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Author: Jeff Shapiro Created: 5/13/2009 2:59 PM
Jeff Shapiro is a renaissance man who's spent quite a bit of his existence at height. Jeff learned to fly hang gliders at 17 and he's been flying for 17. He's a falconer who trains raptors to hunt the mountains near his Montana home. He's climbed at or near the hardest ratings on rock, ice, and mixed terrain with many first ascents and repeats of routes in the Alaska Range, Glacier Park, and Yosemite.

Photo of the "Lady of the Rockies"- Don Lepinsky

Yesterday, I traveled with Karl over to the East Ridge site. It overlooks Butte, Montana and I was stoked because this would be the first time I was to fly "the Lady". The ridge line that the launch ramp is on is the home of a large statue of Mother Mary. Kind of reminds me of the Christ in Rio.

Don climbing in front of "The Lady"

Launch is at just barely under 8,000' and has a 12 mile jump over road less, tree covered mountains to get over the back. Once this is done however, the flight travels over beautiful valleys and several other rugged mountain ranges with lots of landing options and big skies.


Don getting up over Elk Park

about half way across the first jump

Don getting to the first of the landing options and a beautiful Delmo Lake

It was a strange day with east winds on the ground, north cycles on launch, south winds in the valleys and almost straight west above 11,000'. The thermals started out quite turbulent but after getting 20 or 30 miles over the back, they smoothed out and the only reason to not be relaxed was the extremely low temps above 12,000'. Base was around 13,500 and it felt like it was about 10F up there. My fingers have still not completely thawed;-) I ended up landing 97 ks out, just shy of Bozeman, right next to I-90. It was a fun flight capped by Karl being right below me in the truck when I had to land, making the retrieve pretty brainless. Nothing like having a H-5 pilot chasing. Thanks Karl.

across the Bulls & heading for the Bozeman Valley

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I took a break today from building all of the components that go into the Covert to take advantage of a slight improvement of the weather. It has been cold and raining every day since we returned from California and when the sky broke open today, the mountain was calling.

Karl Hallman

I called Karl and even though it was blowing pretty hard and in a tough direction for our local site, we were both pretty keen. It was great to meet up with Karl, throw on and head up the hill efficiently. Karl is a very experienced mountain pilot and I always appreciate flying with him. No issues, no worries, no drama.....just free flying with a good friend and a good pilot.

climbing out over Sentinel's launch

We arrived on top less than 45 mins after I left my house and decided to set up. It was blowing pretty hard at times but we both felt it would be acceptable. The direction had changed to be more favorable and it was looking like we might get high. I put on extra clothes (which would prove to be barely enough;-)

looking down the Bitterroot Valley

A one or two step launch and we found the wind had smoothed out the thermals. We went up immediately to 9k' over Missoula in nice thermals. The thermals had enough "meat" to them to block a lot of the wind which kept the drift reasonable. It was blowing 22-25 up high and we raced around for 1.5hrs until the sky started to look threatening. We had to land in a Southwest which is sporty here. The turbulence coming into the field caused me to focus but in the end we both ended up laughing and super happy that we had the fortune to have the flight work out as well as it had. It was improbable but sometimes, those end up being the best ones.

looking east toward our standard XC route, up the infamous Patomic Valley

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Kara and I drove down to Wills Wing toward the end of last week to get a large supply of harness components cut. It is great to continue the learning process and I must say, after cutting several harnesses by hand, operating the cutter and being mesmerized by how fast and accurate it accomplishes the same task that takes me 20 times longer is a good start to getting new harnesses to pilots efficiently.

It was, as always, great to see the whole crew and although OB had to make it a quick trip, Zippy and Erin drove down for a flight on Saturday. The skies above Marshall and Crestline were full of clouds with reliable lift everywhere. Late in the flight, Jonny D and Craig showed up to test fly a couple of Lightspeeds. Always a better trip when I get to see those guys.

Kara and I stopped by the LZ on the way out of town and I got to squeak another quick flight in before the long drive back to Montucky. Bummer was that I didn't have a camera with me because as the clouds built into the evening, the wind picked up and I was able to soar up in front of the cloud line and get above base. It was beautiful looking back at dark mountains under a sun lit cloud bank. Being above cloud base in a hang glider always feels pretty special.

Back to work;-) I should have some harnesses, etc. to post on soon.

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Big weekend here in Missoula for the Nature Propelled tour. As some might know, Nature propelled is a movie that was made by Seth Warren, with the support of great companies like KAVU, KEEN and Cliffbar to promote alternative energy by following the complete cycle of water as it flows from the ocean to the clouds, to the mountains in the form of snow and rain, into the rivers and tributaries after melting and eventually, back to the ocean. Along the way, he filmed athletes enjoying their passion in each of those elements and Jeff and I were lucky enough to participate in the "clouds" portion by flying and filming in our gliders.
The tour is a beginning of the next project to promote outdoor wilderness access. It's great to have guys like Seth and companies like KAVU, KEEN and Cliffbar fighting for us all to have the opportunity to share our planet with our kids and to do it in clean oceans and skies.

Local fest is a huge annual event in Missoula with thousands of people coming down to a large outdoor venue in the middle of town. There was a kayak competition (rodeo) going on at the man made wave in the Clark fork river that happens to run through down town Missoula and is basically connected to the park where the party was happening. KAVU, KEEN and cliffbar, along with several local venders, had booths set up. There was live music and good food galore. It was great to see all the folks involved with each of the companies. Kara and I were lucky to have Shawn Carkonen (from KAVU) and his beautiful family stay at the house while they were in town. Previously, we had talked about maybe doing a tandem some day and on their last morning here, we were finally able to get off the hill together. He mentioned that it was like a dream (the one we all live for;-) and was smiling from the time we left the ground until he and his wife and two kiddos hit the road. It's always great to see the faces of tandem passengers after a good flight. Really hits home how lucky we are to get to do what we do.

Good times. Stay tuned for the next film and for the tour to come to an area near you. If it does, head down and say hey to the folks out there fighting the good fight.

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Upon return from the Florida comps, my first order of business was to finalize the transformation of the ground floor of my house into a work space adequate for building production harnesses. I have been unable to roll out bolts of fabric on my sewing table because of the spacing between the machines and lights. With fairly large (or more accurately long) patterns, this has always been a pain and time drain.

We have one more "guest room" attached to the sewing shop down stairs that until now had been filled with boxes and furniture from the rest of the space now occupied by sewing equipment, material and hardware. My first job was to empty it out and to build a table dedicated for tracing and cutting along with some storage to keep the various harness components off the ground.

Now that it's done, finally getting customer orders organized to figure out who the first run will be built for is pretty exciting. I am going to try to work out a few loose ends today after teaching a quick lesson at the training hill and should be ready to start by finishing Zippy's harness. Here we go;-)

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If anyone has been following, OB, Dustin, Zippy and I (along with pilots and friends from all over the world) are here in Florida competing in the Rob Kells Memorial comp at the Florida Ridge and the Flytec Race and Rally, which will attempt to cover the distance between southern Florida and northern Georgia. We just finished up the Kells comp and started the Rally today.
There was a storm front on the horizon when we woke up this morning and I think most were not convinced that we were actually going to get to fly a task. By noon, we realized that, although it was far from ideal flying conditions, it was safe and we tried to complete a short run north(about 68k's I think) to Lake Okachobee.
It was gray with cumulus clouds popping low under a layer of alto cumulus making it feel kind of dark. The wind was fairly strong up high and the lift was topping out at only around 3,000'. This created a small margin for error for pilots trying to stay in the air.
I got a nice tow but had trouble not getting blown out of the start circle. I, along with others, took a late start blowing down wind (actually it was crossing from the left) low, hoping that we would find usable lift down coarse a bit. After a couple of weak and broken climbs, I found myself low enough to start thinking about the swamp and unlandable terrain drifting fast under me. I flew, groveling in uncohesive lift for another 5 or so killometers before having to land on the only dry patch of ground under me.
It's funny, it's such an illusion how close you think you are to a road from the air in the last moments of a flight. I have had this same experience in the desert where, I think I'm landing right next to a road only to find a 30 minute walk to get to it. Today was one of those days.....but with some adventure.
The grass that I thought was surrounding the "mound" I landed on was actually shin deep swamp. I resigned to the warm, sulfer smelling swamp water saturating my flying shoes while walking out with my harness. The water started getting deeper until I was leaning forward in waist deep swamp just to keep the bottom of my harness bag out of the water. I got about half way across the 100' of deep and was startled by a violent splash 30 yards to my left. I had been so pissed off about landing and having to trudge through a purulent swamp that I didn't realize I was walking though the home of an eight to ten foot aligator.
I have had this feeling before when I saw a mountain lion while bow hunting in the mountains of Montana and it's a stark realization that we as humans are, at times, far from the top of the food chain. Lukily, this monster was likely more scared of me than I of it and instead of submerging to hide from me (which would be normal I think), it ran into a shallow and laid there with most of it's back exposed and it's head pointed away from me (although I could tell he had an eye on me;-)
I tried to calmly walk through the deepest part, eyes plastered to the gator, and cleared the area, laughing at what had just happened. Then, realizing that I had to go back to get my glider, I stopped laughing. How was I going to shoulder my wing and cross this spot with this monster hanging out? Maybe he wouldn't be so tolerant next time. I dropped my harness by the highway and committed. Luckily, when I got back to the same spot (this was a mandatory crossing by the way), the gator was still in the same spot. I figured that as long as I could see it, I would carefully attempt the crossing. If it was gone, I would assume it was under water and try to figure out another plan.
It didn't move on the way across but looked nervous when I picked up my glider which was only about 20 or so yards from where it was now laying. I carefully and slowly walked around to the same place I had crossed before. I must admit, when I was half way across with a 70 lb glider on my shoulder, standing in waist deep water with mud and swamp grass sucking my feet into the bottom, I was scared like a little girl as the gator started to move. Fortunately, it stopped with it's side facing me and I continued until I was clear of the deep water. Relieved, I started to laugh again but it was now different. There are not too many days in my life that I have flown a hang glider in cloudy, windy skies to land with an alligator. I've landed with Emu, Camels and some big, mean looking bulls but never a large reptile like this one. Pretty wild day. Certainly, a flight I will remember;-)
So, tomorrow's another day. Hopefully, the front will pass and we will get another chance to race hard and another chance for me to make up some lost ground after my short flight today. Maybe I can even stay off the menu for the locals;-)

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After almost a year of work, I finally got to fly one of the new WW harnesses. I can't explain how satisfying it was to pin off and zip up for the first time on a nice Florida day after so much work. Fillipo (from the Italian gold medal team) was here and it was such a pleasure to race around on a new sail, in my new harness with him and the others here at Quest.

This project has been so rewarding in so many ways. It has been a true collaboration with some of the people that I have the most respect for in this industry and sport. Objectively and unarguably, Steve Pearson is one of the most experienced and successful designers of hang gliders and hang gliding equipment in the history of our sport. Many don't know but he was the first to do many things relating to harnesses (first cocoon in production, first side mount parachute, etc.) and it's been not just helpful but absolutely necessary for success to have him working with me on this project. Steve and I (along with input from Dustin, Mike and Jeff) came up with what we thought was a good shape as a starting point. Over the months of development, Steve was patient enough to help me understand pattern development, teach me how to use the latest in 3d shapes CAD software and help me to develop some skills necessary to change the patterns to adjust for fit. His experience and expertise were also required to translating what we wanted for components into tangible parts by using the CNC machine and other resources at WW to make our designs reality. Without his involvement, it would have taken me 5-10 years to get to the same place in shape and pattern and it would have been impossible to achieve the same level of component design involved with this harness.

Dustin has been equally important in the product that pilots will receive. For pilots that know him, most are familiar with his scrutiny and "Drag Nazi" tendencies. Believe me when I say, his critical opinion was, and continues to be, necessary to produce what I think people want in a clean comp harness. His motivation to make the best back plate in the world is astounding. He has been working 15 hour days to come up with a lay up and process to achieve the strongest and most durable result possible. He is using ski core technology and believe me when I say, you can stand on top of his back plate and jump up and down on it without it so much as flexing. I am really looking forward to it's test results to be represented by hard numbers after Demo Days. I have a strong suspicion that it will exceed our expectations.

When I arrived at Wills Wing before the drive to Florida, Mike and I had a conversation that made me feel so incredibly lucky to have him support this venture as well. His experience and expertise in establishing industry safety standards for hang gliding have contributed to our sport over the years in a lasting and impacting way. When he mentioned that he wanted to come up with a series of tests and procedures to create a rigorous certification standard for harnesses based on testable structural results, my eyes lit up. I love the idea that we can create a quantifiable test of the structural limitations of the harnesses that we produce. With his level of understanding and execution, it will do nothing but drive the product design to the highest level. I can't wait to start the testing process.

As for my part, I am committed to producing harnesses for pilots needs that fit their expectations based on their flying styles and to the customer service that is helpful both for the customer (pilots) and to me to insure that the folks ordering harnesses get exactly what they want in fit and function. Essentially, the difference in race, comp and XC models will only differ in boot style and choice of options. The construction, attention to detail and overall look of the harness (and certainly customer service) will be vertually the same in most ways.

I have spent a lot of time researching textiles to achieve the balance of all that is required of the material in the place that it is used. For instance, the outer shell material has to be the blend of durability and abrasion resistance along with the correct amount of elasticity to achieve a skin tension that translates the least chance for wrinkles (even with a correct pattern). I feel that things like using a Polyether Polyurethane for the boot area (a thicker version of what is used to build white water rafts and is designed to bounce off rocks) is a huge improvemnt in durability over leather. Coming from a climbing back ground, it is extrememly important to me to balance the duriblity factor with the asthetics and function in a way that those of us passionate about hang gliding will appreciate. I am going to be flying this harness too and want to feel good about what I'm flying in as well as representing.

I wanted to basically say thanks to those involved. I will be taking in air photos to post as soon as the weather improves on Tuesday or Wednesday for pilots to get a better detailed look at the improvements made from the prototype Dustin was flying in the photos on the OZ report. We should be able to start taking orders and will have a sizing and ordering page up on the web site shortly after the Florida Comps are over. During the time between now and then will allow for us to accomplish the load testing and to make whatever necessary changes are required to finalize the harness and ready it for delivery to interested pilots.

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The last week has been exciting for me. I finished the final prototype of the Wills Wing "Covert" before starting to build 4 team harnesses signifying the "pre-release production phase".

This being the first that will be flown, I felt pretty strong satisfaction boxing it up and shipping it off to Florida to get some much appreciated feed back from Dustin. It's too snowy to access any of the flying sites here in Missoula so it was a huge benefit to have someone, who's opinion I respect, ready and willing to test it out for me. I decided to simplify the overall package to make for clean lines while retaining the same chute deployment layout and structure. I was pleased with the understated result and based on the finished proto, am looking forward to building the harness that I'll race on this season.

Dustin has the lay up dialed for the back plate and the boot. Apparently, the back plate is strong enough to kill a donkey with. He said this morning, "I could drive up onto this thing with my car to change the transmission". Sounds pretty freakin strong. It will be nice to not have to worry about mid loop carbon failures on the back plate! Believe me;-)

I will have at least a couple finished to see, hands on, at Demo Days later this month and plan to be ready to take orders and measurements during the event. I'm really excited to start building custom harnesses for pilots around the world and am happy with where we are at in the progression toward achieving that goal. I will make sure to post "in air" photos as soon as Dustin is able to get some.

On a bit of a whim, I took Saturday off to go and "celebrate" a little. Haven't been doing much in the way of exercise lately so when my friends, Jim and Lori Chase, called to see if I wanted to go run the "SnoJoke 1/2 marathon" with them, I said, why not. It's an annual winter event that makes a lap around the scenic Seeley Lake here in western Montana. Not a real long one, but over 500 people showed up and it was cool to have good conversation with new people while running in a beautiful place. There was less snow and ice on the course than most years so it ended up being really pleasant and a great way to enjoy the afternoon.

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Just got done knifing out the new set of patterns. I have hopes this will be basically a production model. Getting them drawn, plotted, cut out and marked up has been really fun but I'm keen to start sewing. I should be able to get a harness in the mail soon for Dustin to test fly for a few days and then on to Pearson and Mitch (for his opinion on the d-bag). After hearing what the boys have to say, I plan on making the last little tweaks before the release of the product at Demo Days.

Nya swinging in the climbing cave while Dad was going mental cutting out patterns

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Just sitting here in the Kingsford Smith departure terminal after another amazing adventure flying in OZ. It's hard to even know where to start after so much has happened. I didn't have reliable net access so I'm the entire trip behind but this comp has been another life highlight, for sure. Another problem (or excuse) causing for a lack of posts was that my camera shorted after getting submerged during a violent and wet storm on day 3 so I have next to no photos from the trip, just good memories.

I arrived on the 31st and met up with friends from around the world to bring in the new year and to celebrate being in a beautiful place for another comp to remember. When ever I think of racing my hang glider in Forbes, strong climbs, fast glides and long tasks are the dominating thoughts. The temps were forecast to be hot (up to 111 F) and that only meant one thing for sure, we were going to get what we came for.

Days were saturated with the tasks at hand. We would wake early to stretch off the previous days aches and pains and try to get loaded up on fluids and fuel before racing into town for the briefing. The paddock was nice a green this year so towing, although active and strong at times, was quite pleasant. The best part of Forbes is the professionalism displayed by the organizers from the Moyes family and pilots. The field is so strong and racing with the top pilots that seem to show up each year makes becoming a better pilot a tangible opportunity.

I was rusty and anxious on the first day of the comp and ended up on the deck. Because flying fast down a course line is so confidence based it was not a good way to start off. After shaking some of the cobb webbs off I started to feel the rhythm and began to feel stronger and more in phase as the days rolled on. Flying is very perspective based. I heard an analogy once that seems applicable. When you drive down the road and look out the window at a stand of trees whizzing by, from one point of view they look like a thick and randomly spaced "mess" of trees. But, if viewed from the right place, you are able to see deep into the forest realizing that the trees are planted in perfect rows, all lining up perfectly. Sometimes, my perspective in a comp just needs a little adjustment to have things line up for a more clear picture.

One of the highlights of the trip was a barn burner, 112 mile out and return with up to a 25k head wind on the return. Zippy and I took the 3rd start because we seemed to be out of phase for the first two, which added an hour to our airtime before even getting started. It felt so good to be that tired after a 6.5 hour flight, standing next to the car right where we had left it earlier that morning. Watching the sun set that evening brought back memories when OB and I had a very similar flight a few years ago. The strong feeling of satisfaction after such a difficult task was a stark reminder that we are so lucky to get to do what we do.

The comp ended and the party was good. I got to see Curt and Lou for my last night in Sydney and was lucky enough to see a photo of their newest family member when they returned from Lou's ultrasound this morning. Good flying, great weather and even better friends. Life is good

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