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This is the Wills Wing Team Pilots competition blog. Here you can keep up with the various members of our team as they progress through the competition season.
  
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Author: Jeff O'Brien Created: 5/13/2009 2:45 PM
Jeff O'Brien revolutionized his life when he learned to hang glide in 1998. He dropped most other interests and promptly moved to Utah to fly full time. He's flown hang gliders on five continents and began competing in 2005. Jeff is probably most known for his wing mounted photography which can be seen in hang gliding publications and press worldwide.




The social community dinners continue. Belinda cooked us up a sweet authentic french dish the other night.



The stars have been epic - now the new moon is visiting.



The town also has done a great job with festivities. The bon fire this year was just as fun as last. The town square is packed, they light a festive fire, and play music until late. We were all a bit slow the next morning.



Saturday was blown out, but the wind abated later in the afternoon. There's a free flight "convention" in the LZ this weekend. Vendors have come out to exhibit their gear and have an all day airshow. Everything from RC aircraft to an actual hang gliding carnival ride are out. A few of us were asked if we wanted to put on an impromptu exhibition.



checking out french HG harnesses.

Jeff, Zippy, Jonny, and I went up the hill and set up in reasonable winds. We actually could have had a task, the conditions seemed good.



HG simulator.

The french aerobatic champion launched first for his exhibition. Twenty minutes later as we launched, Jonny got on the radio to point out the french aero pilot had tumbled and was coming down under two parachute canopies.

I watched as the two canopies stayed perfectly inflated and the glider waffled down slowly to land in a open field. The pilot was fine.



The pilot's heart bolt.

This event put our perspective in check, and the air was heavily textured as we played in front of launch for each other. Great fun racing around with ubiquitous ridge lift. Everyone threw wingovers over launch and around each other.



torn sail from the parachute bridal.

Indeed the air was too heavily textured over the LZ for steep aerobatics, so everyone did wingovers down. Zippy went ahead and threw some steep stuff. The announcer had a bit of info for each of us and was excitedly calling out our landing approaches. It's nice landing in front of a cheering crowd. :)

I dropped in over the wheat field next to the LZ and dragged my foot through the crop. A bee flew in and stung me on the neck. Continued my skim and landed fine. Gotta pay attention regardless.

Airtime:45. Flights:1.

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VIDEO HERE

some landings from today.





Pilot's meeting.

Day 5 started blowing up before we ever got in the air. They called the day before launch opened.



They allowed free flying, and I took a thirty minute flight, landing at camping. Rain squalls have been coming through all afternoon. At least we got some airtime.



Tonight is the bonfire in town. It was a drunken fest last year, we'll see what transpires.

Airtime:30. Flights:1.


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We went to Aspres' launch up north about 25km. An amazing launch with room for a thousand gliders and a "sound of music" rolling yodeling feel.

They called a 125 km task cross/tail down to the south well past Sisterone, and then back to camping.



Last year on Aspres, I stuck some flowers in my wires and made goal. I employed the same tactic yesterday.

I got off reasonably early, found great lift out in the middle of the valley and pressed way upwind with Balaz in an effort to get in prime position for the start.

Things worked out well. Everyone on the US team took the first start and I hung back for the second. There were about thirty of us milling around cloud base and it seemed the race was on. Lift was quite strong and the first couple of thermals took nerve to go for it in the crowd. I chose to not battle in the death gaggle and tried to find strong cores off to the side. I just wasn't gaining ground on pilots.

After the first turnpoint, I pressed ahead in an effort to catch up. I hit the strongest "wire slap" I've ever experienced. For two full seconds I was in free fall. The harness main went slack and I clamped down on the basetube. I had time to look over and see the vario hovering at a 45 degree angle at the mount hinge. I came down with a jolt to the main and a thwang. It frazzled me.



The flowers after an afternoon in the sky.

There were gliders climbing above, but I couldn't find a core. I took my lumps and ran way off courseline to the mountains. I knew there'd be lift over there despite being way off course.

The wind wasn't hitting the peaks perpendicularly, and I had to battle in the bowls. FINALLY 1000fpm broke off the highest peak, but it petered out earlier than I'd hoped. I kept moving around the range working windward faces. I was alone.

It stayed junky for a long time. I was getting dejected and just couldn't stay in the altitude power band. I tried to focus on just staying in the air and going how ever far off courseline it took to stay in the mountains. Eventually I got high again 12km before the second turnpoint and got round and back to the peaks.



I noticed I was now catching up. Our final leg into the wind would be a carbon copy of our last leg yesterday. I was intent on following the path I'd run the day before. The climbs were mostly in the same places. There was a gaggle of a dozen or more working junky lift over my head and I pressed in deeper where I'd hit a ripper yesterday and was rewarded with 1000fpm for a few turns. All the others dove in just above me.



This contraption showed up at camping last night. I'll take it.

It wasn't enough to overtake the gaggle, but I was making up ground. The headwind was a bit more today and the lift was a bit lighter, so we hung on and milked 300fpm over the last "shark fin" hill before the final valley crossing to goal.

I had 6.2 to 1 to goal and hit 1000fpm down. I wasn't going to make it! Hung on and arrived over the line in ground effect.

Airtime: 4:30. Miles: 75. Flights: 1.

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Day 1 VIDEO HERE



A 100 mile out and return tour around valleys was called. Launch time was 12:45. I was #2 in the ordered launch. At the last minute, I realized I'd left my phone in the van more than a mile away. I sprinted down to the van, and thankfully flagged down a car for a ride back up the hill. I would have never made it in time otherwise.

Was frazzled as I got up to launch and balked for a couple of minutes before I punched off. Climbed up fine. It was cold aloft and I just boated around low not wanting to freeze prematurely. It would be almost two hours before I'd take the start.



As the start approached, I was with Dustin and Gerolf among others. Gerolf pushed out to the west as a bunch of gliders came in from the east. I let him go and hooked up with Jonny and 900fpm with a ton of other pilots. We left when things went to 400fpm.

Zippy and I worked a couple of climbs hitting strong ones near the first turnpoint. We'd leave when the lift went below 400fpm. The race was on. Cloud base was just over 9000ft. The valley heights around here are 2000ft.



I took a more direct line over smaller mountains on the long 40+km leg to the second turnpoint out in the valley near Gap. After the turnpoint, we were lower for the blue lake crossing. It was particularly rough in this area. I was trying to climb efficiently and not collide with other pilots.

The run to the third turnpoint in the valley was buoyant, and we hit a good one at the third turn. Jonny and Andre Wolf were there. Jonny headed off two minutes early, but our thermal was still 500fpm+ so I stayed. I took a left line under a small street of cu's and it was buoyant. I could see Jonny and Andre getting lower as we neared the big bare mountain with no LZ's on the other side. I played it a bit conservative as I didn't want to get stuck like last year, so I milked a lifting line directly over the peak.



The lifting line continued and despite the headwind, I was able to take a direct line to the last turnpoint while others had to deviate way around to ridge soar their way to the last turn.

I could see no one out in front of me, and was beginning to think I had a good flight going. It was at this point I started being very deliberate about my decisions and paying attention to the terrain and windward faces, sun angle, etc.



Familiarity with the terrain and lay of the land also helped a lot. I put myself deeper in the mountains with reliable looking faces rather than working the lesser hills nearer to the valley. I could see sailplanes working deep, so I knew there was likely lift there.

I'd thermal up on each windward rock ridge or face, then scoot to the next one. The last 15 km to goal was out in the flats. My instrument was saying 10-15mph direct headwind. I left the last rock fin with 9.9 into goal. there was a wispy cu out in the valley and thankfully I found a lifting line on the way into goal. I played my final conservative which was what I needed to do as many pilots landed just short.



In goal there were heartbreaks, crashes, and at least three pilots who literally landed on the goal line.

I had the good fortune to win the day. Team USA is in second place by a few points.

Airtime: 5:03. Flights: 1. Miles: 100.




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DAY 2 VIDEO



We eventually broke down and headed down the mountain.



The ozzie house is next door, and we've created a dinner roster. On days we don't have functions, we take turns preparing meals. It's good food and festive. Usually the dinner turns into a wine or tea fest as the sun wanes.



It's been colder than normal here, and we're not prepared with clothing warm enough for getting high. I hope I'm not doing a full body shiver in my harness today.



Filippo rented a sailplane with Klaus (a renowned sailplane pilot who's a local) Without a GPS, he followed Klaus on a 500km - 310 mile flight into Italy two days ago and back to Laragne. Klaus did 700km on that day. The sailplane-ing is EPIC around here. It would be a life experience to show your mate the alps over Italy, Austria, and France via sailplane. Put it on the bucket list.

We will fly today. Supposed to get high and be cold. They might call a barn burner.

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They installed zip lines over the past year which made the way down much faster and doubled the enjoyment. On the last zip line, Jeff and I jumped on together. The cable was plenty strong, however we hadn't thought about how much more the cable would drop due to the extra weight. We picked up our legs and avoided broken backs on the boulders. Still crashed on the ramp at the end. We went to the neighboring farm for unpasteurized fruit juice again. This time it didn't wreak havoc with our insides.








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VIDEO HERE

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Opening Ceremonies...



Your Team America... The town of Laragne showed up in style to welcome us for the opening ceremonies. A high energy drum troop led us through town on a "parade". The vibe was perfect for a bunch of HG pilots.

We stood for dignitaries to speak... Our attention spans are short, so most of us migrated into the reception hall before the "presentation" was over.



After feeding our faces at the reception, the sun was calling me outside. I was tired of the stale environment and finger food. Walked around the building to find the drummers going off in the square.

The latin and south americans were writhing to the heavy beat and when the drummers tried to stop, the crowd cheered for an encore.



People were migrating out of the reception hall, and when the drummers stopped again, Julia, the female Russian pilot, jumped down and started beating with her hands on one of the large drums. The south americans cheered until the rest of the troop came back for the improv session.



It was one of those moments - a throng of pilots from around the world who don't take life for granted. The collective positivity was incredibly high. There was a lack of self-consciousness, and people moved how they wanted to.

After the drumming waned, there was high fives and hugging, a complete lack of competitiveness. One of the French pilots walked by me exclaming, "amazing positive energy." Indeed.



The buzz lingered as we walked back to fix a simple dinner and talk smack on the porch over a bottle of wine.



It's howling wind here this morning, but the sun is out. We will go climbing in the mountains later. I've got a cold, and haven't been sleeping well. Jet lag is lingering. I'll be square by the time we fly. Things look windy for tomorrow.



I took a bit of video of the parade and will edit soon.

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Just under 300 square feet of the finest in mobile home technology. Six people sleeping in the structure. The literal closeness is fostering the love.



The ozzies are next door, and we usually share dinners between our "houses" - The girls have polished off a dozen bottles of the cheapest wine certified by the French government over the past three nights.



There's no room inside the structure for our bags, so they stay out on the porch. :) Livin' the high life.







Three of us sleep in a 7ft. by 9ft. room. We all get along well and the situation is pleasant.

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We all got measured...



They're measuring sprogs ??? It's much ado about nothing, policies are changing daily, not much structure. No worries. Everyone is in compliance.



My measurements



Dustin's keel.



Drag Reduction.



Dustin is in the details.



The Ginsu 144.

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