ST. PAUL, MINN. — As I prepare for the big Oshkosh Airshow (like getting ready to meet an 800-pound gorilla, say some), I’m baffled by surging interest in powered trikes. For years, European producers have tried to sell these machines to Americans. It was always slow going because those who knew weight shift, delta-winged flying (that’s US!!) overwhelmingly didn’t want to fly with power. And the guys who wanted engines on their birds didn’t know weight shift. How to bridge the gap? Whatever method they used — it isn’t clear to me and I’m a close observer — trikes have gotten much hotter lately. Sales are happening and pilots are flying. • Now… why do I prattle on about this in a hang gliding magazine!? Because these people are showing an interest in our kind of wings, that’s why. • USHGA leadership is taking steps to find new members to grow the association and along comes a new and growing number pilots who at least like the type of wings we have. A connection? Could this mean some spark of interest might develop among other pilots for truly free flying in hang gliders? We’ll see… meanwhile, I’ll keep selling hang gliding as a great way to fly in the powered aviation magazines that print my stuff. ••• Well, on with this month’s Product Lines. But since I mentioned powered trikes, I’ve got to tell you about one that actually might interest hang glider pilots. From one of trikedom’s big companies, it’s the Cosmos Samba. However, they haven’t been pushing the model at all. In fact, according to John "Ole" Olson, it had "fifteen years of dust on it." He visited the big La Mouette/Cosmos operation in Dijon, France as he has parlayed his hang gliding background into a leadership role among trike enthusiasts in the U.S. Not truly a salesman for Cosmos trikes Ole is perhaps better described as an evangelist. And since he continues to be tightly connected to hang gliding, when he saw this tiny little trike and knowing La Mouette had the Topless wing, he and Cosmos boss Renaud Guy put the two together, and, as the French say, "Voila!" (There it is!). • I had the chance to fly the Samba trike with Topless wing at Sun ‘n Fun, and I am telling you loud and clear, "This thing is fun!" It handles great, zooms fast, climbs well, and is light. Trikes, especially the two seat ones, may be deluxe aircraft but they are trucks to steer around the sky. Not so with the Samba/Topless… not at all. I loved it!Since it also carries a modest price AND — very important to hang glider pilots — the Topless is exactly the same as the foot-launched variety. A hang strap dangles down while you fly in trike mode. Ole says, "You can take the Topless off the Samba trike and go hang gliding" …just like that. Cool! I recommend you check it out. Best of both worlds, that kind of thing. Reach Ole via eMail (email@example.com) or by phone: 602-285-4094. ••• Speaking of big operations, Wills Wing continues to crank out the gliders even while parts of the hang gliding industry seem to be going through gut-wrenching changes (see next two items). WW-brand has completed flight testing and is now involved with vehicle testing of the Ultrasport 166… the large Ultrasport. Using parts from their top-end Fusion, the US166 boasts tighter side wires and easy ground handling. Plus, anhedral won’t change when you alter the VG setting thanks to a "cam plate arrangement" that at the same time makes the VG easier to pull. Projected flying weights are 180 to 280 pounds because, "The glider carries weight really well," they feel. Wills added that it has "very low stall speeds and climbs great." Even though it has more materials everywhere, they’ve held the price as low as their US147 at $3,975. • In another WW accomplishment, they’ve passed 2,100 deliveries of their "Z" harnesses. At these kind of numbers, the harness line must be one of the best successes among all accessories for hang glider pilots. More info: 714-998-6359. ••• Wills may be satisfyingly busy, but Airwave of England continues to slip and slide. Their paraglider factory was shuttered on the Isle of Wight, which still remains home an AW hang gliding plant. Such a new austerity move on the heels of their closure of Pacific Airwave here in the States paints a rather dark picture for the onetime leader and builder of a reported 1,500 gliders a year. Britain’s SkyWings magazine also published, "For the first time in over 15 years, not a single hang gliding League pilot is flying a new Airwave wing." The downsizing forced the departure of several top pilots which SkyWings opined, "represents a serious loss of market-friendly talent for the company." I sincerely hope Airwave recovers as I see them as part of the global fabric of our industry. ••• Meanwhile in Paris, I visited René Coulon, founder and publisher of Vol Libre and Vol Moteur plus owner of the country’s largest mail-order operation. Coulon and his wife Martine have run these enterprises for decades. René certainly has one of the best perspectives in all of hang gliding. Yet he told me that his hang gliding virtually stopped three years ago. He still flies paragliders and ultralights when a busy schedule allows. • But his hang gliding passion is recently directed at German’s new-generation rigid wing design, the Exxtasy from Flight Designs. I’ll plan to tell you more about the Exxtasy in the next months. What is significant here is Coulon’s bubbly excitement over this wing, "Performance beyond flex wings, good handling, and very easy landings, what more do you want?" Goodness! Especially contrasted with his grim outlook for hang gliding, Exxtasy bears deeper inspection. ••• Running short of room; some accessory items will have to hold till next month. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Vmail or Fax: 612-450-0930. Send eMail to: CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine