Doric Dangle Over Florida
Copyright © 1998 SHPF
Aberdeen hang glider pilot, Ian Smith, provides a guide on how to spend a fortune in the USA, and get as little flying done as possible.
The Hook: Talking to Graham Malone in France last year about his experiences at Floridas Wallaby Hang Gliding Ranch, reading the article he wrote for "Skywings" and talking to John Fennell who has also been there. All of this told us that almost every day at the Ranch was flyable and made it look like a good place for a pre start of season flying holiday.
The Line: The main men at the ranch are a couple of guys called Malcom Jones and Dave Glover. The night we arrived we had a chat with Dave and he told us that they'd just had a bunch of guys from the Isle of Man over the previous week who'd had some great flying. When Dave learned we would be there for two weeks he said to us "If you guys are here for two weeks, you're going to fly your cocks off!"
The Sinker: For the next week the wind howled or the rain poured and we managed nothing more than a couple of top to bottoms. Our cocks remained firmly in place.
The weather did improve a bit the second week we were there, allowing several scratch’n'plummet type flights plus a couple of good days when everyone flew for a few hours (Dave flew for five hours or so the day before we left, doubling his total airtime for the holiday).
We did fly a number of different gliders while we were over there, hiring gliders at the Ranch rather than taking our own. These are my impressions of the ones I flew:
The Wills Wing Falcon: This is Wills Wings Beginner/Intermediate machine. It's basically 195 square feet of paraglider emulator. Easy to fly, easy to land and about as fast as a paralysed snail. I could fly it at 12mph on Bob’s A.S.I without stalling!
The Moyes XS3: This is the Moyes machine that immediately preceded the Xtralite. You hardly ever see them in the U.K so there's not much point in waxing lyrical here. Suffice to say that we all agreed it was easy to land, not particularly fast (about the same as a Kiss or Rumour1) and opinion was divided on the handling. Bob and I liked it whereas Dave, who was flying an older XS1, was undecided about its thermalling characteristics.
The Moyes Xtralite: Now for sale (finally) in the UK, this is obviously a direct descendant of the XS3. Both gliders have the characteristic Moyes bendy tips (plug in fibre glass wands that make up the last 3 feet or so of the leading edge). This means that the gliders standard packed length is at about 3 feet shorter than most, so it will easily fit in any size of garage or lockup. Landing characteristics were pretty mellow, much like the XS3. Handling was good, although not leaps and bounds lighter than anything else on the market as the publicity blurb would have you believe. Pitch pressure was reasonably light and the glider seemed pretty fast. All round a nice machine. Beware however as only certain sizes of XS3 and Xtralite will lie flat with the tension on - i.e they can't all be rigged lying flat in the normal British manner. The 147 Xtralite for example will not lie flat while the tension is on, whereas the 137 apparently will. If you try and lie the 147 flat while it's tensioned the bottom rigging side wires come tight while the keel is still several inches off the ground. According to Malcolm Jones if you try and force the keel to the ground at this point you can damage the cross tube. This in my book makes the thing no use at all for flying by yourself in Scotland where it's almost always windy.
The Wills Wing Ram Air: This thing is pretty fuckin’ weird. Base bar permanently attached and hinged in the centre with a locking sleeve. A tensioner that attaches at the nose rather than on the keel. An "A" frame that slides down the keel on a track when you pull the tensioner on. All of these are minor things compared to how the thing flies! Roll response is on a par with most other performance gliders. Pitch pressure with the V.B off is on a par with the Rumour 2 or 3. Pitch pressure with the V.B on and flying at between "medium fast" and "fast as fuck" speeds is simply non existent. I felt that if I was to let go of the bar while flying fast it would just disappear behind me in the slipstream! This incredibly light pitch pressure at high speed combined with the fact that the wing is as solid as a rock even at speeds over 60mph - far more solid than the Rumour 3 or K4 - makes this glider feel like a real rocket. The downside of this mega light pitch pressure and not much feedback is that its quite hard to coordinate the turns when you're working the rough stuff. I guess this might come with practice though, I only flew the thing for 2 hours so I can't really say. The glider has quite a sharply defined stall but despite this lands as easily as most things, although its not as forgiving as the XS3 or Xtralite in this department.
Verdict on the gliders: Although both the Xtralite and the Ram Air are definitely better gliders than my old Kiss I don't think either is three and a half grand better. There and again I'm a tight git.
Verdict on the Aerotowing: Aerotowing behind the Moyes 3-axis Dragonfly tug at 30mph is a piece of piss and presents no problems whatsoever. In all the time we were there nobody locked out or had a weak link break. This compares very favourably with aerotowing behind weight shift microlights in Hungary a few years ago when Sandy nearly flew into the back of the tug, causing the tow line to foul his reserve chute container and accidentally deploy his chute. Weak link breaks were common on the Hungary trip! The slow Moyes 3-axis tug certainly seems a superior system.
Verdict on Florida: Nice Alligators, Shame about the flying. Actually if you're a breeder with lots of rug rats and the little bastards want to go to DisneyWorld or SeaWorld or WankerWorld or whatever, then this would be a great place to take the family under the excuse of "A Family Holiday". Then while your spouse takes the kids to see Mickey Mouse you sneak off to the Ranch for some crafty soaring! The setup at the Ranch is ideal for this; you can hire absolutely everything, glider, harness, vario etc.
However to go over for a week or two just to fly if you don't want to do the tourist stuff is risky because while the weather is (allegedly) generally good it is far from guaranteed and Florida ain't a cheap place to get to. Between the three of us we must have spent five grand in two weeks and logged less than ten hours airtime each. That's almost two hundred quid per hours flying! Hell, the Russians would give you a shot in a MIG-29 for that sort of money. In fact, they'd probably throw in a bombing run on the Kremlin as well!
Hmm, now there's an idea for the next excursion..........
Author: Ian Smith (Aberdeen)
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