Filming Test with Alain Zoller

I was in Laragne in early June 2010 for the Ozone Chabre open. One of the guest speakers was Alain Zoller, Alain is chief test pilot at the testing and certification facility Air Turquoise based, in Villeneuve, Switzerland.

Alain and I have been friends for many years, in fact, it was Alain that taught me SIV and encouraged me to start running my courses over 2 decades ago. Alain was kind enough to allow me to film an interview with him.

Unsurprisingly, the conversation turned to locked in spiral dives which have been an issue for some time and, have been identified as the cause of several serious and fatal accidents.

Alain invited us to visit his test centre on the Swiss side of Lake Geneva for a few days in order to work with him and his team, focusing mainly on locked in spirals and reserve deployments, we both feel that these two subjects are amongst the most important that pilots need to be informed about, but more of that trip later.

Later in June 2010 we were in Annecy for our regular SIV/XC courses and did some testing of a new rapid descent technique that Alain and his team had been using for a while.

The “Zoller” technique is to induce an asymmetric collapse then, to put the glider into a tight 360 degree turn to the opposite side. Our testing revealed that we could get reasonably fast descent rates, up to 16 meters per second but with significantly less G force than a conventional spiral dive. We have tried this on a variety of gliders and found that it seems most effective on higher performance wings.

PLEASE don't try this at home, the fact that this technique involves turning the glider to the opposite side to which the deflation is induced means that the glider could easily spin, recovery takes some practice too! Gliders are not tested for this technique during the certification process and this should only be attempted over water with a buoyancy aid and rescue boat in attendance.

We had wanted the film to be finished by December 2010 but as the season drew to a close, we knew that wasn't going to happen. The more filming we did, the more we realised we still needed to do.

The middle of September 2011 was the first opportunity that Martin, Chris and myself were able to get together and drive down to Switzerland to film and fly with Alain Zoller and his team at Air Turquoise.

We arrived on the 11th, the weather, as forecast, wasn't great but gave us a great opportunity to have a look around the Air Turquoise base, Randi, Alain's lovely wife showed us how to rig the collapse lines and mark a glider for the EN certification flights, we then went down to their private lakeside landing field and set up the equipment to film an interview with Alain.

The following 3 days gave us the perfect flying weather we needed. From launch, we were coming over the manoeuvering area with about 800 meters, Chris and Martin were filming from the tandem and I had 2 onboard cameras again.

We spent most of that day filming spiral dives on a glider that we knew from testing had a tendency to lock in.

A paraglider that locks into spiral dives doesn't necessarily make it dangerous to fly. If you aren't aware of its spiral stability, don't know the procedure to recover it or have a low tolerance to G forces then, yes, of course it can be dangerous.

It was really interesting to have the time to discuss spiral dives with Alain and his team and reassuring to discover that Alain's conclusions from years of LTF and EN testing were very similar to ours and entirely in line with what we currently teach on our courses.

I think the time dedicated to this in the film is quite justified because of the lack of knowledge amongst some of the flying community and also, because due to current test procedures, paragliders aren't fully tested in spiral dives.

At present, gliders are tested in spiral dives at 14m/s, which means that it could, for example, get an EN “A” at 14m/s but if the pilot puts it into a 16m/s spiral it could lock in.

We believe that the testing procedure will change in 2012 and that all gliders will undergo testing at their maximum possible descent rates and certified according to the results of this new test.

This probably won't entirely rid us of the problem, there are other factors that contribute to spiral stability such as harness settings and harness design.

The following day, together with Claud Thuneer, we focused on emergency parachute deployments and certification. Chris and I both deployed our reserves and demonstrated different ways of gathering in the paraglider. Again, Alain and I were in total agreement that the paraglider needs to be completely disabled to stop it downplaning and increasing overall descent rate, or otherwise interfering with the reserve parachute.

Claud, who is one of Air Turquoise's test pilots has been testing gliders for certification for over 15 years, and used our Geo to demonstrate and talk through the testing procedure for us. Claud also allowed us to film an interview.

The following day after 2 more flights, we had to leave to get back to the UK in time for Chris and I to pack and head back to Turkey for our autumn SIV courses, it would have been great to spend more time in Villeneuve, Alain, who I think of as “the test pilot's test pilot” is a font of knowledge and always enthusiastic to share his knowledge and experience in the hope of making us all safer pilots.

I would like to say a big THANK YOU to Alain, Randi and Claud for their help and hospitality.