PUBLISHED: 30 March 2024

In the prior 12 months there has been much discussion about harnesses, the new Gen 4 generation, as demonstrated by the Submarine, and how these fit into the SRS.

We avoided giving a ruling for the SRS for some time as the debate is incredibly complicated, with discussions also occurring in the PWCA and CIVL (FAI). It was expected that a formal statement would come from the CIVL plenary, which was held at the end of February. Unfortunately, CIVL were also unable to come up with a clear path for the sport and are still debating the issue.

So, why do we need to consider the topic at all? Let’s look a little at what the Gen 4 harness brought to the sport.

The basics

A harness is generally not a controlled element of the sport. The only requirements on a manufacturer come through the EN standard of certification and that has two main elements. Firstly, the harness must survive what is little more than a destructive test of the webbing, to ensure it will not fall apart in use. This is just a test of the core strength, not things such as the pod covering etc. Then there is a drop test to see how the back protector behaves. This is a simple test onto a metal pad from a height or around 1 metre. This is all EN does.

Thereafter we have CIVL rules for harnesses. But the only rule at present from CIVL is that a harness must have two rescue parachutes. This rule also only applies to Category 1 events (ie the Worlds, Europeans etc).

The EN drop test measures two things. The first is the peak G’s experienced. The limit is 50g’s on impact, although studies suggest that 35g is the limit of the human body to avoid serious injury. For reference, 1g is the weight of the body, so 35g’s is your body weight multiplied by 35. So why do we allow 50g’s? Well, some aspects of the sport you would probably accept minimal back protection, for example maybe you are a Hike & Fly pilot where weight and size are a bigger concern for you.

The other aspect of the test is, effectively, to measure the rate of absorption on impact. It is not that simple unfortunately, but it measures for how long the g’s are applied to your back and how quickly the g’s are absorbed. You want a nice, slow cushioned effect, but without being at too high a level for too long.

It is an unfortunate fact in the sport though that almost no pilots know what test results are for their harness as they rarely research the topic, instead just accepting “it is certified”.

Now let’s look at Competitions

When competing at high level we have an extra pressure on us when selecting a harness. Performance becomes the most important aspect to the top pilots and safety becomes secondary. So, when something as dramatic as the Ozone Submarine is introduced, giving a glide significantly better than its predecessors, there is a lot of pressure on pilots to purchase this harness. Without it you are at a significant disadvantage when competing. As it was the only ‘Gen 4’ harness available initially all the top pilots ie in the PWCA, purchased the harness.

But what else, aside from performance, was engrained into the harness?

Well, the predecessor, from Ozone, the Exoceat, had an impact test result of 34.78g’s on impact. A very respectable result. Other Gen 3 harnesses, typically used in high level racing, had results of up to 38.87g’s. The new Submarine though had a result of 42.47g’s. So clearly a pilot was at greater risk of injury. In addition, the back protector no longer covered the majority of the spine but was focussed on a small area at the base of the spine. There was an additional protector in the harness for the mid/upper spine, although this was untested (or at least, the results are not published).

In addition, there were several reports of the tail, it being so long, wrapping over the pilots’ face if they went into back-fly, a common recovery technique is serious deflations.

Other aspects it brought were poor visibility of the instruments, with no access to them once airborne. A very hot flight in a sunny country due to being sealed into the harness. Also the difficulty of getting out of the harness prior to landing, as you were sealed in with a zip after launching and if you did undo the zip in flight it was very difficult to reseal it if you then changed your mind.

All of these issues made it a very demanding harness. The difficulty for the high level competition pilot though was that if he didn’t accept these ‘compromises’, then he would no longer be competitive.

So should it have been banned?

No! This was just the first attempt at the sport improving the performance (Aerodynamics) of the harness.  Many of these issues would be designed out as other imitations came to market. We now have the Gin Race 5 which has solved many of these problems, and others presentations from Niviuk, Advance, Nearbirds, Woody Valley etc.

So is the matter now resolved?

For many top pilots, no. Although many of the issues will disappear in time, and the sport as a whole will benefit from the new advances in technology, there are many calls for some basic regulations to be put into place to protect the pilot on some fundamentals. The core of this is based around back protection. The typical Gen 4 harness is now between 35.7 & 43.1g’s, which is typically 5g’s higher than Gen 3.

The future for certification

In reality, very little, if anything, will change in EN. Why should it. This is a global certification standard aimed at every aspect of the sport. But they do publish the test results for each harness. As a pilot you should be checking these results before purchase and deciding if the protection the harness gives is suitable for your risk tolerance.

CIVL rule changes?

These will happen. Before the end of the year we can expect stricter controls on what is allowed in CAT1/PWC competitions, which will lead to change in all racing style harnesses. This will include a limit on the g’s, to be decided but likely to be between 35-40g’s, as well as probably minimum dimensions for a back protector. In addition, it may be mandated that the reserve handle must be fitted at the hips (although that may be put into the EN standard instead). There could be other demands, such as a ridged potion to the tail, the inclusion of a hook knife, whistle, easy instrument access, radio access, easy to get out of harnesses etc.

When the rules are introduced, they are highly unlikely to ban any existing harnesses.  Their use in CAT1 may be restricted from a given date, likely to be 2 or 3 years from now. This is to ensure pilots with existing equipment can make use of them for their serviceable life before replacing them with a more suitable harness for the future,

So where does this leave the SRS series?

Well, after huge debate between the pilots, much discussion between the organisers, manufacturers and other organisations, this is our position going forwards, and why.

The Generation 4 harnesses will *not* be restricted in the SRS series for 2024, with a view to allow the CIVL & PWCA to continue to access the new rules. Whatever position CIVL takes is the preferred option for the SRS.

The SRS was formed with a few objectives. We want the series to be open for all Sports pilots to participate and enjoy racing at their level of flying. But we also want a serious racing element for the top sports pilots and the opportunity for them to learn their race craft before possibly moving up to higher level events and equipment and a series such as the PWCA.  What is harder to control without incredibly difficult to apply rules is what equipment a pilot can bring to the race. Restricting gliders to EN-C is easy, but as harnesses presently have no formal definition of their level it is very difficult to exclude specific harnesses. Simply stating a G limit on back protection, for example, would actually exclude a huge number of Gen 2 & 3 harnesses too, many of which are in common use by SRS pilots already.

We do feel though that a pilot should consider the following before they decide which harness they will fly in the series:

  1. Am I ready to fly a Gen 4 harness?

Given all the nuances the harness presents to the pilot consider, if you are not ready to fly a CCC wing, why do you think you are ready to fly a Gen 4 harness? They come with a lot of difficulties. A harness is not simply a harness.

  1. Will I benefit from a Gen 4 harness?

The most important aspect of all our flying, and racing, is being comfortable on our equipment. Just because another glider or harness may give 5% better performance, if it then stops you pushing the bar, or has you constantly worries about your visibility, comfort in the harness, then you will probably fly with 20% worse performance, scared to push the bar.

  1. Will the glider perform better?

Undoubtedly, yes. A Gen 4 harness comes with benefits in Aerodynamics that will improve your glide. But…. You gain that advantage at full bar, not at trim speed. However, full bar on an EN-C is not the same as full bar on a CCC. The gain is there, but it is not that big a gain and unless you are happy on full bar all the time you will not personally benefit at all.

The best thing about the SRS is we all fly together. Having the leaders in our view, not far ahead, means you can learn faster, gain route information from them and land in goal not far behind them. Their buying Gen 4 harnesses will not make that much difference to them. Buying a Gen 4 harness yourself might actually slow you down.

We will put out an announcement in the future when CIVL, EN or the PWCA issue updates.

Fly safe.