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Product Lines - February 2005

By Dan Johnson, Hang Gliding Magazine, February, 2005

ST. PAUL, MINN. -- As this issue went to press, the Christmas cards and calls were arriving as usual. One call was a flashback to precisely two years ago, when in this column (Feb. '03) I wrote a farewell to longtime Hang Gliding editor, Gil Dodgen. So, perhaps it was fitting that he should call recently. Gil was charged up over a big success by his employer of the last couple years. Vertigo is an aviation and defense developer and they'd just done a specialized parachute drop that hit the target perfectly. The SoCal company creates solutions and has found answers when others couldn't to create a successful enterprise. This is no surprise as Vertigo has quite a brain trust so the addition of software writer Dodgen was quite appropriate. In addition to Glen Brown, who you may not know, Vertigo's staff is "hang gliding heavy." Brown's founding partner is CEO Roy Haggard whose most notable hang gliding claim to fame was developing the UP Comet, a glider widely believed to have forever changed the design of hang gliders. Other staff members include Tom Price, former owner of ASG hang gliders and for many years an aeronautical engineer who helped raise the level of sophistication for a maturing hang gliding industry; Dave Cronk, a partner in the original Eipper-Formance hang glider company which morphed into the worldwide ultralight industry's largest-ever producer, Quicksilver; Roger McCracken, a former Wills Wing production boss; and now Gil Dodgen, 25-year editor of the magazine you are reading. To show just how HG friendly Vertigo is, Wills Wing owners Rob Kells, Steve Pearson, Mike Meier and Linda Meier were invited to the company Christmas party. And, as he has done before at WW-brand events, Gil worked a keyboard of a different sort. If you've forgotten or never knew, Dodgen is a concert pianist quite adept at entertaining through music. Product news this month is the pending sale of U.S. Aeros, the company founded in 1996 by GW Meadows and his partner Sunny Venesky. After a satisfying nine-year run, GW decided he had other ideas he wanted to pursue and running a successful import business takes so much time that he felt he couldn't do both. As they started their enterprise, a natural division of labor occurred, with Sunny handling flight testing, shipping, and receiving and GW handling everything else the business required. This method has worked for U.S. Aeros for almost a decade. In 1997 and 1998, the business "went nuts," says GW. He explained saying that it was the time of topless glider emergence. American topless glider prices were edging beyond $6,000, a price many buyers found high. When the Stealth came out and U.S. Aeros priced it at $4,800, they unleashed pent-up demand and "we sold hundreds," Meadows reported. Those still considering kingposted gliders now turned to topless and never looked back. Then came 1999 and a recession that ushered in the 2000s. As GW sees it, lots of HG pilots had just bought a topless and needed to fly it for a while to justify the investment. It wasn't until 2001 that topless sales again picked up. Now, the Aeros line is back on track with 2004 the best ever for U.S. Aeros. GW's longtime partner, Sunny, is the operator of Highland Aerosports in Ridgely, Maryland. Sunny had been partners with Chad Elkin who was tragically lost while flying a Dragonfly; his brother later stepped in to help run the hang glider training and towing business. Though GW Meadows was the out-front guy that everyone knows, Sunny has quietly done the good work and in 2004 was feted as USHGA's Instructor of the Year. The plan to sell U.S. Aeros does not include Sunny's Highland Aerosports enterprise nor GW's mail-order business, Just Fly, which will continue business as usual. In fact, that identifies one of the reasons for GW to sell. "Selling hang gliders and harnesses is a very pilot-focused effort. It takes lots of time on the phone or in person to transact a sale because customers have lots of questions," Meadows reports. It simply was not allowing him the time to stretch his creative wings...or his figurative ones. He concluded, "I'm looking forward to just being a hang glider pilot once again." And despite the hassles of conducting glider trades, he added "I'll really miss the day-to-day interactions with my fellow pilots and loyal customers." So, if you're looking for a nice import business all set up and ready to go, contact GW at 252-480-3552 or Though it isn't hang gliding or paragliding, it is the world's longest-ever soaring flight. Do you know the name Steve Fossett? He's a wealthy pilot with the time to pursue world records. You may have read recently that he plans to fly solo around the world nonstop in a specially built airplane by Burt Rutan, the designer of SpaceShipOne and Voyager (which also circled the world nonstop, but with two pilots on board). Here's the report from, an aviation e-zine. "Chalk up another record for Steve Fossett -- compliments of one of the longest stretches of ridge-soarable geography in the world (the Andes). The world's best-known extreme aviator broke the straight-line distance record for sailplanes December 4 when he flew an ASH 25M high-performance sailplane about two-thirds the length of Argentina, a total distance of 1,358 miles." "The flight, between the Argentine cities of El Calafate and San Juan, is roughly equivalent to the distance from New York to Dallas. It took Fossett and copilot 15 hours and 42 minutes and beat the old record, set by Klaus Ohlmann on the same course, by about eight miles. Fossett said conditions were perfect for the flight, which took him over the spine of South America in the stiff winds that mark spring over the Andes." Fossett now holds world records in five categories: hot-air balloons, airships, sailboats, gliders, and jets. He planned to attempt a nonstop, 80-hour solo flight around the world in the Rutan-designed GlobalFlyer in early January, 2005 from Salina, Kansas. Outta room. So, got news or opinions? Send 'em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930. E-mail to THANKS!



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