SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. — Well, we’re into 1998 and news is already starting to provide advance notice of an interesting year. ••• But first, I want to go back a few months and reflect on comments I’ve written about the so-called "decline of hang gliding." At the November ’97 USHGA board of directors meeting, a few leaders took me to task for "being negative." As I explained to them, stating the facts (of factory closures or other leaders’ comments about what might be done to "fix" hang gliding) does not mean I think hang gliding is in a death dive. Hardly! • What I related are business realities — such as Airwave shuttering a plant where paragliders were produced. (More on that below.) To ignore that the hang gliding community has challenges is to stick one’s head in the sand. I won’t do that, yet I’ve been a hang gliding cheerleader for 25 years and that won’t stop either. This is still a terrific sport with a bright future. All I meant was that we needed to be aware of our shortcomings and to do something about them. It is further true that while some enterprises fail and go out of business, others are doing well. Among them are, to give only two examples from opposite coasts, Pat Denevan’s Mission Soaring and Malcolm Jones’ Wallaby Ranch. Each reported a good year. I’m positive more hang gliding businessea are also thriving and for that I’m thankful. You can help by telling me about successes. I promise to faithfully report both the good news and the bad… anything less is deceptive to readers of this column. Well, enough of that. Here’s some fun news for the new year! ••• First, Airwave. As heard from Lars Linde and Greg Black of East Coast Paragliding, Airwave is still making paragliders and had the "best year ever, with John Pendry winning the Worlds." I’m pleased to hear that of course. (The earlier column reported that they closed a plant in England, but this was only a change and not a permanent ending of their activities in producing paragliders.) As do the majority of paragliding manufacturers, Airwave sources canopy sewing from Asia. In fact most manufacturers — of anything — often bring in components from other builders and assemble them at their own plants. This is the way of the global economy and HG/PG producers are merely being modern. ••• Greg Black also related his experience with Matt Taber and Gibbo’s new Airwave Extreme hang glider. The Lookout Mountaineers developed the glider and succeeded well enough that Airwave UK bought the design and will manufacture and distribute it under their brand name. • Black expressed that he was very pleased with its great static balance and its performance. The Extreme is small, only 137 squares, but has demonstrated well for pilots hooking in at 215 and 250 pounds. I guess my age is showing, but I remain amazed at how much performance contemporary designers are wringing out of so few square feet of wing. ••• Greg and partner Lars are importing the Woody Valley harness line from Italy. While not well known in the U.S. (yet), the brand enjoys wide acceptance across the Atlantic as it is reportedly used by La Mouette, Icaro, and Flight Designs — maker of the Exxtasy who values the clean harness as speeds on their D-Cell glider are higher. Here at home, Black reports that Dennis Pagen, Jim Zeiset’s Green Team, and Nelson Howe have flown with the harness (although see below on a Howe update). One distinguishing feature is a fairing arrangement that works to streamline the harness when you pull your arms in close. In fact, Greg claims, "[It’s] the most aerodynamic harness on the market." It is available in four different models. Info: 732-747-7845. ••• Brightstar has firmed up distribution of their new Millennium D-Cell glider entry, appointing Mountain Wings as the east coast rep to complement Thin Air Designs who has exclusivity for all lands west of the Mississippi in America and Canada. While Wallaby Ranch reports brisk sales of the D-Cell Exxtasy, Mountain Wings boasted an early three sales of the Millennium, even before any marketing occurred. ••• One big change in the who-flies-for-whom scene is Nelson Howe joining the Wills Wing competition team. WW announced in their December newsletter to dealers that the number one ranked U.S. pilot will fly with such top guns as Jim Lee, Chris Arai, Chris Muller, Mark Bennett, Pete Lehmann, Mitch Shipley, and Mitch McAleer. Howe was to compete in the World Championships in Australia. He already placed second in the Pre Worlds last year. • Wills also reported finishing development of a keel fin or "Stabilizer." They say, "It has a noticeable effect on yaw stability, making any glider easier to fly straight, and is especially helpful for towing." The WW Stabilizer is available as a retrofit kit for any glider, including a sleeve and pin to modify the rear keel to accept it. The retrofit kit retails for $86.25. See any Wills dealer. • By the way, this month kicks off activities for Wills Wing’s 25th anniversary featuring a tow fly-in at Wallaby. Info: 714-998-6359. ••• U.S. Aeros continues to establish the Ukrainian brand in the America, thanks to efforts by proprietor GW Meadows. Cost is one advantage as the models carry prices well under any brand I know. The Stealth KPL (kingpostless) "is selling exceptionally well," claims GeeDub, and the middle 142 size should be European certified by the time you read this. However, price isn’t everything and Meadows lists a few other attributes that are grabbing pilots. • According to GW, all models "tow very straight," important in our increasingly tow-oriented HG community. Another reason for the sales success is the "active camber" system featured on the Stealth KPL which lets the wing grow fatter during VG-off settings and thinner during VG-on settings. Unusual among hang gliders, the control bar is raked aftward which "gives the pilot a lot of flare authority" allowing for easier landings, says Meadows. U.S. Aeros stocks loads of replacement parts including downtubes, which can be exchanged without tools. • These things are good, but you simply can’t ignore the savings. For example, to help place Stealth KPLs around the country, U.S. Aeros is offering an extra-special deal until March 1st. Before that date, you can order the topless glider for only $4,320 through any of their dealers. Meadows says, "That’s $1,700 less than the nearest priced topless glider on the market." You can have your choice of colors and take delivery in six weeks. Seems worth a call, doesn’t it? Info: 919-480-2774. ••• Hey! Outta room with news remaining. See ya next month. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Vmail or fax to 612-450-0930. Send eMail to CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine