ST. PAUL, MINN. — Whew! I’ve never seen rigid wing fever like this. Based on several reports received — plus intensifying chatter on various Internet lists — these gliders have more inertia than during any of the 19 years that I’ve been writing this column and reporting on rigid wing developments. Throughout that long period, rigids as a group held a fairly steady 4-5% of the market, but they never found the mainstream. ••• That may be changing! One glider in particular, the Exxtasy from Germany is showing some serious market strength. Reportedly, producer Flight Designs has already sold more than 150 copies including better than a dozen in the USA. However, Exxtasy is not alone and the others appear to be benefiting from the general excitement surrounding these wings. ••• To date, I am familiar with the Exxtasy, the Pegasus, and the Millennium. Less well documented (as of late Sept. ’97) are stories of similar designs from other rigid wing builders, and this statement: "It is rumored that all major hang glider manufacturers will be designing similar gliders over the next two years." Via eMail on the ultralight soaring list, Deane Williams further expressed that if this happens, manufacturers will fight for market share leading him to speculate that glider weight and price will fall and performance may get even better. ••• In one case, this trend is starting. A European writer says the Pegasus developer, German Jürgen Lutz, has already teamed up with France’s La Mouette to "establish better production." The path-blazing Pegasus had been individually built and as such was not cost competitive with the Exxtasy, which is built at a company with large staff and adequate funds. Since La Mouette knows about volume production and is already producing the Topless with a carbon fiber spar, this could vault Pegasus into serious contention. ••• Exxtasy is being produced by Flight Designs (apparently following a deal with designers Felix and Christoph of Blue Sky). Flight Designs brings good credentials as they already build a slick microlight called the CT, a composite construction, powered aircraft. ••• However, though the Lutz Pegasus and the Flight Designs Exxtasy are said to be very similar, Fight Designs has taken a huge lead and is making the D-Cell Gliders look like they might achieve a market energy not found by other rigid wings since the Manta Fledgling. Honestly, I can’t ever recall this much enthusiasm among hang glider pilots about a non-flex wing. The Fledge’ left the scene more than a decade ago and no designs have filled the void since — though the Swift did credibly well despite being expensive and heavy. ••• Brightstar hasn’t been sitting still through all this, of course. They have their very own D-Cell Glider entry, the Millennium. According to eMailer Deane, the "main differences include supine cage for pilot, full aerodynamic control via stick and elevons. Price ($8,500) and weight are similar to the Exxtasy. Made in California, too." Recent reports indicate the Exxtasy is selling for $9,500. ••• Brightstar’s Eric Beckman goes a little more conservatively with the news, in fact, stressing "we’ve always been hesitant to talk about our developments until we feel confident the product is ready…" Nonetheless, he added at the end of September that, "Millennium flies wonderfully, and the test flight program is virtually complete as of this writing. We have just begun the performance evaluations, and should have some good numbers in the next week or so (weather permitting)." Given their success with the Swift, Brightstar’s Millennium is a contender in any new D-Cell Glider race. • Still quoting Beckman, "The Millennium was designed to address the three main complaints about the Swift: too heavy, too expensive, and doesn’t fold into a bag." He says they also wanted it to be "less intimidating" while yet delivering an excellent sink rate and glide of 20:1." Assuming the Brightstar Boys again achieve their goals, this would leave Millennium winning the glide angle contest among the new D-Cells. ••• All of these wings — Exxtasy, Pegasus, and Millennium — have quick folding systems that sound easy and fast. All apparently end up looking, as Wallaby’s Malcolm Jones put it, "like two hang gliders laid beside one another in a single bag. ••• Finally, Internet writer Williams reported that "Baillet Composites is working on production of another similar folding rigid wing, the Raptor." Based on some conversations and a videotape I saw a couple years back, this must be the one developed by a Matt Kollman. Originally I believed this to be a one-of-a-kind, but evidently it, too, could join other producers in the New D-Cell Glider Race. OK! The more the merrier. ••• Various writers on the ultralight soaring list have provided quite thorough and factual pilot reports. One reporter bought. One didn’t, but might. One has a commercial connection. One expert observed others and reported what he saw. Based on this fairly balanced series of reports, I have to surmise that the Exxtasy is going to sell in the USA and around the world. Including Millennium, Pegasus, Raptor and newer-yet designs, the D-Cell Gliders may trigger a movement toward gliders of this type with models possessing less or more complication, offering choices to pilots. Will it challenge flex wing sales? Probably not, I’d guess. A terrific sales performance of a couple hundred units in the first year or so would steal a few rag wing sales away, perhaps, but it might spur more total interest in free flight. Flex wings have weathered other such invasions. Then again… if one of the leading flex wing builders jumps into the fray in a big way, all bets are off. Down under in Australia, it’s reported that hang glider and trike manufacturer, Airborne WindSports, will deal the Exxtasy. Hey, who knows!? I’ll try to keep you informed. ••• So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Fax or Vmail to: 612-450-0930. Send eMail to CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine