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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.

Goddess Monte Cucco

The steel goddess.

I've seen videos and photos of famed Monte Cucco for years now and the past two days I've had the pleasure of flying her. Lovely. I'm sitting by the pool alone at our villa. Storm clouds are growing with sun streaming through holes. The breeze is fresh and it's waves are washing me with pleasure. Sound too fantastic... yes, it is.

Wolfi getting ready to launch.

Yesterday we arrived on top as a couple dozen pilots were setting up. One by one, familiar faces showed up and we exchanged greetings as we leisurely set up. Conrad from Brazil summed the sentiment up with a hearty hug and the exclamation, "Great to see you. What continent are we on?!" We get to have fun with amazing folks from all walks of life in obscure places throughout the world. What could be better?

The view from down valley. Monte Cucco is the highest peak on the ridge at the right.

Davis called a 108km out and return task. It looked like a great day. The boys launched just before me and promptly climbed to base at nearly 8000ft. I waited on a cycle and it took me some time to climb up and get sorted on course. The predominant wind was hitting the range as we flew down it, so you only had to stop for a few circles in the strongest lift, otherwise it was burble along the ridge.

The patchwork of Italian countryside.

At times the climbs were strong and I was seeing 700-900fpm on the averager mostly. Shapiro and Davis were ahead and started mentioning the turbulence. I too experienced some strong pushes that upset the glider. They were turning around short of the intended turnpoint, so I hung out, took some photos, and waited for them to return.

A sweet village down valley.

Wolfi's fit test.

the way back to launch was fun stopping for just three or four turns in very strong lift, but otherwise running the ridge back to launch. When we arrived back, Davis and Jeff decided to call it quits and land. There was ubiquitous lift, and things in the LZ looked sporty, so I decided to stay local and do some sight seeing. I went downrange a few km's the other way noting the ranges. Flew back getting low now and then and staring down at the villages below.

Finally after about two hours, I decided I'd had enough. Felt fatigued from the previous day's travel and probably jet lagged a bit. Had a festive breakdown with friendly conversation about the terrain and some entertaining landings. We came back to the villa to help wolfi sort out his new Covert.

Wolfi is a robust Austrian and presented a fit "challenge" for Shapiro. His chest is about an inch bigger than ours, but his hips are 11 inches greater in circumference. His CG is obviously lower and he's got trunks for legs. Shapiro was concerned about how exactly to adjust the harness pattern and blend existing contours. In the end, the harness seems to fit Wolfi VERY well. No shelf behind the shoulders, snug around the chest, and room for his lower body. The lines are clean.

Airtime: 2:00. Flights: 1. Miles: 20.

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Vail to Monte Cucco...

@ the airport.

Shapiro started his adventure by driving Missoula to Boulder, CO where we dropped his car at our bro Alex's house. Lauri and I hit the road at 3am and picked up Jeff around 6. A quick bagel for porn exchange and we continued on to the airport.

Lauri dropped us off before 7am - our six harnesses and two gliders... (THANKS girl!)Time to schmooze the AA ticketing personnel. It was costly with all the extra gear, gliders cost $200, but we were thru TSA with little fuss. Stoked!


Killer cloud streets on the way to Chicago.

Chamonix? We woke to this scenery over France.

We celebrated with a couple of whiskies in Chicago on our layover before Rome. There were two hours of on plane delays with maintenance problems. I'd taken two Tylenol PM's, so slept through most of it. Also slept most of the ride to Rome. Easy overnight flight.


We woke to breakfast and EPIC mountains out the window. Might have been Chamonix... We were trying to discern. Daydreamed out the window over europe through the rest of France and down over Italy. Wide gray riverbeds drained the alps into the flats. We like square parcels in the states, they like smaller hodgepodge fence lines here. I like it too.

Passport control and customs took seconds. The passport officers glanced uninterested at my documents and waved me on. Customs was a joke. Outside in the mix was disorienting for a moment, Marcelo Chaves was there after a bit to fetch us. We rolled through the outskirts of Rome in Marcelo's care on the way to his girlfriend Mikele's house.

Marcelo and Mikele's wonderful shuttle to Monte Cucco.

We were overloaded with harnesses and gear, and I asked Marcelo how many harnesses I had to stack atop the gliders in order to fit all of us. At this point Marcelo said, "No, no. We are driving you to Monte Cucco (almost three hours away) and then returning tonight. Both Mikele and I have to work tomorrow." !!! What?! Mikele jumped in with a cooler full of drinks and classic Italian sandwiches and we rolled through the chaos of Rome. What wonderful hospitality! We didn't expect Marcelo and Mikele to go so far out of their way. Marcelo had procured old cell phones for us to use for retrieve while we're here. They are just amazing. We appreciated every effort.

The beautiful congestion through Rome's ancient relics turned to rolling farmland with mountains beyond. Jeff and I sat in the back with open windows and mouths staring at the scenery. Our hosts pointed out all the noteworthy towns and attractions.

Our place is epic. The view of launch is out the window. Across the street there's a field of sunflowers, a vinyard, and a picturesque hay field. There's a pool, garden, etc. We ate at an outdoor pizzeria as more and more familiar faces began to roll through town. We are SO lucky to be here for the experience. Davis and Belinda had stocked the place with groceries. Easy enjoyment with them. Ahhh...

Soon we arrived at Residence Albarosa on the south side of Sigillo (Monte Cucco) Just 2km down a dirt road from town. It's lovely, quaint, bucolic, etc. After we found Davis and Belinda, a quick espresso jump started us into unpacking and reassembling our gliders. Marcelo and Mikele headed back for Rome. We enjoyed the warm evening light on the surroundings as we chatted and worked.

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Shortpacked for the travel... I leave at 3.30am. Pick up Shapiro at 6. :)

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Back in the air...

It's been some time since I've flown with regularity. I'm hoping to get a few flights in before the upcoming Pre-Worlds. Yesterday afternoon I hooked up with Thane Chase and Charlie Hedley at Wolcott.

Charlie's TRX on launch.

The sky looked epic with bases over 20k, but the direction and velocity of the wind wasn't ideal. We expected things to mellow toward sunset. After waiting on a cloud to pass so the sun would turn the lift switch back on again, I launched just after 6.30pm and climbed out.

Looking south toward Arrowhead and Beaver Creek ski resorts and the New York mountain range beyond.

Since I haven't flown much lately, everything was a treat. The drive up, the view from launch, getting sorted in the air, etc. Everything felt fresh and fun. Shortly after launching, I did my first 360 over the ridge and plummeted toward the ground. I think it was the Rockies giving me a gentle nudge saying, "remember, we've got the power to slap you - respect where you're flying." I took the hint and the sky was mostly nice to me for the rest of the flight.

Launch ridge is the prominent shadowed ridge in the right foreground.

The air was active, and I promptly went to 12,500ft. I pushed west and was thinking of flying down valley to Eagle. Sink in the valley made me turn tail back toward launch and Charlie ran off the hill as I flew over. I kept a close eye on him as we worked different lift. It seemed like the day was dying quickly.

Lift was getting light and "glassy" and I enjoyed boating over treed areas, staring down at the jeep paths and watching the birds of prey hunt for dinner. It was nice to take in the scenery and tune into my glider.

Near sunset, I pushed out west again and found much more buoyant conditions. Flew down valley again, and suddenly my girlfriend came over the radio singing. She was at the town concert with friends. I hadn't heard her before, and the music and singing made me question if it was reality. We had a brief chat, and I decided to fly back to my truck rather than complicating the retrieve.

Looking NE toward the Gore range.

Landed just after 8pm. What a beautiful area. It whet my appetite for the scenery that could be perused on a stronger day.

My local guides, Thane Chase and Charlie Hedley couldn't have been nicer. Thane offered to drive us up, and Charlie offered to take his rig. He wouldn't except any gas money and Thane hung out to make sure we were sorted properly. I really appreciated the effort! Looking forward to more Wolcott.

Airtime: 1:30. Flights: 1. Altitude: 12,500ft.

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Moyes weighs in with an advisory (7.13.10): LINK HERE

After perusing forums, there seems to be little debate - 2mm sidewires aren't worth the performance advantage.

Several of the intimate players in previous incidents have weighed in via comment on the Wills Wing blog:

Image from the Wills Wing website

Dave Shields:

"My sidewire failure was just out of the nicopressing on a wire with just around 100 hours airtime very little of which included aerobatics (maybe 2 days at Stanwell park in January). At the time the wire failed I was pulling 122kph (taken from vario) to build speed and was flying with straight arms but was not pushing out! The glider was rounding out at the bottom of the dive. Eye witnesses reported a dusty or thermal in the field moments after my incident. Maybe this caused a shock loading? Who can say!
What i do know is that the wires on my replacement glider will be slightly thicker.. maybe the 7x7 type for greater flexibility too!
I can send pics of the failed wire if it helps..."

Thanks much Dave! Photos would be instructive. Best at the Europeans.

Adam Parer:

"My sidewire also failed at the nico but it was obvious the tang was kinked at the time of failure. This greatly reduces the performance of the wire. There is no doubt the sidewire kinked during the tumbles as it had definitely been checked during preflight, and by the launch marshal only seconds before towing out of the airfield. A thicker sidewire in my case most likely would have failed also. Point being, a stronger sidewire also needs the correct 'never-kink' size, it requires the same amount of care, checking and maintenance. No redundancy here. What we launch with is what we rely on. Glad Dave is OK."

Thanks Adam!

Mitch McAleer:

"turn your head sideways for 5 seconds and you've lost all the performance gained from skinny wires for the entire flight.
Or any number of blunders that results in an aerodynamic disruption, at what cost? breaking your glider in flight, that's what.
The glider breaks positive at max lift, around 20-25º AoA to the relative airflow. Skinny wires tested to failure around 450-575 #, stock wires 890-1250# in my experience, your results may vary.
How much performance do you think you're getting from a reduction in the diameter of the side wires?
you're winning..... "

Thanks Mitch!

Image from

Is this safety concern serious enough to attempt to ban 2mm sidewires in competition? Regardless of policy, it has always been the pilot in command who makes the final determination on safety whether it's gear or conditions related. As I mentioned before, all US team members flying Wills Wing will be flying with 3/32 (thicker) wires in upcoming competitions.

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There's been significant buzz regarding 2mm sidewires over the past 24, with most coming to the conclusion it's not worth the negligible performance advantage to have bottom sidewires as the weakest link in the structural system. I received an e-mail from Dustin Martin this morning and it seems there's consensus from the Wills Wing team that everyone will be running 3/32 wires for free flying and cross country competitions from now on. Keep reading for a further explanation on bottom sidewires and perhaps try one of the following drag reducing tactics in lieu of 2mm sidewires:

A further explanation on Wills Wing sidewires:

The normal bottom side wires on a T2C are 3/32 1x19 uncoated.

These are thicker than the "competition type" side wires, which are 5/64 1x19 uncoated.

They are less thick in total diameter (though stronger) than 3/32 7x7 coated wires, which are about 1/8" total diameter.

Then there are the 1/8" 7x7 coated, which are larger diameter wires, with a much larger total diameter (about 5/32")

The stock 3/32 1x19 uncoated are what we recommend, and they are plenty strong enough for the application.

The 3/32 7x7 coated wires are a reasonable alternate option, though they are weaker, and have more drag. Some pilot prefer coated wires for other reasons, such as the idea that perhaps they are less likely to cause injury in a crash (though you don't often hit the side wires) or that they are less likely to cut or burn through a parachute bridle during a deployment.

The 1/8" coated wires are probably not a good idea. Pilots often request these because they think it gives them an additional safety margin, but in reality this probably isn't true. A properly maintained 3/32" wire will not be the first item to fail in a structural overload - that would most likely be the downtube. An improperly maintained wire, regardless of diameter, will eventually become the weakest element on the glider, and at worst could fail under a normal flight load of less than two G's. The additional safety margin provided by a larger diameter wire, if the wire is compromised by lack of maintenance, is inconsequential - the only difference is that it would take slightly longer for the larger diameter wire to have its strength reduced to the same level. However, the root cause of the loss of strength - which is most commonly a severe kink in the wire - is more likely on a larger diameter wire, so this likely offsets any advantage.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming. Wolfgang Siess super skimming.

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Why are we risking safety for 1/64th of an inch ???

In the past month, there have been two high profile failures of 2mm a.k.a. (5/64th inch, skinny, racing) bottom sidewires.

The first was Bill Soderquist's catastrophic sidewire failure pulling up into a loop and DRAMATIC deployment which left him bruised and with broken ribs. It could have easily been much worse.

Bill Soderquist keeping his cool during the deployment chaos in June.

Then just a few days ago, UK National Champion Dave Shields apparently broke a 2mm sidewire doing aerobatics over the LZ in Ager, Spain. Details are sparse, but this photo below was gleaned from Facebook.

Dave Shields working over his wreckage.

Manufacturers have stressed the need to regularly replace 2mm sidewires and to not accept any kink or permanent set in the wire. They have also warned to not do aerobatics on 2mm sidewires.

In my opinion, this is too hard to personally police. Replacing is easy, abstaining from aerobatics is not. During competitions on a free flying or called day, it's a natural tendency to express yourself. (some competitors like to express themselves while waiting for the start clock) Most of us enjoy aerobatics to one degree or another.

Additionally, I've probably experienced higher G loading on a turbulent final glide for example. Going slack and being subsequently slammed down on a 70mph final glide makes you slow down and take stock to make sure things are still intact. There's no control over air anomalies.

Mike Meier ran a calculation recently taking into account the drag differences between 3/32 (thicker) and 5/64 (thinner) wires over a 2.5 hour flight and found a negligible difference in performance. (Like less than 100ft. of altitude over the duration)

Even without the calculation, I'm convinced to run the more robust 3/32 wires at all times now. My US teammates are considering the same.

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After a tech talk with designer Steve Pearson yesterday, I need to amend my sail fabric explanations.

PX cloth - Photo by Jeff O'Brien - PX explanation HERE

There is no such thing as a UV "coating" - UV film is molecularly different from other films. It is not "coated" with any UV inhibitor, it is molecularly altered for superior UV stability. A much more expensive process than the so-called titanium dioxide "coating"

Technora - backed with white fabric to show detail. photo by Jeff O'Brien

Further explanation of PE or PEN fabric from Steve Pearson: PE - (or PEN fabric) is similar in construction to the PX styles except that the rectangular scrim and diagonal X-ply fibers are higher strength and stiffer than polyester which improves both handing and performance. We offer the PEN fabric in two styles which are structurally identical except for UV resistance. The grey-smoke color uses standard PET (Mylar) film. The bright white material uses clear UV film with bright white adhesive (often referred to as titanium dioxide coating) between the film and the underlying fibers. UV film is not a coating, but a PET film that is molecularly altered for superior UV stability. In general, UV coatings between the film and underlying fibers (like titanium dioxide) offer very little benefit for the longevity of laminated sailcloth.

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Organic Translucence...

Last Saturday at the Demo Day event in Salt Lake City, Dave Gibson hooked into an organic looking new T2C. It is a glider Steve Pearson is hoping to free fly for a few weeks. Enjoy it and tinker with it as a designer should.

The upper surface is made from Technora® is a very strong para-aramid fiber. It's the latest exotic fabric offered by Wills Wing.

Here are some specs on Technora from the manufacturer:

High tensile strength - Strong and light: weight for weight, Technora is 8 times stronger than steel and 3 times stronger than fiberglass, polyester or nylon yarns.

Fatigue resistance: Shows little loss of strength even during repeated abrasion, flexing and stretching.

Dimensional stability: Stiff and highly oriented molecular structure leads to a high modulus of elasticity, low creep and low stress relaxation. Low thermal shrinkage, i.e., excellent dimensional stability.

Heat resistance: Thermal decomposition threshold of 500ºC, so Technora can be used at 200ºC for long periods. At 250ºC, it maintains more than half of its room-temperature tensile strength.

Chemical resistance: Highly resistant to acids, alkalis and organic solvents; not vulnerable to damage caused by steam or sea water.

Dave Gibson on the Technora T2C 144. Photo by Jeff O'Brien.

So, Technora is ridiculously strong, light, and stretch resistant. Plus, it looks amazing. Steve, one of the local seasonal HG pilots was raving about the look. He commented that the red undersurface diffused through the Technora looked like the muscle fibers in the body connected by tendons of sail webbing and bones of aluminum and carbon. Technora topped gliders are stunning.

Dave Gibson and Steve Pearson set up the Technora topped T2C. Photo by Ryan Voight.

The red bottom T2C does have an organically translucent look to it. It was stunning in the air.

Technora at the Wills Wing factory. (backed by a white fabric to show detail) - Photo by Jeff O'Brien.

Dave Gibson and the mountain in silhouette. Photo by Jeff O'Brien.

So, what's the down side? While there's no disputing the strength of the fabric, the longevity in a hang gliding application and resistance to abrasion from launch, landing, setup, transport is a concern. The oldest Technora sail is being currently flown by Dustin Martin and is 9 months old. While he's meticulous with his gear, he's also traveled with it to South America two or three times, and flown it in various conditions. He says the integrity of the fabric is holding up very well.

Photo by Jeff O'Brien

With the upcoming Pre-Words in Italy at the end of July, it should provide another real world test of the performance and durability of the fabric.

Currently, Wills Wing is offering three fabric options besides dacron for the upper surfaces on T2's and T2C's:


From Pearson: PE - (or PEN fabric) is similar in construction to the PX styles except that the rectangular scrim and diagonal X-ply fibers are higher strength and stiffer than polyester which improves both handing and performance. We offer the PEN fabric in two styles which are structurally identical except for UV resistance. The grey-smoke color uses standard PET (Mylar) film. The bright white material uses clear UV film with bright white adhesive (often referred to as titanium dioxide coating) between the film and the underlying fibers. UV film is not a coating, but a PET film that is molecularly altered for superior UV stability. In general, UV coatings between the film and underlying fibers (like titanium dioxide)offer very little benefit for the longevity of laminated sailcloth.

Technora - Superior in strength and weight to both the above fabrics. Not available with a UV film.

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Wolfi Siess on his logoed up T2C 154.

Photo by Wolfgang Siess.

The Italian Championships concluded recently. They had a showdown in the Dolomites. Here are the results:

1st - Anton Moroder
2nd - Christian Ciech
3rd - Karl Reichegger
4th - Elio Cataldi - Wills Wing T2C 144
5th - Alex Ploner
6th - Tullio Gervasoni - Wills Wing T2C 144
10th - Arturo Dal Mas - Wills Wing T2C 144

Best of luck in the upcoming European Championships and Pre-World competitions in the coming weeks!

Another composite of Wolfgang Siess.

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