KNOXVILLE, TENN. — This edition of "Product Lines" comes to you from the combined convention of the Soaring Society of America, USHGA, US Ultralight Association, and the International Aerobatic Club. Signs showed the general public how to enter, referring to the event simply as "Air Expo 99." ••• Thanks to outstanding preparatory work by Yoo-shga Executive Director, Phil Bachman, the event generated a large amount of TV, radio and newspaper attention. At least two live broadcasts occurred from the convention floor, all three major network affiliates gave coverage, and the ABC affiliate Channel 6 repeatedly used the daily theme "Flying High Week" leading up to the convention. Radio station 98.7 gave a steady series of ads to get their place on the radio dial printed on convention badges. I’m not aware of this sort of market media saturation since all the Chattanooga TV affiliates and newspapers fawned over American Cup pilots back in the 1970s. • One result: over 2,000 members of the general public showed up and forked over $5 each to see the show. Though the SSA has run their convention at least back to the 1970s they’ve never before tried to solicit the public, making this year’s non-pilot attendance count very exciting. Who knows what could happen in the years ahead! • Hang gliding displays and vendors increased several times over last year’s Oregon convention. I spoke to many vendors and most expressed delight at their participation. US Aeros, Lookout Mountain, Paul Hamilton (the video king) and USHGA’s merchandise czar, John Halloran, all said sales were substantial. It was good enough that the new president of Balloon Federation expressed a strong conviction that his group will participate in the next event in Albuquerque, New Mexico in early 2000. • Two full days of interesting speakers were assembled to entertain the USHGA membership which resides within a reasonable drive of Knoxville (all had been invited). • Pilots seemed to love it, too. This year’s event grew nicely and many HG/PG enthusiasts expressed excitement about Air Expo becoming a sizable function that can draw larger and larger numbers of present enthusiasts as well as the general public. Lots of old friends got together; personally, I ran into a few flying buddies I hadn’t seen for years. • Gee, there’s more, but it’ll have to wait until a subsequent issue when an article and photos should appear. ••• Meanwhile, on to product news… Rigid wing fever continues to rage. After the Exxtacy paved the way with its trail-blazing design, followers came, but more amazing to me is the "second generation" of design. Felix Rühle has introduced his new ATOS to quite a buzz of its own and I find this significant. Though Manta’s Fledgling from the 1970s did go through a couple generations of its own, I don’t recall the changes being anticipated so broadly. In those days, flexwings were ascendant, improving rapidly with each passing season. Rigid wings never caught on like today. • In recent editions of this column, I’ve reported Moyes America’s import of the refined Ixbo and I’ve announced the coming of Aeros’ yet-unnamed rigid entry as well as the coming and passing of Icaro’s Lumina. Naturally Brightstar’s Swift, which led to the follow-on Millennium, factors into this excitement… yet, as the late-night commercials shout, "There’s more!" ••• Utah-based Altair won the distribution for the ATOS. The Predator and Saturn producer boasts that, "As expected, Exxtacy clones are now showing up in the market but they cannot match the performance of the ATOS which is clearly a more advanced design with an increased aspect ratio of about 20% and a significantly decreased static weight." • Altair has the exclusive distribution rights and has engaged former Exxtacy expert, Dave Sharp, as its rigid wing specialist. Earlier it was reported that Icaro would have distribution and this remains true for other areas. More info: 801-523-9544. ••• Color-me-green man, Jim "JZ" Zeiset, announced recently that his Pendulum Aerosports has purchased two lots of the new E-7 rigid wing from Germany’s Josef Guggenmos; the first four should arrive soon. The new carbon fiber D-cell wing has German certification already and was built with some consultation from ATOS creator Rühle. Selling for $10,200, it is distinguished by its tapering wing (while the Exxtacy has a constant chord). Other specifications include: 152 squares, 10.4 AR, 39-foot span, 68 pounds weight. Glide is claimed to be 17:1 and sink rate a very low 137 fpm. Spoilers and flaps are said to fold up with the glider (they are removed on Exxtacy and Ixbo) and the spoilers, which are mounted at the airfoil’s high camber point, "preempt any nose-up movement when deployed." More info: 800-WE-FLY-XC (or 800-933-5992). ••• Back in the world of still-dominant flex wings, prez Rob Kells expects a strong year for Wills, based on a winter that was so active the SoCal company couldn’t build up inventory as fast as they’d prefer. "Normally we’d have 150 gliders in stock for the spring rush," said Kells; "this year we’ve got 50 and we need more." I’m sure they’ll boost production to satisfy pilots, but it’s good to hear the market leader trumpeting an enthusiastic start to the season. Visiting with Rob at the Air Expo, I asked if he now believes the WW-brand is the biggest in the world. He referred to good performances by La Mouette, Moyes, and Icaro, but figured that Wills will sell more gliders in 1999 than anyone. Based on what I hear, he may be right. ••• US Aeros announced more members of their growing team. Longtime pilot, Mike Degtoff, has left Seedwings to join US Aeros. Multiple woman’s world record holder, Tiki Mashy, gave up the WW logo for the Ukrainian brand. Successful contest pilot, Mark Bennett, has also added his name to the roster as did Canadian World Team member, Tyler Borradaille. These pilots will join Mitch Shipley and Mark Bolt from last year’s team, while top-ranked Oleg Bondarchuk continues to burn up the competition trail. US Aeros boss, GW Meadows, reports that "Oleg is now officially the #1 ranked pilot in the world!" ••• Last but far from least, HG marketer David Glover of Lookout Mountain, says his 1-800-HANG GLIDE scheme is enjoying good initial response. Under the business name Flying Humans, Glover proposes to feed interested persons to flight schools across the country using the easily-recalled phone number. Schools buy area codes in their area and the system feeds all inquiries with those codes to their business. A slick program, the special phone number and referral system seems very likely to help more people find hang gliding and paragliding. IMHO, the biggest problem facing hang gliding’s growth is simply the problem of locating a place to get lessons and advice. Flying Humans’ ambitious idea may change that. ••• Wow, outta room with loads more info waiting. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Fax or voice mail to 651-450-0930 or send e-mail to CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine