ST. PAUL, MINN. — In another month or so, the soaring season will once again kick into high gear. At least, I hope it’s another good year with abundant thermals and perhaps a new record flight or two. It’s up to you, of course… you and you diver. Which brings me to an observation after reviewing the January issue of Hang Gliding. ••• Because I have flying interest that straddle several aircraft segments, I see about two dozen aviation magazines a month. I’ve been watching a trend in all of them, dating back into the early ’80s or even before. By my perception, aircraft manufacturer ads are steadily giving way to what I’ll call aftermarket ads. This is true in every aviation magazine I get and it looks like it’s happening in Hang Gliding, too. ••• "So what," you ask? Here’s what: if folks selling accessories items (instruments, helmets, parachutes, clothing and more) are buying more and more of the ad space while aircraft manufacturers are buying less, what does it tell you about the future? ••• In the January 1996 issue of Hang Gliding, only five glider builders ran ads, totaling three pages of ads, only two and half of which were for hang gliders. This time of year is slower, though, and more pages will likely be sold in spring or summer issues. To compare on the basis of type not quantity, I divided the other ads in this slow issue into the following categories: Instruments/Radios; Accessories (including harnesses, helmets, books & videos, and clothing); Retail (shops and schools, some of which feature accessory items in their ads); Service; and Glider Manufacturers. ••• The biggest was Accessories with 37% of all ad space, substantially ahead of Manufacturers at 22% (with only 18% representing hang glider builders). Glider builders were closely trailed by Services (mostly USHGA) at 17% and Instruments at 16%. Retailers brought up the rear at only 7%, but most shops can’t afford national display advertising. ••• Now, all the preceeding applied solely to display space. Classified ads looked plentiful, and they are a widely accepted measure of magazine health. Classified pages in January were pretty consistent with year-round trends at seven pages. This is an additional 50% of ad space and I did not identify which category each ad represented. ••• What does all this mean? The magazine is one of the USHGA membership’s most visible benefits and trade magazine health is considered to be a good benchmark for the health of an industry. So? Are we becoming more oriented on the aftermarket gear than new gliders? Are hang glider manufacturers becoming an endangered species? We don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. Plus the industry is dynamic; it can go from sinking out in dead air to skying out in strong lift in just a few month’s time. Fortunately here in early 1996, each of our manufacturers appear to be enjoying adequate to good business, so perhaps it’s merely a normal trend in a maturing industry. While a paradigm shift may be underway, be glad all these fine folks are building or selling stuff we want and that they buy ad space to tell you about them. ••• On to another topic… After my several columns on towing over the last year, I was made aware I’d left out one faction: the stationary winch. In fact, I knew about them, having owned and operated one of the first Paul Yarnall winches. But in the subsequent developments of platform towing and the arrival of aero towing, I admit overlooking stationary winches. ••• This type of winch remains the most popular form of towing in Europe, especially so for the sailplane community. Perhaps due to America’s vastly greater supply of open land, we prefer platform towing. An interesting side note: aero towing may be about equal in each continent. ••• As stationary winch operator, Greg Black, says, [platform winches] "are hydraulic brakes not hydraulic winches." Correct he is as we mainly use pay-out winches not wind-up winches. Besides his own operation in Ellenville, NY, Black knew of other stationary winches in service at Tek Flight (CT), a deeply experienced Mike Robertson (CAN), and high time winch king, Norm Lesnow (MI). ••• Another stationary winch is used by hang gliding airshow pilot, Dan Buchanan, in his colorful air show act. Both Buchanan and Robertson use step towing, one of the unique ways stationary winches can be used. In this technique — which may have originated in Europe — a pilot is towed toward the winch, turning finally and flying away from the winch, pulling the tow line with him. When he reaches the correct distance he 180s again toward the winch and the winch resumes winding in pulling the glider higher. Buchannan cleverly uses this technique to remain at an altitude where the public can see his glider clearly. With only a thin line connecting him to his stationary winch which is out of sight to all but those in the front rows, his ability to sustain altitude looks almost magical. ••• Robertson, longtime a hang gliding instructor, uses his stationary winch seven days a week, and reportedly has students step towing within a short time. Black told of his own experience getting 7,000 feet of line out while towing a pilot for 45 minutes. "Trolling for thermals," he called it. The point is that towing offers at least three main systems that can do a credible job. As towing grows as a part of overall launches, available systems are important. ••• Well, diver fans, we’re outta room again. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Fax or V-mail to 612/450-0930, or E-mail to: CumulusMan@aol.com THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine