ST. PAUL, MINN — Airshow season is here. About the same time we hang glider pilots are heading out to sites across the country to catch the big thermals of summer, millions of non-pilots (and pilots) will attend local-area airshows. They’re America’s second largest public spectator event after baseball, quite a statement in a country known around the globe for having countless choices of entertainment. At how many of those airshows will the millions see hang gliding? Darn few! ••• One man is changing that by succeeding as few before him have done. Dan Buchanan performs despite physical challenges (a vehicle accident if you don’t know Dan’s story). He was able to fly the main airshow at Oshkosh last year, no small feat since the Wisconsin convention is one of the world’s largest events with close to a million people attending. Some pilots have waited literally years to get in, that is, to volunteer to perform; no pay is offered. Dan tows up — using step-towing to sustain longer at lower, more viewable altitudes — so his act is suitably mobile for the airshow circuit. Last year he flew Oshkosh on the concluding days when some of the top act departures make room for new discoveries. For this year’s event, though, he’ll be one of the headline acts, reports Yoo-shga Executive Director, Phil Bachman. And, in a recent news release, the 27th Annual Arlington (Washington) EAA fly-in has given top billing to Buchanan. They’re impressed with Dan’s "courage and empowerment to perform at airshows nationwide." After mentioning Dan and his hang glider, they go on to list and promote the other impressive acts they’ve booked. Good work, Dan! ••• Getting hang gliding in front of a big percentage of the general public is useful if we ever hope to gain entrance to the Olympics. A Wall Street Journal story documents 19 sports that are hopeful. Among the others are such mainline activities as golf, racquetball, roller skating, surfing, and water skiing. Other sports seeking admittance are ones hang gliding might compete with more easily: ballroom dancing, jai alai, underwater swimming, disk sports (Frisbee), and korfball. The story relates that the Olympics are very healthy, with 197 countries represented in Atlanta. Over 10,000 athletes are expected, up from 7,000 in the 1984 L.A. Games. The writer stated, "…by virtually all accounts, [the Olympics] are already too crowded…" Since entrance practically requires a sport to be dropped before a new one is added, several of the above sports have worked hard to become pre-qualified so they have a place in the line of succession. Why all the effort? Notoriety, of course, and swelling association memberships. But it’s also about money. A water ski association official notes, "Sponsorships come much easier if you’re an Olympic sport." ••• Worldwide hang gliding could use a boost. Numbers are slipping everywhere. Measured over a year (3/95 to 3/96), USHGA hang gliding division membership was down 5.4%, although a modest rising trend was occurring as 1996 got underway. (Overall membership is virtually the same because paragliding division membership is up 14.5% over the same period.) Yoo-shga leaders are discussing membership issues and the future; new plans may be announced. In Europe, it’s worse. Indeed this explains why some European club leaders and businessmen are pushing so hard for Olympic participation. If the opinion of experts means much, however, don’t look for progress on that front anytime soon. ••• Tow Launch Systems, or simply TLS, has announced a new "self-contained true fluid controlled pay-out winch." The line tension is governed by a patent-pending "silicone fluid metered through a variable flow restrictor." (Sound enough like Star Trek technodoubletalk?) Proprietor Chris Gagliano also has a powered winch with a 20-horse Honda four-stroke engine running through a variable speed transmission. The two systems seem fairly priced at $2,195 and $3,495. TLS supplies winch systems across the U.S. and several foreign countries. They have a dealer program and invite inquiries. Call TLS at 210-824-1803 or fax to 210-805-8386. ••• Peter Birren is promoting his Linknife. Saying it is a departure from the "old parachute technology [3-ring circus] used for HG tow releases," he calls the Linknife a "radical departure." The basic idea rests on the premise that most tow pilots use a weak link. Often these pilots use a new piece of string for each flight, to be sure it functions correctly (materials are cheap). This weak-link string can serve its safety purpose but can also aid separation from the towline. True, pilots don’t like giving up methods they know and that’s often a wise policy. However, this idea is fresh enough to capture attention. Birren has literature to send that will explain his low-priced $15 device. Call 847-640-1071, fax 0208, or E-mail to RHGPA@aol.com. ••• That’s it for this month… So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. V-mail or fax to 612-450-0930. E-mail to CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine