicated plate on the frame. The lead to attach the battery charger site snug against the battery meaning it can be charged in situ.

Foot Throttle

Another departure from my previous Wasp is the foot throttle. This is operated by pressing against a stub that protrudes from the foot plate inside the harness. The linkage and cables are all on the outside of the harness between the footboard and the engine.

Setting Up

Preparing the Wasp for flight is simply a case of removing the outer bag, extending and securing the legs then turning it over and attaching it to the glider. The one-piece carbon prop is held in place by a securing pin and wing nut, both secured by clips. The 5 litre fuel tank attaches to the upright and has a safety line that attaches to the keel. Attaching the limit wires to the outer leading edge/cross-tube junction completes the setup process. Most pilots it seems dispense with the limit lines after a while.

Clipping into the harness is made very easy by the well designed and executed articulation between the upper harness and the main rear section …leg loops and outer buckles are secured and that’s it. No climbing in through the top and very little fuss.

Once the retaining rope attached to the nose is removed it’s simply a case of walking forward to launch. The engine is started once we are positioned and ready to go. Make sure the on-off switch is set to ‘on’, hold the choke with your right hand whilst pressing the starter button. After 2-3 seconds it normally fires – a bit of juice via the mouth control and it ticks over nicely.

Launch

Once we are happy with the tickover, and we are clear to launch, its simply a case of biting firmly on the mouth throttle, keeping the nose down and running into wind. I normally try and hold it back on full revs for about 5 seconds before I allow myself to be pushed forwards in a controlled manner, gently accelerating and extending my stride.

With any headwind launch is effortless.  Anything over 5mph is a doddle! Nil wind launches simply require commitment and concentration. Be prepared to skim the ground low under full power until you pull away.

In Flight

Once we are safely up and away the harness zips up and the legs fold away with ease. The mouth throttle is then stowed on the base bar or in the chest pocket and we can use the foot throttle. Only at this point do we realise the full beauty of this design.The pilot’s hands are now used solely to fly the glider, which gives an amazing sense of liberation from the normal paraphernalia involved in powered flight. In rough conditions full control over the wing is easily maintained by not having to use the hands to also control the power unit, which I found very comforting indeed.The foot throttle is very responsive and easy to get used to, after all most of us control the gas in our cars this way. A big ‘Well Done!’ to Chris!

I managed a sustained climb rate of between 350-400 fpm on average with the new Wasp, at a cruising speed of 24 mph (I’m 6’1” and 90Kg). I can easily maintain a bar-to-the-knees top speed of 45-50mph on the Max, even whilst climbing on full power. This is a stern test of the gliders handling characteristics, which are critical when assessing suitability for powered flight.

The Max is so well suited to powered flight that the Litespeed is reserved solely for hill flying!

Landing

I normally stop the engine with the choke and glide in from around 1,000’ in ‘silent mode’. This time I decided to test the electric start in anger. No problem – press the button and it fires back into life. After choking it off again I unzipped, the legs came down and I made my normal gliding approach.

Once the legs touch down the landing is assisted by the drag. The freely spinning prop also helps. Both of these factors more than compensate for the extra weight making it actually easier to land than a normal unpowered harness. Try it yourself, you’ll be surprised.

Conclusion

Like many pilots out there I was sceptical about making the move into powered flight. The beauty of hang gliding is its simplicity after all. Now factor in the UK weather, crowded hill sites and ever increasing pressure on our leisure time.A power unit guarantees greater freedom from the weather, a complete avoidance of crowded hill sites and far more use from your existing wing (assuming it is suitable for powered flight). For any experienced pilot the transition is normally very straightforward.After researching all of the units on the market I settled on the Wasp. Out of my group of powered pilots the Wasp enjoys by far and away the highest grin factor. Customer satisfaction is not just about the product, it’s also about backup and support, an area where Wasp Flight Systems truly excel.

Chris has taken the Wasp a huge step forward with the introduction of the electric start, foot throttle and multi-setting rotation system. Design changes elsewhere mean it’s also no heavier than the original, despite the extra weight of the new engine and starter.

Although I am a Moyes dealer I paid full price for the Wasp out of personal preference for the Wasp Flight Systems product and backup.
My final piece of advice to you all is simple however –
Try before you buy.

© Paul Johnson

Freebird Flight Equipment

 

 

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