You are here:   Pilot Blogs
  |  Login
 WW Team Blogs
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.
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.

Day 7

We head an hour away to Mt. Subazio above Assisi. Completely open meadow atop the mountain. They call an 87km basket weaving task across the valley with four turnpoints. Our launch line is a sh*t show with total lack of procedure. I pack into the order-less pile and call a push. No reason we shouldn't be piling off the hill. A minute after launch as I'm happily climbing out, my instrument bricks up and the vario is one tone wailing at me. I wonder how long I can put up with the incessant scream. After a minute of chatting on the radio, Zippy tells me it's permissible to land and re-launch without scoring penalty. I dive through lift, and land on top.

"Dam, you Americans are pimp! Where can I get a bit of that action?"

I take the batteries out of my 6030 and reset the instrument without volume this time. My gecko is working and I've got the route in it. Fabian loans me his vario with simple GPS with no waypoints. Now I've got to get my glider over two barbed wire fences back to the downslope where I can launch. This is where my savior Catherine comes in (from Germany) Catherine is stout, and starts ripping fence posts out in quick order. I hear cracking timber as she reefs the last out and lays the fence flat for me to walk over. Sweet! Repeat on the other side of the road and I'm back on proper launching ground. Thanks to Jamie, Bob, Sue, Belinda, Fabian, Catherine, and a couple of other bros I didn't get the name of for helping me sort out the crisis.

I launch again and my primary instrument freezes instantly - bummer. I'm figuring out the sounds of Fabian's vario as I climb out, totally out of phase - brain scattered. I've missed the first start and sort out my other instruments. I ask the boys on the radio for some information and eventually burble across the start line 7 minutes after the second start. I'm alone and going seemingly very slow against the stiff head wind across the valley. Our first turnpoint is 32km away.

My gecko gives me a low battery signal. FU*K! I turn on Fabian's GPS, but it's in french. I try and get it to a main page and let the gecko die. I have no idea if I can piece together two track logs, but I'm still into attempting the task. Eventually I see other pilots are going better pinned up against the mountain range, and slide downwind to the higher terrain. It's slow going, but eventually I catch up with Zippy and Shapiro as we near the turnpoint. I'm heartened to catch up to my bros, and I'm just hoping I've got a viable track log. As I get within 1km of the turnpoint (which was a hillside castle), I turn on the gecko and count to 15seconds out loud to make sure I drop a track point inside the cylinder.

I'm trailing Zippy and Jeff by a minute and we all get LOW on foothills going back the way we came. It takes some effort to dig out on the low terrain and many pilots land in this area. I eventually hook a climb that develops and I'm whisked over the peaks again. Zippy and I run 30km back toward launch with Shapiro just ahead. As I near the next turnpoint, I turn my gecko on again and work to modify the route so it will tell me proximity to the turnpoint. In the process of punching buttons, the gecko shifts and flies free of it's mount. There's a split second of situation recognition as it drops past my reach. "Nooooo! NOOOOOOO!" is all I can say. I've now lost my back up track log.

I have no idea where the third turnpoint is and I have no idea how to operate the french GPS. I hook up with Shapiro and fly around aimlessly. After a time, I realize if I land out, I won't be able to communicate my location to my driver without a viable GPS. I head for goal. At least I can get a ride there.

After trying to download the french GPS and bricked 6030, it's apparent nothing recorded a log. On the down side, I've let down the team with my minimal score. On the up side, I dealt with adversity and still pulled off a good fly. In this game, there's so much to coordinate. Instruments, retrieve, radio, gear, etc. Gliders have to operate flawlessly in every way all the time. You have to launch, fly, and land safely in sporty conditions. That's what makes the game so engrossing.

Update - Apparently my french GPS DID have a track log. A few conversations have transpired and I will get scored based on how the rules apply to GAP2002

Davis and Belinda pick me up and we head to dinner in historic Spello. They choose a refined locale and we have a savory meal. Home around 11, chat about the day, and drift after midnight.

Spello alleyway...

Day 8

Woke tired to rain outside. Sigh. Headed in to HQ, indulged in a massage and some lasagna bianca for lunch. Took a 10k run in the heat of the day and met Birget from Germany on the road for the third time. She and I plunged in the pool after arriving over heated at home and chatted about skull collecting. She's an interesting bird.

It looked flyable, and Derreck, Jeff and I threw on the german van for a ride up the hill. Set up in a hurry and launched into a group of nearly 20 gliders. It was fun to get our strafe on for a few. After about 20 minutes, I decided to head west down range and promptly got flushed behind a spine. Discerned the wind in the valley had quickly shifted 45 degrees and was now parallel to the range. Got bounced around in heavy sink until I cleared the range and found buttery conditions in the valley. Worked light lift at full VG taking in the sunset scene. Counted 9 mountain ranges silhouetted by the sun to the western horizon. Long shadows cast by the trees across the rolling golden crop quilt below. Idyllic.

Chick preparation...

Stayed up until the sun got low and had a successfully succinct landing next to our compound. Popped prosecco and had a slack line while everyone finished breaking down in the garden. Headed in for dinner @ Pizza on the Piazza, toured party venues around 11, and headed home when we found nothing swinging. Learned of Amy Winehouse's death before bedding down. Bummer.

Trip Flights: 6. Airtime: 7:00. Task km: 120.

Read More »

Day 4 Continued...

Had an solo afternoon run of challenging distance. Since we're not flying or competing, we find other ways to engage in personal challenge. Activity that lends itself to discovery. On the run, a deciduous whiff let me relive a midwest farm upbringing. A song in my ears lets time get lost and I wake up a distance later. Seeing wildlife, snails, porcupine quills, birds of prey, etc. Swear I saw a raptor dynamic soaring the lee of a tree line. The increased air density in comparison to home has been noticed.

The affair at the castle...

The group shared a couple of bottles of vino and met as a team to discuss meet regulations. Afterward, we took the back roads to the castle where the affair was in full swing. Typical Italian heavy appetizers were displayed and the drinks were free. A DJ sat in a corner window providing a background beat. Hot scene. All it was missing was 200 Roman twenty / thirty-somethings in club gear. :)

Our world wide free flight crew represented just fine, but the party waned a little early for my taste. There was supposedly another disco ramping up in town, but I was keen on heading home. We figured out how to connect the iPod to the rental car sound system and had a mildly exhilarating techno-rally into town to drop off an Aussie hitchhiker. Back at the villa, we sipped wine talking sh*t until 2am.

Day 5

Woke to rain and clouds and it became quickly apparent we wouldn't be flying. Several cappuccinos @ HQ and some internet-ing. Took a run with Shapiro, enjoying the effort. Cooled off with a post run pool plunge and soaked in some sun on a lounger. Trip running: 61km.

Day 6

They were sending us up to fly. We met cold, wind, and cloud base at launch, donned all our lycra layers, and began to set up. Clouds rose, but so did the wind. A group congregated in the lee of my wing, lured by the beats out of the Jammy Pack, and we made a party under glider #76. I hiked around and took photos, and it became more evident it was unsafe for all to launch and have a task. The wind was so substantial, all started folding their gliders flat, nose into the wind.

sight seeing free fly...

Vinyard LZ.

As soon as the day was called, Manfred launched. I suited up, and after a SKETCHY Icaro launch, I was next. The Icaro incident was all wire crew error. The pilot was launching from the down tubes and not communicating to his crew. I had a south side launch. The Point of the Mountain has imparted a valuable skill set for high wind conditions.

Crime at the slack line...

I had an hour long sight see, taking photos and visiting towns along the range. Landed at home and had a sunny break down. Took a late lunch in town with the crew and spent the evening with vino rosso on the slack line. The slack line has been a new focal challenge. I'm digging it. Laid down @ 1.30.

Proper lunch...

Derreck preparing the BBQ...

Communal dinner...

Read More »

Day 2 - Sunday - Everyone has arrived and the vibe is social around the villa during the day. I took it easy making food, catching up on the computer, and visiting. The team popped a couple of celebratory bottles on our way to the opening reception.


We rolled to the Dominus where everyone congregated to drink and socialize. As we crossed the street to the hotel, the Columbians were hanging out the window, playing music on makeshift instruments. We ran up to their room. Daniel had a plastic kazoo keyboard, there were maracas, a couple of other noise makers, and a trash can as a drum. The beat was exceptional and we danced in the room. The South Americans are overflowing with fun.

90 minutes of drinks, food, lots of photos, and everyone staged in the street for the parade. We danced through town with cheering onlookers before stopping to stage the arrival into the main piazza. It was nice to feel important and walk as a representative of the states. Sigillo creates intense local support and hundreds of townspeople came out for the event. There were spotlights and speeches as we stood on the steps of the main square.

Once the dignitaries concluded, it was time for the show. A troup of artists went through a firework laden fantasy that was grounded in mythology. Lots of elaborate costume changes, actors on stilts, flying and dying myths, ghosts and angles. I appreciated the total lack of concern for safety as sparklers and torches lightly sprayed the crowd. Never in the states. We've lost that unsafe zest. Swinging torches and fire. It was an authentically cool show.

For the third night in a row, it was Pizza on the Piazza and Danielo's great food. A walk about town, and we went home to chat before crashing out. Fun event.

Day 3

In the morning at the mandatory pilot's meeting, they called the practice day and indeed, it's clouding up and the wind is high. I'll head home for leisure. Get rained on on a bucolic runabout.

Sigillo's dead folks.

Later - Shapiro and I ran to the castle where we ran into the caretaker as we circled the grounds. We politely started back the way we came and the caretaker waved us over. Thought he was going to be pissed we were lightly trespassing. (US conditioning) Instead - although we couldn't understand a word, he pantomimed directions and drew snakes in the dirt with his finger. There was a tractor trail up and over the hills, ending atop a ridge to run down back to the road.

I like the attitude - a landowner in the states would say, "Get off my land" and this guy was saying, "Come on, have an experience on this land and enjoy something new on your return." We made the right fork choices, it was better interval training than a treadmill could conjure, and ended up on a scenic ridge with views which was also perfectly downward graded for letting the legs fly. Sporadically cloud shaded rolling patchwork of varied crops.

Launch is the shoulder to the right of the highest peak.

It was hot and the 16kms. left us fatigued. The cool pool washed away the sweat, smell, and strain. The columbians came over and we told stories and tried the slack line in the garden for a couple of hours.

Dinner was next @... Pizza on the Piazza ! Four nights in a row - why change a good thing. Exceptional lasagna, etc. We hit the street and caught a ride 5k away to a makeshift disco at a gas station bar. It wasn't happening, so internet back in town and solo moonlight walk home.

Day 4

No flying today - too windy and unsettled. @ HQ internet-ing and will have a run later. Tonight we party at the castle - do you remember? I thought it fanciful last year:

Read More »

Presently St. Germain's soothing sounds are mixing with jolly Portuguese and a light night Italian breeze. The yellow moon just past full on the rise through the trees. Too much happens in quick succession to properly account. Quick synopsis so I can get back to the experience.

Packing assistant. Miss you man.

Thursday my sweet queen was nice enough to drive me to Denver and drop me at the airport. She was willing to turn around and come back so I could grab packing supplies when US Airways got agro about glider weight. It was 114lbs. and the check in counter supervisor was unwilling to budge. I even pulled him aside and used my most persuasive hush tones, but his mindset was locked.

Glider condom.

I was cordial as I placated by unpacking, removing, and repacking to conformity. The bag had to weigh less than 70... it was 69... The glider had to weigh less than 100... it was 98. It cost me another $150, 40 minutes, and some perspiration. Less enjoyable than sitting at the gate, but all well.

Travelers were talking about snow globes and tomato bisque soup, I was wondering if my life carrying device would get to Italia unscathed.

Getting abroad is a significant undertaking for most. Bringing a hang glider and accoutrements double the effort, and the politics of the world championships make the hassle exponential. More on that in a minute.

I walked up to Davis and Belinda at the baggage claim in Rome without the need to exchange texts. What a pleasure they are. They'd spent 48 hours in the same clothes, travel delays stateside. It was fortuitous for me - I'd have an easy ride to Sigillo.

The fashion around Fumicino airport is designer hot. Scores of dark, tastefully unshaven limo drivers in tailored suits held named placards and their position as I pushed through. Courtesy is minimal when you're lugging a glider through a busy terminal. A cordura bag in the ass or a shoulder in the side with no apologies. Once out in the bustling heat I noticed the women. Surely there must be a 24 hour disco within a stone's throw. Stiletto heels hovering smoothly over uneven concrete, curve alluring tight attire yielding a bit of bounce. Wish I'd brought a picnic to sit and watch the concupiscent smorgasbord before me.

Essential groove gear.

It was a bit of effort to get the glider to the rental car, and Davis let me take the second 1/2 of the drive to Sigillo - he and Belinda were exhausted. I was happy to get dropped in the dust outside the Alba Rosa gate and made my way to the garden. No one home except for a Brazillian or two. I pleasantly unpacked in the grassy shade catching up on life with my South American mates.


The glider seemed undamaged and as I finished assembly, Moikano said we should head into town to deal with sprog measuring. I threw on their van and we went to HQ. The BS regulations about helmets, glider certification, pitch stability systems, etc. is unprecedented and unwelcome. I'm conforming, getting the necessary check marks on my file, and distancing myself from the drama. It's unnecessary to take ourselves so seriously. Let's maximize the fun, have a fly, and use common sense to ensure someone doesn't kill themselves.

It's always great to see my ground averse brothers and sisters from all corners. We may not speak a word of each other's language, but a smile, hug, and some affirmative nodding communicates. Never met people who live more passionately.

Shapiro and I caught up til 2... Sleeping pill... Zzzzz....

Goddess Monte Cucco...

Day 1 - Wake, caffeine, registration, groceries, gear tweaking, up the mountain... Set up, call a teammate 30 mile task, launch...

Get altitude, pull a couple of G's - nothing falls apart - smile grows - let's go get some.

Three minutes later I'm going tip to tip with Shapiro as the ground goes away. I get on the radio quietly, "It's been a long time coming man." He replies, "Indeed, indeed." The main range has some punch, as I top out and take extra circles looking around Italy... Ranges with patchwork in between stretching in every direction. Close to the clouds - FU&K! I'm over ITALY! The view was incredible.

The glider is fine, I'm climbing ok - we take our practice start gate and dolphin fly 10 miles down range. Get high in a 1000fpm smooth ripper up to 7000ft. Time to cross the valley to the next turn point. The Gubbio ridge is smaller with less lift at the beginning. I stay within a 5 mile walk from our home. I have no phone, so I'm on my own for retrieve if I land out.

KAVU brings in the mafia fan club

I get lower and make the decision to stay in the Sigillo valley. Leave the crew to the task and burble back over Alba Rosa and take a tour of the Monte Cucco range. After two hours, I've had enough and head for home. I'm expecting rotor behind our villa, and rather than land on the other side of the road, why not slider ON the road? There's a car rumbling toward me as I dive on to final, and the guy nearly drives off the road when he sees me approach. I should have stared him down at 60mph, but I float 10ft. over the roof and slide to a stop on the ball bearing gravel. Lovely.

Breakdown paradise.

Walk the glider into the garden and pack up leisurely over a couple bottles of prosecco. Jeff and I motivate for a 5 mile run at twilight, bats flying in between us snatching bugs with unreal deft. Lightening bugs come out as we head home (wink) and the yellow moon rises over the hill. Constellations appear.

competition ships.

We head to Pizza on the Piazza just before 11pm and they're open and willing to serve us. A beer out of the bar on the street after midnight with Sigillo on a Saturday night. More catch up conversation on the walk home. 1am... sleeping pill... twinges of mate missing... Zzzz...

Airtime: 2:04. Flights: 1. Miles: 25.

Read More »

A dozen years ago I hiked a few fourteeners in Colorado and have wanted to hit a couple of the memorable ones again. I headed up Mt. Elbert 14,440 this morning - the highest peak in Colorado.

Mt. Elbert

3:35am - Wake up.
4:00am - Leave the house with breakfast and plenty of coffee.
5:30am - Start hiking.

Getting There.

The hike is 9 miles round trip which is pretty short, but 4700ft. of elevation gain. The trail was pretty crowded at the bottom and I worked past parties. As I got out of the forest above tree line, the sunny warm morning hit my left and the lingering cold night blew from the right.

Summit view south.

I was mostly solo up higher, except for a spectacled Texas boy picking up random rocks and, carrying them, then throwing them aside. "What's the rock collecting for?" I inquired as I passed. "Oh, I just pick up rocks I might trip on and move them out of the way," he replied. I gave him a look and then at our surroundings. We were hiking on a rock pile... Ain't gonna judge it, maybe it took his mind off the hike.

Stunning view west.

The last mile, the midnight hikers were descending and I was leading the pack of the day trippers, so I had the summit to myself for 25 minutes. I got there at 8am. Snapped a few photos and hid behind a rock pile in the lee with a snack. Really pretty. Finally a guy showed up and I walked toward him remarking, "I'll leave it to you." The macho man stood @ the summit yelling "WooHoo YEAHHH!" as I scrambled away.

Traveling with ski poles was key for the descent. I ran feeling like a quadruped settling into the breath and focusing on pole / foot placement. There was a tourist parade of opposing traffic strewn along the north ridge. I dispatched parties with one word greetings and sped past - too into the steps in front of me.

The obligatory self photo @ the summit.

I shuffled with fatigue the last mile past shiny front rangers late on the day with unknowing smiles. There were even two color coordinated mtn bikers on gleaming bikes grunting up the first stretch. Yay for naivete on inappropriate terrain, at least you look good. I pulled away from the parking lot @ 9:40am. The timing was good. Despite the crowd, I was able to avoid flow trends and get the mostly solo experience I was after.

Just a few feet lower, Mt. Massive just north of Elbert.

Read More »

Alex came up from Denver and we met Tom at the LZ. There were about a dozen paragliders that showed up as we set up atop the mountain.

no photos from today - so a few previous of a red tail named Bud.

Alex launched first and I punched off immediately after. There was ample lift over launch and we spent 10 minutes dive bombing all the PG pilots @ 65+ mph. Wicked fun.

Lift was lightly wicking and burbling off the ridge top and it was good practice tuning in and trying to maximize. Mostly it was 150fpm. I flew for a few with a richly colored red tail, it's primaries upswept and elegant. The bird was unfazed by our proximity, he just kept giving me pretentious looks as we turned together.

The evening evolved into a quintessential glass off to everyone's enjoyment. I started thinking about the feasibility of landing atop the mountain to avoid shuttling on the retrieve. Wind near launch was 12mph. I'd be landing on a 20 - 25% slope 45-90 degrees to the wind. After shooting a few mock approaches, I committed. Missed the flare window and the nose came over as I took a couple of steps. Not pretty, but it left me and the glider undamaged.

On the way down the mountain, I sheared off one of my front wheel shocks. The bottom of the shock lodged in and wheel assembly allowing me to continue driving in a compromised state. Somehow, the shock had wedged solidly enough to allow me to travel home. I'm waiting for the truck to be fixed now.

Good to have Alex up and good to meet / see other local pilots. Being able to land near launch in the right conditions makes things potentially more convenient.

Airtime: 2:00. Flights; 1. Max Alt - 11,200ft.

Read More »

Flying between Fronts

All photos courtesy of Dave Aldrich

I enjoyed driving underneath a short wave front with lightning and ominous-ness Thursday night on my way to Utah . Pulled up to the south side and passed out around 2am.

The “Dreaming Awake” crew: Dave Aldrich, Rod Clark, Jared Abrams, and Chris Collins had made the trip up from So. Cal. to hang for the weekend and they were on site @ 6am filming the sunrise. It was post frontal north, so we made the most of the morning with an interview and ancillary shots. and I’m appreciative there’s highly talented bros in the system willing to dedicate their time, talent, and enthusiasm to such a project.

Smiling despite not much sleep and no caffeine. HG's exciting regardless.

I rocked up to SLC and picked up Alex McCulloch fresh from annual airline pilot simulator testing. We got caught up over lunch and errands for the next few hours.

Mid-afternoon it was back to the north side to set up and wait for the evening breeze. The crew trickled in for what eventually turned into a quintessential north evening. Conditions were light after thermals waned and we thought we’d missed it. I got anxious and launched after Ryan Voight thinking the evening wouldn’t improve. We had a challenge benching up, but eventually things filled in enough to allow all present to get as much as they wanted.

Sweet sunset scene. Contentment after two hours of air.

I felt quite rusty during the evening session. Anything mildly aerobatic was poorly executed. It was good to get the practice. We broke down during a nice Wasatch sunset and headed for margaritas and dinner with the crew. Alex and I passed out @ the south side just before midnight.

I was sleepy-eyed Saturday morning as I set up the spectrum in the pre-dawn breeze. Light conditions built to solid wind by 8am. I set up the rocket ship as well and it was on all morning. Everyone got as much as they wanted.

Koz is awesome...

The Point is ever changing and there was more vegetation than I’ve ever seen on the lip of the ridge. It made sliders more interesting to avoid tweaking an ankle. The maneuver of the morning was Alex’s ground loop. He got rolled downwind after a landing and rather than turtle-ing over, he was picked up off the ground upside down as the glider pirouetted on the nose cone, turning around, depositing him nose into the wind back where he started. The wing was perfectly balanced as it went round, and you couldn’t repeat the move if you tried.

I took my last flights in turbulent conditions early afternoon. It had become typically mid-day rowdy, so we got a few last shots and headed out. Dave and I were going to check out the feasibility at Inspo., but mostly overcast skies coerced us into abandoning the plan.

We spent the afternoon resting and viewing footage captured from the morning. Ryan and Des hosted an BBQ and it was great to get to know the crew better and meet some new local pilots. All are life enthusiasts that were great to be around. The laughs lasted til midnight.

As I drove toward my camp spot at The Point, a wicked frontal boundary arrived with howling north winds. I stopped at the gas station and punched up the weather. The forecast had degraded to junk on Sunday, so I grabbed copious amounts of caffeine and turned toward Colorado . After 3 hours of front seat sleep, I was home before 10am.

The timing couldn’t have been better. We enjoyed friends at a wedding reception Sunday afternoon and spent the evening at a birthday celebration with the inhabitants of our exceptional neighborhood. It felt great to have an epic weekend and fall back into the comfort that surrounds home.

Airtime: 5:30. Flights: 20.

Read More »

It's been months since my last flight, but record snow pack has receded just enough at the local launch to enable access. Alex McCulloch rocked up from Denver and Lauri graciously offered to drive.

Wolcott Launch

Conditions were gusty on launch, but doable. Everything took a bit more time with the lapse in practice. The wind made launching easy, and ridge lift was ubiquitous. We went sight seeing in search of altitude.

Alex Launching

After drifting back and getting to almost 13k, we pushed up wind only to be thwarted by rotor on our way toward Eagle. Winds aloft were 30mph.

Beaver Creek


After one more ridge tour and getting a bit higher, we pushed upwind again, but winds had risen to 35mph at our altitude. The encroaching clouds were abnormal with wispy bottoms and undefined virga. Were they menacing? The high wind perpendicular to the valley and quickly building ominous clouds made it seem potentially menacing. It was time to make our way to land.

We both descended through some significant rocky mountain texture to reasonable landings. It was great to shake off the long hiatus with a close bro.

Airtime: 1:40. Max. Alt: 13,300ft. Flights: 1.

Read More »

6 inches overnight = 9am "lunch break" on Friday:

Read More »

Skiing on the fringe...

Dramatic weather yesterday. I took the dog out for a walk @ 6:45 in a still winter wonderland. 2" had fallen overnight and it was temperate with flurries. By 7:15 the sky was puking snow and it made for the worst commute of the year.

From 8-11am it was 3 inch an hour snow here at work. I absently listened to meetings while it accumulated outside. I got caught up just in time for lunch and headed out with my brother-in-law Reid.

If you want to truly exploit a powder day, you've got to follow a local to the fringes of the resort. The places slightly out of bounds where you can still traverse back if you don't get too greedy. :) Reid took me there.

These are the places tourists never see. The places just a few hundred people know about and maybe less than ten exploit on the right day. It's magic when you happen on a glade or chute no one has touched.

You see the line between the trees and beyond? We had three runs in this vicinity. Yipping and hooting as we took turns between meandering traverses to more fresh. By 2pm the snow had subsided and I was back at my desk with tingling cheeks and a wide smile.

Read More »

 Search Input