New hang gliding tech takes flight

March 30, 2009 9:31:46 AM PDT
A new kind of hang glider is appearing over the cliffs of San Francisco. Thanks to technology, it's faster and safer than previous generations. This weekend, Richard Hart joined local enthusiasts at Fort Funston in the drive to discover a better way to fly.

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This is only the second time Enzo Fatica has launched his brand new Laminar Z9, the Ferrari of hang gliders. The first of its kind in the U.S., it could also be the fastest.

The longtime San Francisco hang glider says, "It flies straight fast, it flies upside down, it flies any which way you want it to fly. And it flies really sweet slow."

No sport exploits new technologies more than soaring. And what's new is not what has appeared on the machines, but what has disappeared.

The topless look is in, according to Steve Rodriques, President of the Fort Funston hang gliding club. "Things you don't see are the high-tech carbon fiber cross bar that's inside the double surface of the sail. The newer sails are made out of mylar. It's a much slipperier cloth. They've eliminated the king post, the vertical post that comes to the top of the glider."

The spiderweb of harnesses suspending the flyer have disappeared into a single strap.

"And it's very streamlined," he points out. "These are designed in wind tunnels."

Three generations of airspeed, vertical speed indicators and GPS have disappeared into a single flight computer that can later play back your trip on Google Maps.

The next generation goes even further. Enzo's new bird features a nano faring on its leading edge, laminations overlapped like the nose of a jet fighter. Anything to eke out fractions more glide ratio.

The first generation could glide only 4 feet before dropping 1 foot.

Today's models go 7 feet. The new generation achieves a glide ratio of 15-20 feet. Almost as good as good as a soaring airplane for Enzo.

"I've flown it three times, and it's like heaven!"

------- Links -------

  • Ft. Funston Flyers
    A new kind of hang glider is appearing over the cliffs of San Francisco.
  • About the Laminar Z9

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