SAN DIEGO, CALIF. — Topless fever is coming! Relax! I’m not talking about the famous nude beach in this southern California city which last month hosted the USHGA board of directors. Of course, I’m talking about gliders without kingposts or upper rigging. Only a couple months ago, I relayed the thoughts of a German competition official who felt America was behind the times because our manufacturers were not embracing this new idea. I speculated myself that it might be another fad like scoops were not long ago. But in the months ahead, you will hear about topless entries from Wills Wing and Pacific Airwave. These will add to the Laminar ST, Terry Reynold’s new glider, and of course, the glider that started it all, the La Mouette Topless (although this brand has only a tiny presence in the U.S. market). ••• Rob Kells of Wills Wing confirmed they expect to put such a kingpostless glider on the market in 1997. He was careful to add that they expect to retain their entire present line of gliders including the XC and of course the still-kingposted Falcon series that has been a hot seller in the last year. (Matter of fact, the Falcon’s success helped the biggest Yankee builder regain their former unit volume of the early ’90s.) As is customary for Wills, they released no detailed information nor did they speculate on matters like release date, price, or certification efforts. You’ll just have to wait this one out a while. ••• Pacific Airwave will eventually offer the new Concept in kingpostless form, said U.S. boss, Ken Brown. These days PacAir is delivering gliders mostly produced by Airwave UK. "It’s an economy of scale thing," amplified Ken, adding that the U.S. facility retains the ability to produce, if, for example, heavy demand causes longer waits from England. In other ways, Brown says the two companies are merging operations and their California unit will concentrate on service and support more than manufacturing. Short-run, custom-glider building will continue in the Salinas area, however. ••• After even more exotic ideas were shown earlier in the development (mentioned here some months ago), Terry Reynolds is making a somewhat more conventional TR3 design. However, in typical Reynolds fashion, the Acme Glider Company glider is hardly conventional, using carbon fiber airframe members plus no kingpost or upper rigging (as you saw in photos last month). ••• John Ryan, partner in the new AV8 firm that includes Larry Tudor, indicated that supplies were slow arriving for their first batch of Laminar STs reported here last month. It seems demand is strong and many available units are destined for the pre-World meet in Australia this month. ••• Wow! Still more glider news as I report from the Wills dealer bulletin that they are releasing the Ultra Sport. Formerly known as the Sport XC, the new intermediate glider has completed all vehicle tests and Wills will seek certification at the next HGMA meeting. The Ultra Sport will come out at an introductory price of $3,975. Eventually available in three sizes the Ultra Sport 147 will be offered first featuring a 14:1 VG, rear crossbar haulback system, wingtips, nosecone, kingpost hang point suspension, speed bar, streamlined downtubes, and streamlined kingpost. Specifications of other sizes were not announced. ••• In related announcements, Wills announced a website at www.willswing.com and an E-mail address of firstname.lastname@example.org. So let ’em know what you think of the new Ultra Sport or other products. ••• PacAir E-mailed more info… their newest "bragging rights." The Concept 49 (number meaning 149 sq. ft.; a "59" will also be available) had good initial competition results in Brazil. FYI: This is the kingpost model. The glider took First, Second, and Third plus 5th, 6th, and 8th at the Brazilian Nationals. In the Open Class where foreign pilots may compete, Concepts came in 2-3-4-5 plus 8th and 10th. Scattered around them were three Laminar "topless prototypes," and one La Mouette Topless. A Laminar won Open Class. "Gibbo" sent the report via Airwave UK and was pleased to report his own success: Third place Open Class on a Concept. ••• Airwave reports about the Concept, "We have been able to increase the efficiency, handling, performance, and stability with the system that has been used to replace the luff lines." Ken Brown added, "In the future, when we have devised a reliable mainspar system, [the Concept] will be available with the ‘topless option.’ At this time, with all the prototypes made, we find the biggest advances have been achieved while remaining with the standard airframe structure." In fact though they will produce a kingpostless version, Brown feels it will be "a minute step forward." The present Concept model eliminated the luff lines after careful observation of the many topless European gliders at the 1995 World Championships. To make up for lost reflex stability, Airwave chose to individually support the four outer battens with lightweight carbon fiber ribs — called "Spare Ribs" — giving the wing a wide range of washout-derived pitch stability. Airwave engineers tested the no-luff-line Concept with a "race-tuned" Klassic and a fully kingpostless Concept. The Klassic lost to both, yet Airwave postponed the topless model due to the small performance differences yet substantial extra cost in airframe materials. The no-luff-line model benefits from improved handling that came when they removed the sail-shift restraints caused by the luff lines and a high sail tension. Sail tension can be lowered on the Concept because the supported ribs which provide pitch stability do so over a broad span that keeps washout down. (Excessive washout can decrease high-speed glide.) The increased roll rate and lowered stall speed allows the Concept to thermal slower than its predecessor. Overall the approach sounds like a reasoned response to the topless fever raging throughout the design world. Soon we’ll witness how all the changes fare in competition. ••• Hey! Outta room. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. V-mail or fax to 612-450-0930. E-mail to CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine