ST. PAUL, MINN. — With this issue of Hang Gliding, "Product Lines" celebrates its 16th birthday and enters year no. 17! Thinking back to its start in May of 1979, I can scarcely believe this column has endured so long. Thanks for your loyal readership! ••• This also happens to be column number 150. The first seven years of "Product Lines," were found in Whole Air which published bimonthly. By 1986 it appeared monthly… since 1989 in Hang Gliding magazine. ••• Thanks again to Bill Allen, whose back-of-the-book "Flying Bull" column inspired "Product Lines." In his unique, entertaining way, Allen developed a strong interest in a folksy, gossipy style of reporting. My twist on the theme is to stick with product-related news and info, hence the column’s name (admittedly, I stray from that mission once in a while). When Allen decided to quit the column, he called for replacements. Since none came forward, I adapted the idea for Whole Air. So, thanks, Bill! Well, enough of this… on with product news. ••• I promised news on Ball Vario’s tiny M19e electronic flight deck. Little did I know Ball staffers would attend an open house at USHGA’s offices during the spring board of directors meeting. While I’m still awaiting a loaner for further reporting here, Mark gave me a brief review of the instrument. Sure, I know a number of these gizmos are on the market, and most appear to be slick, worthy replacements for such as my Ball 652 flight deck. Once state-of-the-art but now growing obsolete, my trusty 652 is bulkier, heavier, costlier, and less durable than the new devices. I’ve used the Flytec and toyed with the Afro and Davron decks. With the similar Brauniger and Picolo, pilots have a luscious number of choices and that’s good. They may seem awfully similar, but here’s a distinction: Ball is made in the USA. Ball Vario’s Mark expressed frustration at being hampered in European sales due to prohibitive tariffs imposed. The U.S. does not penalize its citizens when they (you!) select a European-made deck, so the playing field isn’t level. Those naughty European tariffs make the Ball more expensive that it ought to be. ••• Fortunately, you can buy any brand you want without our government artificially boosting the price. And here at home, the M19e can keep up with the best. Priced at only $495, it is highly competitive if not lots cheaper than the imported boxes. When you buy a Ball, you’re not only buying Yankee — if you care about such things — but you’re buying a quality device from a company that has long served American soaring pilots with respected gear. ••• A subsequent "PL" will you more about the M19e and how it faired in my evaluation. ••• In a related story, Ball will soon release yet another terribly cool example of technology at work for hang glider and paraglider pilots. A total info source, their new not-yet-released unit has what’s called a GPS interface, meaning that you link it to a GPS unit and it gives you more airborne info to monitor a cross country flight than you ever imagined. Ball is just preparing info, so you’ll hear more about it soon. ••• In the meantime, you might consider equipping your diver today with a most attractively priced GPS made available by GW Meadow’s Just Fly enterprise. GW again shows a creative streak by snapping up the American distribution rights to the Garmin GPS 40. The tiny hand-held model 40 distinguishes itself in two major ways: (1) it has a moving map display, and (2) GW has aggressively priced it at only $375, a bargain and a half. I paid more than twice that for my Trimble Flightmate and except for the Trimble’s aviation database, the Garmin 40 does more… lots more. GW’s promised a loaner, so when you read about the Ball M19e, you’ll probably also hear my thoughts on the Garmin. ••• The price alone should convince you but it can’t hurt to know it features three main screens: (1) the "position page" which shows, among other things, your compass heading, track in degrees, speed, coordinate location, altitude, the temperature and time; (2) the "moving map page" which records your movements as a tack plot while displaying nearby waypoints that you can program; and (3) the "navigation page" which provides steering guidance to your destination on a graphic highway. ••• With 250 user-marked waypoints, you can designate turn points, goals, and many other features in permanent storage. The Garmin 40 will also permit up to 30 points along your route to accurately guide your path. Add to all that a battery life of 20 hours (my Trimble can barely make 6 hours), and I can’t figure why you’re not calling Just Fly already. More on this wonderful toy in a future "PL." ••• Dennis Pagen can help assure you can efficiently use your M19e or Garmin 40 if you buy his latest book, called the "Hang Gliding Training Manual." Sure, you’re already a sky god, but if you think you can’t learn any more, watch out! Pagen’s lucid style can surely help you become even better, and his knowledge is deeply respected by top pilots all over the world. ••• Finally, I want to give you a bit of news about Green Team pilot and talented photographer, Gerry Charlebois’s new Hawaiian flight park. Based on towed flight, Gerry will offer tows to impossible beautiful sites that can’t be reached any other way as well as tandem flight experiences for those hordes of Hawaiian tourists. Now you’ve got a way to do so without the hassles of bringing your own glider and hiking up some mountain you’ve never flown. ••• Wow! Outta room for the 150th time. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset Rd, St. Paul MN 55118. Fax or V-mail to 612/450-0930. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine