|Let's face it. The hang gliding community
is aging. When I got into the sport in 1973 I was 22, and an unmarried,
foot-loose, fancy-free college student. I'm 45 now, and work and family
commitments have taken their toll on my flying, as I'm sure they have for
Flying high-performance gliders, especially in
turbulent midday conditions, is demanding. The pilot needs to be
current, and the gliders are heavy, time consuming and inconvenient to
set up, often difficult to land, and not so reassuring in gnarly thermals.
They are also expensive. Add these disincentives to the above-mentioned
demands on one's time, and the result is likely to be a lot less flying.
Ken de Russy, who has been involved in the sport
for as long as I can remember, recently commented to me, "Hang gliding
is evolving itself out of existence." He then talked about the "hang
gliding culture" and how it pressures pilots (directly or inadvertently)
into flying higher, faster and farther on higher- and higher-performance
gliders. The result: fewer people getting into the sport and more
dropping out. Ken now teaches paragliding exclusively.
Enter the Wills Wing Falcon. It's light,
a breeze to set up, phenomenally easy to fly, reassuring in turbulence
and a piece of cake to land. And it costs half what a blade wing
does. I really believe that if the "culture" can be changed,
gliders like the Falcon may be instrumental in creating a hang gliding
Setting up the Falcon is a breeze. Assemble
the control bar at the corner bracket with a bolt, wingnut and safety.
(The Wills folding basetube is an option.) Set the glider on the control
bar, spread the wings (if the bridles are left attached this raises the
kingpost), and stuff seven battens per side. It's nice not having
to lacerate one's fingers when tensioning the batten strings. Tension
the crossbar by pulling back the sweep wire and drop the keyhole tang
into place at the rear of the keel. Install the washout tips and
attach the front wires at the nose with another keyhole tang. Push
the nose batten into place and you're done.
I expect that this whole procedure should take
no more than four or five minutes with a little practice. Rob Kells
claims that he can set one up in two minutes.
A GREAT DAY OF FLYING
I recently had a chance to fly both the 195 and
225 Falcon at Marshall Peak near Crestline, California. (The Falcon is
also available in 140 and 170 sizes.) It was a great day. USHGA
Executive Director Phil Bachman was in town and flew tandem in both a
paraglider and a Falcon with instructor extraordinaire Rob McKenzie.
Roy Haggard and Larry Tudor also showed up to fly.
My first flight was in midday thermal conditions
in a 195 Falcon. After a few steps I was in the air searching for
some lift to climb out over Marshall and hopefully thermal back to Crestline.
I immediately noticed how easy it was to turn the glider. I hadn't
flown an entry-level glider in many years, and I'd forgotten what a joy
it is to drive around the sky in a glider that quickly responds to control
input with practically no physical effort or lag time. Turns coordinated
easily and the glider was very easy to thermal. The slow-flight
capability of the wing and the quick response, even at those low speeds,
enabled me to really milk the lift for all it was worth.
In no time I was above launch and the lift was
booming. I soon gained more than 3,000 feet over Marshall, with
my trusty (namesake) Gilbert Roberts' bread-pan vario frequently pegging
at 1,000 fpm. Even after a significant hiatus from flying, at no
time did I feel uncomfortable in the turbulence. Later, both Mike
Meier and Rob Kells agreed that the thermal turbulence that day was an
eight on a scale of ten. I can only assume that the glider's stability,
controllability, damping and aeroelasticity soaked up the bumps. (By the
way, Rob commented that if hang gliding were nothing more than flying
high-performance gliders in midday convection he'd probably lose interest.)
With all that altitude I decided to see what the
glider would do with the bar at my knees. It was nice to discover
that, unlike the Super Sport, there was no tendency for the wing to oscillate
at high speeds, and I was able to fly straight and true even in the bumpy
air. The glider seemed to be flying quite fast, and although I didn't
have an airspeed indicator, I'll bet I was getting in excess of 45 mph
with my 220-pound hook-in weight in the 195. Bar pressure at speed
is substantial enough to be reassuring, but not fatiguing. I was
surprised at how well the single-surface sail held up at these bar-stuffed
speeds. Although it wrinkled and fluttered slightly, it didn't turn
into a flag.
As should be expected from a single-surface design,
the glider comes down fast when flown at its top end. Pulling the
bar to my knees, I was able to get my vario to read nearly 800 fpm down.
However, in my opinion, the glider penetrates well enough and gets a good
enough L/D at normal cruising speeds that a pilot should be able to do
93.785% of the stuff he does in a high-performance glider on a typical
day of recreational flying.
I had no problem gaining 3,000 feet of altitude
in (so they say) turbulent lift - in short order. In fact, it would
probably have taken longer in a high-performance ship since I wouldn't
have been able to core as tightly. I was able to cruise the mountain
range and fly back out, just as I have done multitudinous times in higher-performance
gliders at this site. It just took a little longer.
The Marshall/Crestline LZ looks big from the ground,
but from the air it appears to shrink significantly, and you don't want
to overshoot or you'll be sorry. It's also known for its nasty midday
thermal activity. After bleeding off copious altitude I set up a
standard downwind, base and final approach, adjusting my turns as I would
in a blade wing to make sure that I judged the wind direction and gradient
properly, with room for error. At this point the ability to make
the glider sink by pulling in the bar was a pleasant surprise. My
instincts, developed over the years by flying much higher-performance
wings, were telling me to approach somewhat short, in anticipation of
bleeding off the energy stored in the glider after diving through the
gradient, and riding out the ground effect.
It was so easy! I just floated in and flared.
It was like stepping off a chair. Landing the 225 was like stepping
off a curb.
It's too bad the name "Super Floater"
is already in use, since that perfectly describes this glider. Interestingly,
on my second flight of the day in a 225 I was joined by Phil Bachman who
was flying tandem with Rob McKenzie in another Falcon 225. I launched
first and had to hang out in the ridge and weak thermal lift for nearly
half an hour waiting for them to get ready. Soon they join me in
the relatively smooth late-afternoon air. It was great fun cruising
around in the sky with USHGA's illustrious Executive Director.
At the end of the flight, as I was homing in for
a landing, I had the opportunity to fly for about 10 minutes with a bird
- nearly wing tip to wing tip. Our airspeeds were nearly identical.
I have done this a number of times in the past, but this experience reminded
me of what hang gliding is all about: the realization of man's age-old
dream of flying like the birds. I was flying like a bird, with a
bird. (I don't know my birds very well. Maybe it was a falcon.)
The Falcon owner's manual is superb. I expect
that it was written by Mike Meier, who is a clever fellow with an excellent
command of the English language (although he still needs to learn about
hyphenating two words that combine to form an adjective which precedes
the modified noun).
The manual is thorough and comprehensive, and includes
information on setup, maintenance, flying and landing, tuning, using the
wing tufts, speeds to fly and using an airspeed indicator, transport,
and the glider's certification. It's packed with useful information.
At the end there are exploded views of all the glider components with
part numbers and specs. It's amazing how many parts there are even
in such a "simple" wing.
Information about Wills Wing products is also available
from their Web site. Check it out at http://www.willswing.com.
I highly recommend the Falcon to anyone who is
just getting into the sport of hang gliding. I would also suggest
that it might make a nice second glider for experienced pilots who want
the convenience, ease of setup, and reassuring flight and landing characteristics
that this glider has to offer. I also believe that the Falcon would
be an excellent choice for paraglider pilots who would like to get a taste
of their sister sport.
Finally, for those who don't fly as often as they
used to, or those who have dropped out of the sport altogether because
of the hassles inherent in flying high-performance gliders, life's demands
and commitments, or the inability to stay current, the Falcon might just
be the ticket to get you back in the air.
12 November, 2001