Saturday, June 27, 2009

U2 Review.. the U2 160 vs. the Sport 2 155 vs. the Falcon 3 195

The Wills Wing U2, in my opinion, is the perfect wing for the weekend warrior, advanced-rated hang glider pilot.

Setting up at Crestline Launch...

Primarily, this is a review of the U2 160 after about a dozen flights, following 2 dozen or so on the Sport 2 155. Most of my flights have been on the Falcon 3 195, which I stayed on for over a hundred mountain solos. My weight, which was 200 pounds through most of the flights on the Sport 2 and now is 185 pounds, before gear, is very relevant to this review. It is my opinion that it makes all 3 wings easy for me to handle and accentuates the importance of being able to find and take advantage of lift when conditions are light. I should also mention that I primarily fly at Marshall/Crestline, with 300 flyable days a year, two launches within easy glide of the LZ, and fairly predictable weather... and predictably few true XC opportunities.

So, at this point, if I had to pick one of those wings for the next 5 years, which would it be? First place would certainly be the U2 160 and a surprisingly strong second would be the Falcon 3 195. Sport 2 fanatics, of which there are many, may be reaching for the w, t, and f keys on their keyboard as they read this. I still have my Sport 2 and I enjoy flying it, it's just that (to oversimplify) the U2 does performance better and the Falcon 3 does fun & easy better.

The U2 of which I write is the 2009 version. At the end of 2008, Wills Wing made some sail cut changes and other tweaks to the U2, about which they give no specific information. I have not flown the "older" version. What I will say is, the version I fly has no hint of the quirks I heard about U2s when I first looked into them... that you have to high side them and they are stiff. I only have to high side in a thermal if I am thermalling with 3/4 VG on (and then not always). Aside from then, it actually holds my bank the best of the three wings. Whether or not it's "stiff" (I don't think it is), I'll cover in a second.

The U2 takes more defined and assertive control inputs to turn than do the other two wings, but it also rewards me with a beautiful track carved through the air and better performance in those turns. I don't find it "harder" to handle any more than I find my 350Z "harder" to steer than my Quest. Any tendency I had to boat around a corner, so to speak, has been squashed. I try to do a Pagen-textbook turn, increasing speed a bit, rolling into the turn, wait out a tic or two for yaw, then apply pitch up pressure to carve the turn, rolling out the way I came in, with good speed and purposeful control inputs. With my Falcon, heck, I can just chuck the bar to the side and push out, all at once in a strong thermal, and - boom! - that bad boy is standing on its wing. With the U2, I carve it into the thermal and then tighten it up in the core. The Sport 2 doesn't crank like the Falcon does, so I have to try to do what I do with the U2. But, the U2 holds the bank in the thermal and tracks better... at least for me at my weight.

Landing is the highest hurdle to clear when running down the track laid out by a new, higher performance wing. Fortunately, this is where the U2 really shines. I actually have found the U2 easier to land than the Sport 2 or the the Falcon 3.

My Sport 2 155 in front of my Falcon 3 195 on Edwards Launch above Lake Elsinore

Don't adjust your monitor, some clown just wrote that the U2 is easier to land than the Falcon 3 (not to mention the Sport 2). Hang with me while I flesh that out. Sure, the approach has to be set up more carefully, because you can't just pull in the bar and burn it out of the sky like you can on the other two (yes, even the Sport 2 drops quite fast with VG off, one's body upright, and the bar stuffed). On the U2, stuffing the bar hard has sent me down the LZ with surprising efficiency and / or gotten me a bit squirrelly from the speed (if the VG is full off). But, assuming I set up the approach competently, I have found that the U2 has an absolutely beautiful propensity to track straight in ground effect and provide me with a nice, wide flare window. The sweet spot of the flare window is very easy to find... it practically announces itself like the arrival of a train to a station.

"Now arriving, Andy Jackson Landing Zone, all pilots who are flare window challenged, please flare now..." rang over the intercom on my last couple of flights.

Seriously, the Falcon's flare window is quite short, especially if you do anything other than burn that bad boy right down into ground effect. The Sport 2's is longer, but I couldn't feel the flare window as easily. I am a bit ham handed and am almost as likely to balloon on final as I am to land on my knees... each too likely a scenario for my liking on the Sport 2.

With the exception of a disastrous XC attempt and a downwind, uphill landing into rocks in rotoring air (aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?), I have landed well every flight on my U2. The last 5 landings, I've had no-stepper flares. Suck it, Mary Lou Retton. Since I got the U2, I have flown my Sport 2 twice and my Falcon 3 once and a quick review of the logs shows that the U2's landings occupy the Top Ten in the rankings of "Landings I Would Want Others to See."

So, it thermals well, it lands well, let's cover the obvious last... glide. Of course, the U2 glides like nobody's business. It really is a sick amount of performance to have access to at this (early) stage in my flying career. I have yet to quantify it with measured polars or any useful statistic, so I'll have to keep it anecdotal and say that I try... and easily pull off... glides that I wouldn't consider on the other two wings I own. A little local talk here... wanna leave Billboard at Billboard height and go for Pine on a cold day? Give it a try. Nothing at Pine? No sweat, go to Cloud. Want to try for Cresline from Marshall with the inversion 5,000? No worries, if there's nothing there, just come back.

Why wouldn't I be smiling?

The single biggest difference between the Sport 2 and the U2, IMHO, is the VG. On the Sport 2, it's nice and it helps, but on the U2, it gives you a whole 'nother wing. The difference between zero and a quarter is noticeable when you land. It also seems to help the wing track better. Cranking the VG on full not only has a great effect on glide and tracking, but it's downright hard to do. That sail gets very, very tight. I am very comfortable thermalling anywhere up to half on and 3/4 on is a nice spot for cruising for the next thermal. Full on, I save for longer hauls between landmarks or to get out of a tight spot.

In sum, I recommend as strongly as I can the Wills Wing U2 for the foot launch, mountain site, intermediate/advanced hang glider pilot who is not yet ready to go topless. And, if the U2 is just too beucoup, then I recommend the Falcon 3. My final recommendation is for the Sport 2, which I recommend as a way station on the road to the U2... or for the lower-intermediate pilot whose home LZ is more than an easy glide from launch.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Advanced Hang Glider Pilot, Hang 4 at last.

It took 2 and a half years, but I finally achieved Advanced Hang Glider Pilot status. Sure, the mountain doesn't care what the card in my wallet says, but the observers at Yosemite and the staff at Torrey Pines do. The prettiest sled ride in the US (the early morning launch from Glacier Point) just became an option. The price to ridge soar the most famous site (that one by the golf course in San Diego) in the US just dropped $188. Another little gem is the freedom to land on the beach in Santa Barbara, with all the apparent advantages of that and the less apparent one of not having to land at Parma.

The 250th flight was a strange one for June. It was 100% overcast with cloudbase at 4,700' MSL. I popped in and out of the wispies, the ground sometimes getting very faint, for 3 hours. I couldn't go anywhere like Pine or Crestline, much less beyond, so I contented myself with little challenges like getting low and getting back up and diving through a stack of dozen PGs, all walled up. Fun day.

Spaghetti Junction

Image swiped from Dave