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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.

Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight... It'll be cloudy at my house :(

Nearly three years since the last.

Coinciding with the winter solstice.


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A couple of weeks ago Alex came up from the front range and we headed across the desert to The Point.

Arrived at 2am and I slept in the front seat. Alex set up his tent and I had a panting serenade to drift away to.

It was chilly at dawn, but bearable. I don't have much tolerance for cold flying these days. The day warmed and we had food, so it was a twilight to twilight session. Top ten day for the dogs.

The day displayed every kind of wind condition. Alex had a loose Falcon 1 225 that was a joy to fly. The new T2C was effortless. The handling is intuitive and immediate.

After dinner out, we came back to launch and slept.

Sunday the winds picked up and all the rest of the usual suspects came out. We were sore and satiated from Saturday, so we socialized before motivating to set up. Pre-frontal conditions just got stronger and un-fun so by noon we said our good-byes and gratitude for the amazing conditions.

It was great to see fresh faced Hang 2's and some who have come back to the sport after decades. John Linberg is a perpetual fixture who I hope never goes away. Never seen anything like him.

Robert Bagley is a pilot who's come back to the sport after a few years. He took some video:


The weekend was medicinal. Depicts operation outside of recommended limitations - this greatly increases risk. Please see for more information.

Airtime: 5.30. Flights: 25.

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Adam West - Dr. Batman - on his 10th flying anniversary flight over Cape Town.


All photos and video by Adam West.

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Daniel Velez voodooing Dustin.... HILARIOUS!!!


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Wolfgang Siess fall flying over Euro - Clean Covert - Sweet style. All photos by Wolfgang Siess. Friend him on Facebook for more images.

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We're going back for the ULTIMATE glide ratio contest - Dustin is residing at the WW Wing Mine fashioning parasite killers. Shapiro's KEEN. Zippy too :)

I've been "busy" as well. ;)

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Ryan Voight makes a nose boom and Dave Gibson flies with it:

Check out the blog post: LINK HERE

Photo by Ryan Voight. Pilot: Dave Gibson.

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99 to the line...

Currently I'm sitting in a hotel room overlooking the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence, Italy.... smiling... All is perfect.

Somewhere near Corotona.

Friday Lauri got into Sigillo. She'd traveled from Denver, rented a car in Rome, and rocked overland to Sigillo. A savvy travel. The gem in our plan is the GPS uploaded with a map of Italy. Within the first hours, the $99 spent on the maps had already paid back in full.

Unfortunately / fortunately there was rain on Friday so that allowed me to get everything sorted out in our apartment, the fridge stocked, and some birthday supplies as it was Lauri's b-day on Saturday. I was unhappy we weren't flying, but happy I had the opportunity to sort out accommodations so her arrival would be seamless.

Friday evening we hung out with Davis, Belinda, and Shapiro before attending the main party at the hotel in town. We thought it weird the major event was before the last day of the meet, but most of us had been partying down pretty well all week. Zippy's winning day came after he was seen dancing down main street at 3am the night before.

Assisi night.

There were over 300 people in attendance at the party and it was a festive affair. Dinner was followed by dancing to a DJ complete with table dancing girls. Motivation to drink up and shake down. Lauri and I jet lagged finally at around 1am, but we heard the party continued til around 3.

Confined in Corotona.

The next day cloudbase was below launch as we drove up. We set up and waited for things to lift. After chilling on the hilltop restaurant and waiting for conditions to improve, an out and return task was called with start times between 3 and 4pm.

Sunset over Ponte Vecchio bridge - Florence.

Launch que's were a bit hectic, but I got off the hill at the right time. Lift was somewhat light, and we had to trave 10miles away to get the start, so I settled in and slowly moved east toward the cylinder trying to stay high. Things worked out pretty well and I was able to stay near cloudbase waiting for the start. Rain was behind launch, but most all of the overdevelopment would stay just off course line the entire day. We would only fly through light rain for a couple of miles during the task.

Old Florence.

The start ticked over and I got a decent one. I noticed several pilots further out in the valley specked out - it was Davis, Manfred, Jonny, and others. They'd get the jump on everyone. I was running with Zippy and Dustin in sight as well as Andre Wolf and others.

New Florence.

As we neared the most technical portion of the first leg, I was thankful Zippy was willing to run deep and low in front. I wasn't high, and there was a mostly unland-able canyon we had to negotiate. I saw Zippy climbing deep, and dove for him with Shapiro right off my keel. Zippy, Shapiro, and I turned tip to tip winding up through as the climb improved. It turned into a 800fpm tight screamer that everyone came over to. Pushed out traffic avoidance to try and catch up. I ran for the turnpoint with Davis and others just above me. He was having a great flight.

Old Florence.

New Florence.

On the way back from the turn, I had Zippy and Dustin just lower and in front sniffing out the lift. I was able to find a reasonable climb that the others didn't and took it up high for the crossing back over the range. It was at this point that Manfred came in just above. We were running with a handful of other pilots I couldn't identify. Antoine Boisselier was there.

There was a lot of shade ahead and I was trying to discern if there were cu's embedded below the thick overcast. The air seemed void of energy. If we could hang on the 15km until the sun again, we'd have a chance. There was also very light ridge lift on the windward side. We flew through a couple miles of light rain. I burbled down the ridge. Manfred was being patient. Dustin was out charging ahead.

We got back into the sun, but the lift wasn't there. We were loosing precious altitude. Spines and ridges that should have been working were not. Manfred had position on us all. There were three pilots out in front and lower than me. I let them sniff for the lift while I tried my best to conserve. I came over another spine and there were two deer chasing each other on the hillside meadow. It was one of those moments where you take in the scene for just a couple of moments, then get back on task. I was about 100ft. off the hillside and working hard to find the lift.

Someone started climbing low in the valley. I watched for a couple of turns from my zero sink, and they were climbing well. I raced over with others. I called back to teammates I was in 450fpm low over town. I could see the armada of 30 or more coming for us. Manfred dove in just below. Jonny appeared out of nowhere. Blay was there. So was Christian. When we neared the airspace ceiling, I was expecting Manfred and Christian to pull rope and break. I watched closely. I decided to pull the trigger. I glided toward the "launch" turnpoint, and then we'd have to go another 10km to a final turnpoint before going for goal.

Table for two for lunch? Indeed.

I was escorted by Manfred and Christian toward the last turnpoint. Manfred seemed to be playing it conservative a bit, I'm sure he wanted Christian and I out in front so he could avoid any meet loosing moves. Christian was going for it, but loosing some altitude. I tried to hug the mountain range a bit more and dolphin fly my way. This is where previous experience paid off. On the second day, we had virtually the same final turnpoint and virtually the same final glide. I knew how high over the peaks and ridges I should be for good numbers and I seemed to have them. I saw Christian whirl around when he hit lift. He was now 500 feet below. I looked at my instrument and decided my numbers were good around the last turnpoint through to goal. I kept going.

The numbers were indeed good to goal and I arrived with just enough for a pass over the line and a 270 degree turn to land into the wind. Dustin was at goal, so I was confused. It turned out he had pushed too hard on the way to the final turnpoint and landed at goal. Had he not pushed just a bit too much, he likely would have won the day. After all the downloads were complete and airspace was scrutinized, I'd won the day. 99 were in goal. A sweet fly for sure. The fact that it was Lauri's birthday made it sweeter.

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Rainbows, fawns, and butterfly wings fanning my penis... Fantasy is reality

First Task 3... I flew really well the first 1/2 of the task and was sharing air with Zippy and Ploner when they made a move deeper into the mountains. The winds were high and the possibility of rotor there, so I looked as deeply as I could into the canyons and said "not today." I wasn't willing to push my perceived safety at that moment. I would end up groveling alone after that, making a low save, but ending up on the ground. Zippy went on to win the day, likely the sweetest day win in his career. We're all stoked for him.

Shapiro had GPS troubles and was unfortunately only scored to the first turnpoint. His GPS lost reception and when it turned on 7km down the road, the arrow still pointed back to the first turn. He missed the cylinder by 100m. A hard pill to swallow, but this trip is teaching us lessons in the air and on the ground as always. Our perspective is evolving for the better I think.

Yesterday we woke with the mountains obscured in clouds and the look of rain in the sky. The day was called and we made loose plans for leisure. I decided to stroll the 3km into town. The walks around here are perpetually happy with music in my ears and plenty of fodder for the eyes. I met Mike Glennon and Raul Guerra at the hotel. They were making a plan to drive to the coast, but first "Jump in the car Jeff, we're going to look at an apartment." I had been looking for an room for a couple of nights for my me and my girl (who's arriving today) and Mike was looking for accommodations for the Columbian team next year. We had Claudia our translator with us ;) and we took off after Dominico.

(on one of our rain days, the South American crew came over for a BBQ. Raul and company made fresh Ceviche' and the Brazillians grilled meat, sausage, and other animal delicacies - Another very cool multi-national experience.)

The two bedroom apartment on the hill was nice and we inquired about availability and cost. "I'll talk to my brother and call you later today was the response." We thanked and headed back to town. A bit more harumbummelin brought me to lunch alone, which turned into lunch with the Italian team after an invitation. We've been enamored with "Pizza on the Piazza" since the food is delicious and cheap and the owner Danielo is an enthusiastic T2C pilot. I really enjoyed getting their menu recommendations and subsequently trying their dishes. Truffles are renowned and cheap in this area and it's used in many dishes.

I walked the 3km home after lunch to meet up with Shapiro, Catherine, Zippy and Hedvich (sorry for spelling) and we drove right back into town to lunch at "Pizza at the Piazza" ??? Yes, I went right back. I enjoyed truffle vanilla ice cream with chocolate powdered chocolate coating marinating in coffee and the international conversation. Time and time again this trip I find myself in a small group of people that's comprised of people from several different countries. It does a lot to widen my american blinders.

I excused myself after the second lunch and had another walkabout. The old neighborhood in town is a feast for the eyes. Quintessential narrow streets, peppered tastefully with pigeons and cats oozing romance. Ahh... Then it began to rain lightly. I started to walk the 3km home. I daydreamed up at swallows feasting on the insects swept up toward the towering cu's. The rain began to fall harder and I stopped under a tree near our villa to wait it out. Belinda came by in the car going the other way and offered a ride back into town. "No thanks, I'll wait it out and walk home," I said.

Five minutes later, I made eye contact with the driver of a car going by. He skidded to a stop. It was Dominico, the apartment owner. Hand signals indicated, "Get in, let's go to look at the apartment." Ten minutes later I had met Dominico's parents, and brother. We signed back and forth about price and availability. (I speak no Italian, they speak no english) They handed me the keys, signed "Put the keys and the money in the drawer when you leave. Have a nice time." and Dominico drove me back to our villa. How fortuitous. I was picked up from under a tree in the rain, given keys to an affordable two bedroom apartment I needed, and had a great laugh with his gregarious parents. Life was perfect.

We watched the storm waves from the villa. Black background with silver rain, then a rainbow. Life got prettier. Soon Shapiro returned from a run to the new found "castle" - We've been running through the sunflower field and down the gravel road. Claudia went further than I had previously a couple of days ago and returned talking about a castle. Shaprio confirmed it was there and worth the effort. I borrowed his shoes and headed off. On the way it began to rain. A fawn hiding underneath a roadside tree ran out ahead of me as I approached. Another km down the road a jackrabbit sat chewing on the shoulder of the road before perking up it's ears and disappearing into the weeds. The scene was getting even more fairy-tale-like. After all, I was on my way to "the castle"

More rain came and the ground emitted steamy fog as thunder broke all around. I could now see the castle on the hillside and kept following the road. Soon a turnoff seemed like the one to take and I began up the hill. 1/2 way up the switchbacks I turned away from the sun to see the grand rainbow. A prolate arc that bent unconventionally high in the sky. Seriously?!? My mouth was agape. I was looking out at the picturesque Italian countryside with rain, thunder, sun, golden wheat fields, low lying fog, and now the most grand rainbow. I was looking at paradise. I jogged facing the rainbow still trying to catch my breath and sipping the scene at the same time.

(This isn't the rainbow from "that" day, but rather a rainbow I saw in Colorado shortly before leaving - the Colorado rainbow was the brightest I'd ever seen.)

The last bit of road to the castle was lined with perfectly spaced majestic trees likely planted over a hundred years ago. There was a care-takers house first on the left which I quietly passed by so I could remain unnoticed. Next was a small ancient church, then an enclosure with pheasants beyond. The males were highly colored. Next I came upon a fountain with fish and toads swimming. It seemed like a harmonious enclosed ecosystem. The castle was next. Huge by house standards, small by castle standards, it had a melding of ancient and modern accoutrements. Battering ram resistant doors with finger sized key holes, and modernist lighting to festoon the facade at night. It had obviously been transformed and renovated into an amazing place for weddings and functions.

I took a stroll around the grounds, and then headed back from where I came. On the way home there was more rain and I got into the sound in my ears and the rhythm of my breath. Shapiro had mentioned it was one of the best runs he'd ever taken. I wholeheartedly agreed. In the waning sunlight as I ran, I thought of what a perfect day I'd just experienced. I hadn't flown, yet it was a day of serendipitous luck and rare beauty. Once in a decade beauty although it seems like I get the pleasure of this level of beauty far more often than that.

I'm supremely thankful.

Airtime: 2.20. Flights: 1. Miles: unknown.

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AN AIRSPACE ISSUE - with a hang gliding problem... The AIRSPACE continues to baffle and frustrate pilots and it VERY obscure and subjective. There are warnings, ZERO scores, nebulous buffers, barometric pressure, real altitudes. Launches inside airspace... etc. It's a ROYAL mess with little concrete information. An embarrassment for meet organizers.

Pre-Worlds day 3 - Task 2

We go up to Cucco launch for a 101km out and return that turns technical.

All is chill before we launch but airspace is KILLING the FUN around here! Launch is in airspace. Launch is 3930ft. We are NOT allowed to go over 6000ft. near launch! So 2000ft. over launch and you'd better high tail it away or ZERO. Dustin got a zero for day one - not a warning like we were told we would get on the first day. I hope there's a protest in the works. There is airspace up and down the valley. It's debilitating and a pain in the ass to watch out for. Davis mentioned that the meet organizers promised that airspace would not be an issue during their bid to hold the meet.

They call a task up and down the valley, just jumping two ridges, it doesn't look to be too technical. (it turns out to be) There's an inversion and we don't get that high early. People are fighting for position over each of the peaks and as a result, the gaggles for the first portion of the task are THICK. I feel that my gaggle tolerance is pretty high at the moment. I get frustrated less and seem to be able to work through or around traffic jams.

The cruise down to the first turnpoint is relatively easy. I make a mistake, have to come back 1km for a climb, and Zippy and Shapiro get the jump on me. I run into 800fpm for a few circles and catch up to Wolfi who is over me. We take a wingtip to wingtip glide for fun. At this point I see Dustin leading the gaggle back low from the first turn back to the ridge. Zippy and Shapiro are right behind with a dozen or more pilots. They running fast and low. I get the turn and see the mess of pilots struggling low on the ridge. Eventually we piece together a climb, but Dustin has got away. He calls out climbs from ahead.

Shapiro and I come back in close contact and we thermal with others over another flying site in the area. Yesterday we flew over a flying site. It's cool to rock up on a mountain and see folks setting up to fly. We went round and round with the free flyer that had just launched from the peak.

On our way back, after we jumped back on to the Monte Cucco ridge, it was somewhat slow going. Climbs weren't getting me that high and I had to ride just a few hundred feet over the trees burbling and waiting to hit something. It was a slog back to launch and I eventually burbled below launch on my way to the second turnpoint. Shapiro and Zippy were still close by.

Finally I hit 500fpm that got me to 5700 right over the biggest peak near Cucco, but I pulled out due to AIRSPACE. Kept pushing to the last turn. The last turnpoint was a big cylinder on a high peak that was behind two other smaller ridges. Dustin had warned us about the un-landable terrain, but the lift I needed just wasn't there, and I pushed in deeper than I wanted to. Zippy was with me.

There was a field or two you could fly-on-the-wall in, but I didn't want to exercise that option. Tried thermalling in a bubble literally 50ft. off a grassy hilltop. Didn't work. Zippy burbled ahead. I went to cross a saddle with 80ft. of tree clearance. I had just a couple of seconds to assess if there were landings on the other side. There were not... I literally had moments to decide if I could squirm out the valley if I needed to, and I hit a bubble that turned into a tight ripper that got me up and out. Whew. I'd unintentionally got myself into a tight spot and I was thankful the lift was there to get me away.

Zippy eventually pulled the trigger and went for the turnpoint even deeper in, and I followed. We immediately turned back. Zippy cleared the un-landable ridge on the way back by 75ft. I had a bit more altitude and made a bee line for more friendly terrain. It was 12 to 1 to goal, but we had a bit of friendly ridge to work on the way home. It turned 14 to 1, then a German pilot I was following hit 400fpm right over a spine. I took two turns with him and pulled rope while he was on the backside of his turn. Flew moderately aggressively into goal at around 60mph arriving with a couple hundred feet. Rewarding day.

The scene in the LZ was festive and chill. We sipped beers and sat in the shade of our gliders chatting about the fun. A beautiful day.

Airtime: 3.15. Flights: 1. Miles: 62.

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