A pre-flight blow job
Report and photographs: Alfredo Briccola, Fly Chingis Khan
Test pilots: Alfredo Briccola, Karl Capiaghi, Peter Portmann
For our three-week expedition through Mongolia this summer we were looking for a pod harness in
the lightweight category up to 4 kg. It was supposed to be light and robust at the same time and on
top of that score with a lot of safety margin. In the Czech Republic we found what we were looking
A journey to Mongolia for testing equipment?
Why not? Mongolia for paragliding is mostly unknown and has countless undiscovered flying sites in
the wild and rough landscape of Central Asia. This sites still awaiting pilots for first flights. Besides of
soaring in strong winds and over endless hills, there are some nice XC-spots, where until today just
eagles and vultures fly. Just a small part of all that we wanted to explore, for sure with the ideal
equipment. We asked manufacturers and finally got the right stuff for our expedition. An equipment
we must rely on when we fly over unknown territory. And that daily, if the weather was allowing it.
That is, how tests developed, in which we experienced really quick, if it is reality, what the advertising
is pretending. As an example, here the harness.
Go on a diet, but not at all costs.
We deliberately avoided equipment that was merely ultralight because that means very sensitive.
However we had to pay attention to the weight. On the one hand because every kilogram of excess
baggage creates costs on the flights to and from Mongolia and on the other hand in case we had to
walk long routes to reach the launch sites or to get back when we bombed out somewhere in the
pampas. There is one crucial disadvantage to extreme lightweight harnesses for such expeditions:
the materials are mostly very fragile and on-site-repairs hardly possible. This is why in future
manufacturers need to do a balancing act between light and robust.
But we didn’t have search long before we found the Czech producer Karpo Fly, who has an
interesting harness in the product range, the Fantom Extra Light, that is not only light enough but has
also a robust material mix. In terms of safety the Fantom Extra Light stands out on account of an
excellent innovation, that so far has not been used by any other producer: an inflatable protector.
Kind of a safety-air-mattress for the back. A real airbag that does not fill up through the airstream
during flight, it does fill before take-off through the lung capacity of the pilot and therefore can
immediately perform its work. This harness was in focus for our expedition.
Scream for joy.
We ordered three pieces right away. We now finally know how women feel when they order shoes
from the online supplier with the funny ad slogan and finally the postman rings at the door. The
delivery period was remarkably short, even though the flight season was already running at full blast.
Although we had placed the orders far too late, the products arrived on time, three weeks before then
departure to Mongolia. Wow! And then the surprise when unpacking: a whole harness only measures
13 x 34 x 37cm. Nicely wrapped in a Cordura bag with mesh lining. An A4 file could hardly be smaller.
The imprinted design with the wild lettering seemed kind of grungy or something like that but not at
all technical. But people will always argue about taste.
Well, first things first, let’s put it on the scale. According to the producer, in size L it shouldn’t weigh
more than 3.58 kg. Without the pretty transport bag obviously. In fact, the scale displays more than 4
kg. Ha! Were some figures fiddled with? Quickly we carry on the research. Once the thing is out of its
tight dress, one knows instinctively that it can never be stuffed back in. Some filigree fingers must
have been at work when manufacturing these or simply people who can fold any map blindfolded.
Considering that someday the emergency chute is supposed to work in the harness, something
definitely doesn’t add up. Nevertheless a nice gadget, this bag. In the future, we will simply misuse it
as a transport bag for flight boots.
Darling, our scale is broken, or how one discovers the true values only later!
We asked ourselves long enough why the weight indications of the producer would simply not add
up. We couldn’t get it off our minds, especially because the product is located in the highly
competitive 3kg class. Then we figured it out, thanks to a colleague pilot who still had a harness from
the early series of the Fantom Extra Light. Ours basically looked the same but was quite different in
the details. The speed bag alone showed immediately that the new harness was sewn much more
elaborate and professional and that the material used was significantly better. And now it hat two
giant side pockets with zippers where there were none before. Also the protector’s outer cover was
made out of more solid material. The Czechs have really come up with great improvements and
maybe on the way they simply forgot to adapt the weight indications. They may be forgiven as we all
really appreciate the new features and because of a few hundred grams we would not get crazy
Simple is good, is easy, is better.
The great advantage of the Fantom Extra Light lies in its simple design. No strap is too much, no
buckle superfluous. Everything is scarce that you could believe something was missing. But still it is
complete and makes a very robust impression. The simplest standard components from the industry
and ball bearing casters combined with ingenious ideas ensure a really simple but stable harness. No
need looking for a seat plate. There’s none. The Fantom is built based on the hammock model. In
combination with the inflatable and well supporting back protector it seems more like a hybrid and
that’s what makes it so unique. Even the rescue chute container is simple and sized large enough and
provides enough space even for larger rescuers, like the Rogallos. A complex coverage of the rescue
handle plastic wires deemed not necessary. It may look a bit unfinished at first but it has the
advantage that one is able to see at a glance if everything is where it should be.
Not only simple but minimalistic is the owners manual for the harness. The tiny booklet with pictures
of the size of postage stamps in black & white gives room for improvement. But with a little common
sense the Fantom can be set up and equipped with the rescue parachute easily without the aid of
this booklet. Aside from the usual fiddling the first time you set it up, the Fantom is super easy to
Need for speed.
In Mongolia you’ll face often a phenomenon we call it the «digital wind». You are at a launch site with
nearly nil wind and suddenly nature awakes and gusty winds start to blow. It is recommended to get
ready quick. If things need to get faster at the take-off site, the Fantom is not a bad choice. Except
after a 4-hour-climb with full baggage (luckily we were spared a such climb in Mongolia) and one
belongs to the species of smokers. Because first we have to blow. The airbag is equivalent to a 17cm
foam protector and its volume is correspondingly large, which needs to be put in shape through the
pilot’s lungs via an air tube and a valve. Well trained users might take two minutes but that can seem
like an eternity. Especially, when like in the alps, between breaths one must answer the many
questions of the other pilots around, what you were doing right now, mostly with a bright red head.
Luckily, we did not have to do this, because in Mongolia we were always alone at take off. Of course
the harness can be flown with an empty protector. But then the straps will pinch the hips and one
must accept a clear loss of safety.
The whole junk like rucksack, bags etc. find their place easily in the huge back pocket. There’s even
an extra compartment for a big drinking bag, wich is absolutely necessary on expeditions in to the
outback. The rest of the stuff can be stowed in the quite large cockpit compartment.
Apart from that you’re ready to start pretty quickly. The leg straps go directly to the chest strap with
high speed shutters made of aluminium. They are separated by color so nothing can go wrong. A
simple second chest strap prevents the shoulder straps from shifting. Only two hooks go on to the
corresponding loops to close the speed bag and that’s it. By the way, these loops were also updated
from the first set and fix now the speed bag tight.
The astonishing lightness of being.
At the take off we’re amazed by how light and comfortable the harness feels. No pinch nor pressure.
Everything sits loosely. A bit too loosely for the first impression. But still it fits like a glove. If you have
to wait a little while for the right upwind or if there’s too much of it, as it happened quite often on our
expedition, you barely notice the Fantom. The only slightly annoying part is that the foot plate,
although very light, hits against the Achilles tendon while walking around or running to get airborne.
In exchange it’s sized in a way that even if you call yourself a big foot you’ll fit easily on it.
Get in and take your seats, please!
On our flights in Genghis Khan’s empire it was important to us, that we can get fast right after take off
into the speed bag, because we had often just two hundred meters to get into the thermals to fly XC.
With the Fantom it’s quite easy to get in the speed bag. If it doesn’t work the first time, you get in
pretty fast the second time and can take the flight position with a slight pressure against the foot
plate. No need to re-grip or judder into the harness. It may happen that you step through the speed
bars when getting in and that your foot is under the first speed bar. However you notice it quickly and
with a little kicking around everything is at its place. Now you’re ready to go.
Flying like on an air mattress.
The sensation of flight in the Fantom is extremely good. As a pilot who’s used to seat plate I found
my way with it very quickly. Maybe just because it seems more like a hybrid rather than a pure
hammock. As a consequence controlling your glider by shifting of weight is a bit easier. Although,
regarding this point, it is no match for harnesses with seat plates. Even on long flights the Fantom
Extra Light does not get uncomfortable. If in case of heavy turbulences you need to get fast in an
upright sitting position, the protector’s support is astonishingly efficient. One doesn’t hang around like
a wet sack in a peace of cloth but on the contrary sits like on an air mattress. I can’t imagine anything
more comfortable for my troublesome back. The straightening for the landing is just as easy. You feel
surprisingly well supported. And should you touch down with retracted landing gears, the protector
lives up to its expectations. Even on rocky terrain as we discovered ourselves in Mongolia. By the
way, it is recommended to get out of the speed bag in good time before landing, as because of the
stretching system there’s always a little tension on it and it’s easy to get tangled up in the tissue if
things go faster.
The reserve’s grip is not installed in the pilot’s field of view. However you can find it instinctively
because it lies exactly on a vertical line with the carbines and the risers. From an aerodynamic point
of view, the Fantom makes a good impression, with nearly no folds or wrinkles in the tissue, provided
that you’ve chosen the right size. We noticed that the speed bag has an extremely long cut. With a
little shorter legs you might reach the limits of the adjustment possibilities. If you shorten it with an
additional knot, it fits well but the speed bag creases a bit because mainly it’s made from robust
Cordura and therefore seems less elastic.
A lot of light and a wee bit of shadow.
After three weeks of intense flying and testing in the rough vastness of Mongolia we have not only
discovered the many advantages of the Fantom but also a few kinks. As an example the oversized
side pockets. They have indeed a sewn-in safety loop for cameras or radio equipments but we
discovered it way too late. If you don’t know about these loops, the gadgets disappear during the
flight into the inaccessible depths of the harness. Or the pretty neoprene protective covers on the
shoulder straps’ connections that shift all the time and show the buckles. It doesn’t influence the
safety at all but still it’s somehow annoying. Also irritating: over time the tube for inflating the
protector tends to bend sharply, which makes it difficult to fill or empty it without manual intervention
from the pilot. We further discovered poorly made metal rings in the speed bag which caused in two
cases the tension cords to wear of completely in only two days. A more thorough quality control
could remedy this problem. There is also potential for improvement for the cockpit itself. It could be a
little wider, to take in more than only a vario and a radio. Also an outlet in the cockpit bag for cables
would be desirable. Most people will have to remove the instruments individually from the cockpit
velcro after each flight, because there’s no removable bracket for the instruments. For this I took the
bracket from my other harness, made in Korea, that barely fit. But considering that the Czechs have
made enormous improvements from the first series until now, we can assume that these things will
be integrated in the series when the harness goes for the next season.
The Karpo Fly Fantom Extra Light is a great XC-light-harness, which however is located in the 4 kg
class, at least in size L. With the certificated and innovative protector, it’s robust mixture of material
and the extremely small pack size, it’s a great companion for tough long distance expeditions or
simply for day-to-day flying on the domestic front. And the whole package won’t punch a big hole in
your travel budget, it is available for way below 1000 euros.
Concerning the tests:
We got the Fantom Extra Light directly from Karpo Fly because there is no Swiss importer yet.
Our tests always take place over a longer period of at least 20 flights or better more than that.
The main goal is not to fly with exact measuring methods already known test maneuvers or protocols
point by point and to report the results again. Instead we want to collect objective and subjective
impressions of a realistic use and reflect what the pilots experience when using the equipment. We
understand these tests as a useful supplement for the many existing test reports.
Fantom E.L. before unpacking
Super compact. In this small handbag it will never fit in again after unpacking.
Fantom E.L. total view
All the necessary features but no superfluous gadgets: that’s the Fantom Extra Light
Fantom E.L. Detail buckles and straps
Simple but useful, the rigid buckles that hold you safe in to the harness.
Fantom E.L. Detail hooks for speed bag
Easier to close or to open than a bra: the speed bag loops.
Fantom E.L. Detail 2nd chest strap with signal whistle
Nice detail with a second meaning: the Fastex buckle on the 2nd chest strap with the emergency
Fantom E.L. Detail big side pockets
Despite the low selling price, here you must dig deep into the pocket. Into the oversized side
Fantom E.L. Detail cockpit
Always in the range of the pilots view: the perfectly positioned cockpit.
Fantom E.L. Detail airbag
Innovative, unique and certified: the 17cm air protector.
Fantom E.L. Detail inflator hose and valve
Tends to bend sharply after a couple of flights and makes inflating or deflating tougher: the air hose of
Fantom E.L. inflight 1
Looks fast and cool and is very comfortable at XC-flights.
Fantom E.L. inflight 2
Very aerodynamic in the endless blue sky of Mongolia.
Fantom E.L. blow before take off
Group blow job before take off: filling up the protector.
Fantom E.L. at take off
At take off: it has a snug fit and you’ll notice barely, that you were buckled up in a pod harness.
More pictures from Mongolia, landscapes and culture