ST. PAUL, MINN. — Back from warm San Diego to the "Deep Freeze" of Minnesota, I’m still in shock. It’s already hit 25 below zero and we have an average "snow load" of nearly 40 inches, the most snow ever on record for this time of year. Oh, brother! Good news, though. My wife Randee and I are splitting the snow scene for a two month respite. Yup! We’re headed to Chattanooga for the months of January and February, so you needn’t shed any tears for us this winter. In fact this is no vacation; instead it is an off-site working situation that we’ve been carefully arranging for several years. You’ll note a new address at the bottom of this old-timer column, BUT… the address will change back to Minnesota on about March 1st. So, if you’re one of the many who are kind enough to send along your opinions or news, do so to the address below only through the end of February. Well, enough of this personal stuff. I’ve got big news to relate. ••• Just last month, I wrote about plans and activities at Pacific Airwave, holder of a 25% market share in the USA and the U.S. partner of the big British hang glider manufacturer. In fact, Airwave UK was the majority owner of the operation. I say "was" as the Brits decided to shut the doors of the PacAir, calling it quits on their nine-year-old combined enterprise. U.S. Manager, Ken Brown, is presently out of the picture and all calls are being referred to Airwave USA, a subsidiary of Lookout Mountain Flight Park. ••• WELL… that’s a bit much to swallow, I’d say, representing a very significant change in the already minimal U.S. hang glider manufacturing scene. Perhaps a few industry insiders had some inkling of what was to come. But as recently as the late November board of directors meeting, few seemed aware that PacAir would soon be history. ••• I recall the events when I was still publishing Whole Air magazine back in the early ’80s. Airwave boss, Rory Carter, came to America seeking a new market for his Comet lookalike gliders that were already selling well in Europe. He had a plan and I helped supply dealer names and addresses. We spoke about the geography of this huge country (at least compared to compact England), and about who Carter should see in his pursuit of quality dealer reps. In those days, Pacific Windcraft was being run by Jean-Michel Bernasconi and it had nothing to do with Airwave. ••• In fact, one of the teams Carter eventually signed up were two young guys named Chris Bulger and Ken Brown. Some years after his visit, Carter struck a deal with Bernasconi and Pacific Airwave was born. A while after that, Brown linked up with Jean-Mi and the Airwave Team USA was off and running. It was a great run, indeed. PacAir produced thousands of gliders, both those of Bernasconi’s design and those created on the Isle of Wight base of Airwave UK. ••• In 1987, Airwave in Britain bought a majority ownership of PacAir. A few years later, Jean-Mi and wife Natalie took lesser roles and Brown rose to the leadership position of the U.S. operation. ••• Today Ken says, "Overall, while the closure of PacAir is a sad thing, it opens new doors and opportunities for everyone that was involved with the company." He continued, saying, "Airwave [UK] will now do all of the manufacturing in England. This will allow for a tighter control of specifications and quality. They will rely on Airwave USA at Lookout Mountain, Georgia for the distribution and spares service of the entire Pacific Airwave line. Much of the original tooling and inventory has been transferred to the new venture." In an important sub note, he added, "Recognizing the lower overheads of the new operation, new pricing has been introduced on the Concept, [Airwave’s newest highest performance glider]." ••• Matt Taber, the owner of Lookout Mountain Flight Park (LMFP), confirms his relationship with Airwave. He reports, "We are longtime PacAir reps and it is important to us to give good service to our many prior customers for those gliders." Taber identified that U.S. production ceased as of last summer as overhead for a dual operation was simply too large for the realities of modern day hang gliding. ••• LMFP, reportedly the largest U.S. buyer of both Airwave and Wills Wing gliders in the recent years, will continue to represent both brands. The big shop will not manufacture, instead focusing on distribution. "We’ll soon be receiving more parts from England and we’re presently contacting dealers and making plans to offer proper representation of Airwave," explained Taber. Matt added, "As a retailer, we know what kind of service we like and we aim to deliver that same service to those who will represent Airwave gliders." Effective the end of December, those wishing info or more should contact Airwave USA by calling 706-398-9545. If you like you can send E-mail to: email@example.com or you can fax to 706-398-2906. ••• Wrapping up this tale of PacAir’s history, Ken Brown put his mood succinctly, saying, "I came to PacAir as an Airwave pilot and I remain an Airwave pilot." Changes are always difficult, but his attitude is commendable. I’d like to wish him and Matt Taber all the best in the new pursuits. ••• Once again, we’re outta room. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to Rt. 2 Ð Box 80, Dunlap TN 37327. You should dial 423-949-6360 to leave a voice message or send a fax. (This new contact info is valid through February 1997 only.) Send E-mail to CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine