Many of you will know Aerofix as a paragliding service centre. That’s no surprise as it has been around for 20 years, continuing to develop over that time as has the sport of paragliding itself. At the beginning of 2016 the business was bought by John Warden and relocated to Bradwell in the Peak District, between Manchester and his hometown of Sheffield. Since then, the new team has been carrying out services, repacks, repairs and making logos from their new workshop next door to Avian Hang Gliders. We caught up with John to ask him about Aerofix and his plans for the business.
SkyWings: Congratulations John on your purchase. Perhaps you could tell us why you wanted to get involved in paragliding servicing.
JW: I’d heard that Kirsten and Nick were selling the business some time ago, and it occurred to me that if I could move the business to be nearer my home, then I could combine my passion for paragliding with what I do for a living. I’ve received a lot of encouragement and support in many ways from local pilots, including very practical help setting up the new workshop. My background is in management and operations, and I wanted to build on Aerofix’ reputation of professionalism and responsiveness to customers. The new team are all keen pilots, but I knew that there was a lot for us to learn from Kirsten and Nick, so we agreed they would work alongside us for the first half of the year. In that time we serviced or repaired several hundred gliders. I’m pleased the arrangement has made the handover pretty seamless, and that we’ve done as much as we have to ensure their knowledge and experience is handed on.
SkyWings: Who is in the new team?
JW: Matt Cook began paragliding in the early 1990s. In 1994 he briefly held the UK open distance record of 159.1km before being cruelly upstaged by Richard Carter who landed 10 minutes later. He’s flown in many European countries and further afield. He flies an M6 and has already clocked up two flights of more than 100km this year.
More people know Theo than me, and I don’t mind at all being introduced on the hill as “Theo’s dad!” He’s a member of the NOVA team and the British Paragliding Racing Academy. He followed me into paragliding three years ago, starting his training within a week of his fourteenth birthday and qualified four months later. 2015 was his first year of flying xc, and his 201km flight won him an award for the first UK flight of over 200km on a wing with aspect ratio of less than 5.8 – I’m so proud!
Sebastian Olifiruk flies paragliders less often than hang gliders, which he’s flown since 1997. He began competing in the Polish HG national comps in 2001, flew for his national team and has been the Polish national hang gliding champion. Sebastian is also a skilled machinist, having spent time working for Woody Valley and Avian Hang Gliders. Since starting with Aerofix in February, he has carried out all our repairs and is now also looking after logos.
I flew hang gliders for a few years in the 80s, and now I’m a keen paraglider pilot. I flew my personal best of 135km last year, and whilst I’d like to improve on that this year, my own flying will take second place to Aerofix for the time being. I also support the DSC as our club secretary.
SkyWings: Can you tell us what you’ve changed at Aerofix?
JW: Quality and attention to detail is paramount in everything we do at Aerofix, and I want to continue to build on that. We all rely for our safety on our wings, and all our customers expect that inspection and repair work will be done professionally to the highest standard. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve installed new laser line measuring equipment since we moved, for example, which enables us to measure more accurately and keep a record of every single measurement we take. Also working with Kirsten and Nick, Aerofix has added more manufacturer accreditations, recently becoming Skywalk’s UK Checkair Centre, and now being accredited by NOVA to carry out their trim tuning services.
SkyWings: How quickly can you turn around gliders sent in for servicing?
JW: Since reopening in the Peak District we’ve been operating a booking system, much like you’d expect if you were arranging for the service of your car. So you keep your glider until the week when it’s booked in. We can also take bookings for specific days, if that’s important to you.
SkyWings: Why is it important to get a glider serviced?
JW: The manual for every manufacturer sets out recommendations for regular servicing of their gliders. Guidance is typically that a regular service should be carried out every 100 hours or every other year, whichever arises sooner. But what drives that recommendation? Two key factors: safety and performance. The first one is easy to understand, and is important to every pilot. The second is less frequently talked about on the hill. But it’s the case that if the lines of your glider are out of trim, that may have a very significant impact on its performance.
SkyWings: What does a glider service typically involve?
JW: Checking line strength, length and condition, and checking the condition of the canopy.
SkyWings: Line strength sounds pretty fundamental!
JW: Yes – checking the line breaking strength is one of the most important tests. Under European standard EN 926-1, the main lines need to be able to carry the maximum flying weight at 14G between them. We remove selected lower and upper lines and first make replacement lines to match those removed. Once replacements have been made, the removed lines are tested to breaking point. Line strength does reduce with age and use, and the rate of reduction depends on many factors. We see gliders that have ceased to be airworthy because their lines are no longer strong enough, but it is rare for this to happen to a glider that is less than 12 years old. As well as testing line strength, a careful and thorough inspection of the lines is also important to eliminate the risk of there being physical damage that might reduce line strength.
SkyWings: Aren’t the lengths of Kevlar lines pretty stable? Why do they need checking?
JW: You’re right that Kevlar is often pretty stable, but both Kevlar and Dyneema lines do change in length over time, particularly if they get wet or damp. Almost all manufacturers stipulate that actual line lengths should not vary by more than ±10mm of specification. Significant deviation may change the trim speed, alter the inflation characteristics, give the glider a tendency to turn in one direction or even exhibit parachutal tendencies. At the extreme, being badly out of trim may make the wing dangerous to fly, but relatively minor variation in excess of the recommended tolerance can reduce glider performance markedly. Corrections can be made by taking various different loops at the maillon to shorten individual main lines and bring the glider back into trim, often avoiding the expense of making new lines. This can refresh the handling and performance of a wing to the way it was when the glider was new. The gradual loss of trim can often go unnoticed, but restoring a glider to trim can be quite dramatic. We got a comment from Graham Jones that captures how big an effect a retrim can have: “I had a great flight on Sunday from Parlick, the Sigma felt ‘smoother’ and faster … I’m amused how I convinced myself that the Aerofix service had changed my flying world! Seriously though, the wing felt great.”
SkyWings: Why would I need to get my canopy checked if I look after it carefully?
JW: I agree that looking after our wings carefully is important, but there are some things that can’t be checked so easily on the hill or at home. Checking the porosity of the fabric is usually the first test on a service, particularly important for an older glider that may be approaching the end of its serviceable life. The porosity meter measures how long it takes to draw 0.25 litres of air through a small (38,5 cm2) area of fabric using a weight hanging from rubber bellows. For a new glider, this will take over 500 seconds, but it does reduce over time, depending on use and the conditions the wing is exposed to. We become concerned if the result is around 10 – 15 seconds. Poor results in conjunction with weaker fabric strength revealed by a Bettsometer tester may confirm that a glider is no longer safe to fly. Relaying this outcome to a customer is not a welcome task, but fortunately, in my experience, the call is often half expected. The opposite type of call – telling customers who feared the worst that there’s life yet in their elderly glider is, fortunately, much more common.
Hanging the glider up allows a really close inspection of the canopy. Minor damage to the fabric, stitching or line tabs that would easily go unnoticed on the hill can be identified and then repaired. Until I’d seen insect damage for myself, I wouldn’t have believed that anything would want to chew multiple 1 – 2mm diameter holes in a wing. And a stitch in time saves nine they say – so spotting something minor before it becomes a bigger problem is probably good advice.
SkyWings: If I’ve damaged my glider badly, should I send it back to the manufacturer?
JW: It’s rare that a glider needs to go back to the factory for repair. Serious damage to the canopy can be addressed in a number of different ways, all of which are serviceable but have different appearances. If the size or position of the tear in the fabric is bigger than can be tackled with just self-adhesive fabric, then the cheapest option is to reinforce the patch with stitching. A less conspicuous, and only slightly more expensive option, is to replace a section of the damaged panel. The new fabric will be joined in to the existing seams at the sides of the panel, but new seams will be made across the panel to join to the undamaged remainder of the panel. This is often the most appropriate and cost effective choice. However, if the glider is new and the repair needs to be near invisible, the entire panel can be replaced up to existing seams in the canopy, but as this may extend from the leading to trailing edge, it can be a much more expensive option. In the last couple of months we’ve also fitted an entire replacement tip to a newer glider where the damage was really extensive.
SkyWings: Can you get exactly the same fabric to repair my glider?
JW: Glider fabrics, and in particular colours, change fairly frequently. Manufacturers can usually supply cloth to match current models, although delivery timescales can sometimes extend how long a repair will take. It’s not uncommon to find that an exact fabric match is not available for gliders which are no longer in production, so Aerofix carries large stocks to enable a repair to be made quickly and for a reasonable cost.
SkyWings: I haven’t repacked my reserve for a year or two and haven’t time to attend my local club repack – can I just send it to Aerofix?
JW: Of course! For each of us, looking after our reserve is every bit as important as it is for every other part of our kit. Moisture, contamination, heat and direct sunlight are all to be avoided – so we really shouldn’t sit down on our reserves on a hot beach or a damp hillside! And if you get your reserve wet in the lake at Annecy, try to dry it out in the shade. If you have a look at the manual for your reserve, you’ll probably find that repacking is recommended every year, although you may well find it says every six months. Most of us hope never to have to deploy for real, but if we ever have to throw, it really has to work – it may be our last chance. Of course Aerofix offers repacks commercially, but because we think repacking is such an important thing to do at least once a year, we also support the DSC repack events. So whether you do it at home on you own or with a friend, in a big group with others, or whether you pay for someone else to do it for you, our advice is please, just do it.
SkyWings: How long is it safe to keep the same reserve?
JW: Reserve parachutes have a limited service life, like most things. Whilst damp and heat can accelerate the weakening of the fabric, this is something that takes place relentlessly over time. Recommended service life is typically 10 years although some manufacturers specify 12 years. We know two brands who also extend the recommended service life by two years if owners keep a record of annual servicing – that’s worth checking out.
SkyWings: As well as servicing, repairs and repacking, is there anything else Aerofix does?
JW: Our other services include harness repairs, making and fitting logos, and supplying reserves. We supply various consumables to keep you in the air, including repair tape, replacement lines to fit yourself, and xc pee tubes.
SkyWings: Thanks for talking to us, and good luck with your new venture!