ORLANDO, FLORIDA — Escaping Minnesota’s arctic winter for a few days of work in Florida, this column comes to you from the sunshine state where I got a glimpse of a new design in testing. It shows a distinctly American slant… on a new glider design trend that seems to to be showing strength in Europe. ••• What with winglets last year and internal ribs the year before — well, also ram scoops used by at least two builders before that idea lost momentum — the new notion of "toplessness" appears hot as a pistol. French giant La Mouette already has a glider called the Topless, and German leader Bautek has an entry in the topless sweepstakes named the Sunrise. These gliders have no upper rigging whatsoever. La Mouette is advertising "no kingpost and no compression strut." The Dijon, France-based company also boasts a four Gs negative load capability thanks to a carbon spar. Of course, they also claim it has an "unbeatable glide angle" and "great handling." (But then, rarely are such qualities left out of the advertising of any new glider, eh?). La Mouette goes on to further tantalize with this statement, "Not only does [this construction] reduce the drag of the top rigging and kingpost plus the interference drag, it also allows revolutionary developments, impossible with the rigid standard frame." La Mouette is apparently delivering their newest glider, so if you’re one who’s gotta have the latest and greatest, contact La Mouette in France by faxing 011-33-80-55-42-01 or calling 011-33-80-56-66-47. ••• At least some knowledgeable observers suspect the glider has highly washed out wings to accommodate the strains of a topless design. However, photos in La Mouette’s ad and in an Italian magazine article show the Topless and the Sunrise exhibiting quite flat wings that superficially appear as good as so-called standard gliders. ••• Is America missing out on this trend? Whether toplessness is a genuine development or clever new marketing trick, we’ll find out soon enough (as with the ram inlet?). Meanwhile my visit to Orlando made me aware of an American design going through more testing without upper or lower rigging. Hmmm? Yep, a visit to the Wallaby Ranch revealed efforts to put a new Terry Reynolds design on a test truck. For those who’ve forgotten, Reynolds was an originator of the graphite airframe TRX. His fascinating new idea is not only topless but bottomless as well. A massive tapered composite cross bar and keel plates eliminate the upper and lower rigging without adding struts. Of course you still must have a control bar, so a sweeping composite form arcs around from the nose to present a "handling bar" to the pilot. Ranch boss, Malcolm Jones, says the Reynolds glider is heavy and is a work in progress, but he feels it introduces new concepts. What makes the new Reynolds design doubly interesting is that Will Wing is fully aware of it, in fact, having done some testing of the new design on their test truck. The Wallaby Ranch effort follows the WW work, addressing the pitching moment and other changes in the evolving design. Load carrying ability was said to be satisfactory. ••• Comparing all three gliders to Dick Boone’s strutted Dawn… it is clear that new concepts are at work. The new gliders have a distinctly innovative look to them. I’ll bet more gliders of this description will emerge. After my dour words about low glider builder advertising at the beginning of the year, such new activities provide a much needed spark (just as Wills’s Ram Air created such a sensation that over 100 were sold before it had even been released). I’ll keep watching the trend but appreciate advisories from any pilots who are aware of exciting new developments. ••• Though their gliders are more conventional, they’re beautifully built in that Italian trademark way. I’m talking about the Laminar, whose builder Icaro 2000 is making a bigger bid for American customers. A mailing recently went out to many pilots and business people. Icaro’s Boy Wonder — to compare with Moyes’s Suchanek — is Manfred Ruhmer. Placing Second at the ’95 Worlds in Ager, Spain, Ruhmer is a hot talent indeed; he’s logged several Firsts. If you want info on this brand fax 011-39-332-648-079 or phone 011-39-332-648-335. Yes, they have English literature to send you. ••• In closing, Just Fly has a new GPS for those of you who haven’t jumped on this latest bandwagon. Common among electronic goodies, a new Garmin 38 model offers a lowest-yet price of $299 and Just Fly knocks another $100 off… to only $199! If you haven’t bought yet, do so now! GPS units are at least intriguing if not darned important to any kind of distance flying. Where else can you buy so much fun for less than $200? With a case looking just like the Garmin 40, the 38 doesn’t supply a carrying case, training video, or four AA batteries allowing Garmin to shave the price even more. It does have a couple new features as well as a low price tag. One is a compass page that looks like a rotating compass, a handy idea. Another useful function is a back track feature that lets you jump back to your previous screen (waypoints or whatever). True, the price may drop a few dollars more, but in my mind, $199 makes Just Fly’s Garmin 38 a true commodity item. I doubt the price will descend much further. Call 1-800/546-3596. ••• Hey! Outta room. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Vmail or fax to 612/450-0930. Email to CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine