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Goddess Monte Cucco

The steel goddess.

I've seen videos and photos of famed Monte Cucco for years now and the past two days I've had the pleasure of flying her. Lovely. I'm sitting by the pool alone at our villa. Storm clouds are growing with sun streaming through holes. The breeze is fresh and it's waves are washing me with pleasure. Sound too fantastic... yes, it is.

Wolfi getting ready to launch.

Yesterday we arrived on top as a couple dozen pilots were setting up. One by one, familiar faces showed up and we exchanged greetings as we leisurely set up. Conrad from Brazil summed the sentiment up with a hearty hug and the exclamation, "Great to see you. What continent are we on?!" We get to have fun with amazing folks from all walks of life in obscure places throughout the world. What could be better?

The view from down valley. Monte Cucco is the highest peak on the ridge at the right.

Davis called a 108km out and return task. It looked like a great day. The boys launched just before me and promptly climbed to base at nearly 8000ft. I waited on a cycle and it took me some time to climb up and get sorted on course. The predominant wind was hitting the range as we flew down it, so you only had to stop for a few circles in the strongest lift, otherwise it was burble along the ridge.

The patchwork of Italian countryside.

At times the climbs were strong and I was seeing 700-900fpm on the averager mostly. Shapiro and Davis were ahead and started mentioning the turbulence. I too experienced some strong pushes that upset the glider. They were turning around short of the intended turnpoint, so I hung out, took some photos, and waited for them to return.

A sweet village down valley.

Wolfi's fit test.

the way back to launch was fun stopping for just three or four turns in very strong lift, but otherwise running the ridge back to launch. When we arrived back, Davis and Jeff decided to call it quits and land. There was ubiquitous lift, and things in the LZ looked sporty, so I decided to stay local and do some sight seeing. I went downrange a few km's the other way noting the ranges. Flew back getting low now and then and staring down at the villages below.

Finally after about two hours, I decided I'd had enough. Felt fatigued from the previous day's travel and probably jet lagged a bit. Had a festive breakdown with friendly conversation about the terrain and some entertaining landings. We came back to the villa to help wolfi sort out his new Covert.

Wolfi is a robust Austrian and presented a fit "challenge" for Shapiro. His chest is about an inch bigger than ours, but his hips are 11 inches greater in circumference. His CG is obviously lower and he's got trunks for legs. Shapiro was concerned about how exactly to adjust the harness pattern and blend existing contours. In the end, the harness seems to fit Wolfi VERY well. No shelf behind the shoulders, snug around the chest, and room for his lower body. The lines are clean.

Airtime: 2:00. Flights: 1. Miles: 20.

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After an epic day of strong lift and attempting to learn the area a bit yesterday, Jeff and I woke up early this morning (knowing that it was supposed to blow 26 knots) with hopes that we might sneak up for an South Side esque session from Monte Cucco. We recorded some video on the HD Hero cam and will try to compile a short for a post soon.

After the flight, we hooked up with Belinda and drove across the country side to the historical village of Gubbio.

The hills above town were already occupied in the bronze age. It was the place where the Eugubine bronze tablets were found that constitute the largest surviving text of ancient Umbrian. After it's Roman conquest in the 2nd century BC, it remained important, evident by it's large Roman theater (apparently the 2nd largest surviving today). It was an amazing experience to walk through it's alleys and streets (for lack of a better term) where people walked previously for thousands of years.

There are images of St. Francis and the Wolf throughout the village. The story goes that the Wolf was causing problems by eating the town's people and their animals at it's gates until St. Francis came and walked to the gate. As he approached, the wolf charged. He put out his hands and made the sign of the cross and the wolf slowed and laid his head in his hands. St. Francis told the wolf that if he stopped eating the town's people and their animals, they would feed him and a truce was solidified as was the story within the area's history.

Deep history and the beauty of the country side made for a ambient place to have lunch and cappucino while listening to the bells ring and the wind blow. We are so lucky to have the privilege to do what we do.

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Vail to Monte Cucco...

@ the airport.

Shapiro started his adventure by driving Missoula to Boulder, CO where we dropped his car at our bro Alex's house. Lauri and I hit the road at 3am and picked up Jeff around 6. A quick bagel for porn exchange and we continued on to the airport.

Lauri dropped us off before 7am - our six harnesses and two gliders... (THANKS girl!)Time to schmooze the AA ticketing personnel. It was costly with all the extra gear, gliders cost $200, but we were thru TSA with little fuss. Stoked!


Killer cloud streets on the way to Chicago.

Chamonix? We woke to this scenery over France.

We celebrated with a couple of whiskies in Chicago on our layover before Rome. There were two hours of on plane delays with maintenance problems. I'd taken two Tylenol PM's, so slept through most of it. Also slept most of the ride to Rome. Easy overnight flight.


We woke to breakfast and EPIC mountains out the window. Might have been Chamonix... We were trying to discern. Daydreamed out the window over europe through the rest of France and down over Italy. Wide gray riverbeds drained the alps into the flats. We like square parcels in the states, they like smaller hodgepodge fence lines here. I like it too.

Passport control and customs took seconds. The passport officers glanced uninterested at my documents and waved me on. Customs was a joke. Outside in the mix was disorienting for a moment, Marcelo Chaves was there after a bit to fetch us. We rolled through the outskirts of Rome in Marcelo's care on the way to his girlfriend Mikele's house.

Marcelo and Mikele's wonderful shuttle to Monte Cucco.

We were overloaded with harnesses and gear, and I asked Marcelo how many harnesses I had to stack atop the gliders in order to fit all of us. At this point Marcelo said, "No, no. We are driving you to Monte Cucco (almost three hours away) and then returning tonight. Both Mikele and I have to work tomorrow." !!! What?! Mikele jumped in with a cooler full of drinks and classic Italian sandwiches and we rolled through the chaos of Rome. What wonderful hospitality! We didn't expect Marcelo and Mikele to go so far out of their way. Marcelo had procured old cell phones for us to use for retrieve while we're here. They are just amazing. We appreciated every effort.

The beautiful congestion through Rome's ancient relics turned to rolling farmland with mountains beyond. Jeff and I sat in the back with open windows and mouths staring at the scenery. Our hosts pointed out all the noteworthy towns and attractions.

Our place is epic. The view of launch is out the window. Across the street there's a field of sunflowers, a vinyard, and a picturesque hay field. There's a pool, garden, etc. We ate at an outdoor pizzeria as more and more familiar faces began to roll through town. We are SO lucky to be here for the experience. Davis and Belinda had stocked the place with groceries. Easy enjoyment with them. Ahhh...

Soon we arrived at Residence Albarosa on the south side of Sigillo (Monte Cucco) Just 2km down a dirt road from town. It's lovely, quaint, bucolic, etc. After we found Davis and Belinda, a quick espresso jump started us into unpacking and reassembling our gliders. Marcelo and Mikele headed back for Rome. We enjoyed the warm evening light on the surroundings as we chatted and worked.

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Shortpacked for the travel... I leave at 3.30am. Pick up Shapiro at 6. :)

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We have been cranking on harnesses and the last two days (and nights) have been especially productive so when I took a coffee break at noon today and saw cu's popping high over Mt Sentinel, I couldn't resist heading up the hill for a bit of a fly.

Met up with Karl, Chris and Brian encouraged by a sky that was looking organized. Wind direction and velocity was on to possibly allow for an adventure up one of the canyons over the back.

I launched first and scratched around the hill trying to survive the shade cycles until it turned on. I don't think I was encouraging to the other guys as I was above and below launch for the first 30 mins or so.

Karl and Chris launched and it snapped on pretty quick. Chris and I hooked into one that took us over the peak behind Sentinel just over 13,000'. We had a decision to make. Clark Fork or Patomic? In the end, we chose the Clark Fork and Karl (with Brian behind) went up the Patomic Valley. The clouds looked good ether way and with no driver (planned to hitch back to town), it didn't really matter at this point. I must have saved a kitten in a past life or something because karma kicked in as two local pilots showed up on the radio and offered to chase us. Thanks guys!!

Chris and I ended up flying together until out of the mountains and into the flats but the clouds dried up with the end of the range and I knew flying out into the blue was the beginning of the end. We ended up landing about 10 miles apart for a memorable 80k flight. Not huge distance but miles in Western Montana are hard fought and I enjoyed the going with Chris. Turned out to be a nice coffee break.

Now, back to work.

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It's been a crazy month. After losing a good friend in a back country skiing accident (more later), I've been trying to appreciate and to be present for every moment of every day. I've been flying as much as possible, running daily to train for an ultrathon that I signed up to do in the Fall and sewing like a mad man to get as many customer harnesses done before I leave for Italy as is possible. The balance has been complete by being able to work at home where quiet family time happens throughout portions of every day.

I took a short break to run down for a flight at King where Seth Warren stopped to collect footage for his sequel to his award winning KAVU, KEEN, Cliffbar film "Nature Propelled". Unfortunately, although it was looking good at 9am, by 11 the sky turned black and we drove through rain and lightning all the way back to Montana. Either way, it was just nice to be back down there. The Lost River Range is a special place.

I arrived home just in time to take advantage of some scratchy local conditions and was able to squeak out a couple of fun XC flights. A visiting pilot from AZ "Andy" was cool enough to drive for me one day and picked me up in the early evening in this beautiful field. Thanks Andy!

Been sewing ever since. The new harnesses are coming together really clean. I feel like the process of building them (although still very custom) has become refined and the results are tangibly improved. I'm really proud of how they're turning out and look forward to seeing the pilots I'm bringing them to (in Italy) flying in the mountains in their new Coverts.

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Back in the air...

It's been some time since I've flown with regularity. I'm hoping to get a few flights in before the upcoming Pre-Worlds. Yesterday afternoon I hooked up with Thane Chase and Charlie Hedley at Wolcott.

Charlie's TRX on launch.

The sky looked epic with bases over 20k, but the direction and velocity of the wind wasn't ideal. We expected things to mellow toward sunset. After waiting on a cloud to pass so the sun would turn the lift switch back on again, I launched just after 6.30pm and climbed out.

Looking south toward Arrowhead and Beaver Creek ski resorts and the New York mountain range beyond.

Since I haven't flown much lately, everything was a treat. The drive up, the view from launch, getting sorted in the air, etc. Everything felt fresh and fun. Shortly after launching, I did my first 360 over the ridge and plummeted toward the ground. I think it was the Rockies giving me a gentle nudge saying, "remember, we've got the power to slap you - respect where you're flying." I took the hint and the sky was mostly nice to me for the rest of the flight.

Launch ridge is the prominent shadowed ridge in the right foreground.

The air was active, and I promptly went to 12,500ft. I pushed west and was thinking of flying down valley to Eagle. Sink in the valley made me turn tail back toward launch and Charlie ran off the hill as I flew over. I kept a close eye on him as we worked different lift. It seemed like the day was dying quickly.

Lift was getting light and "glassy" and I enjoyed boating over treed areas, staring down at the jeep paths and watching the birds of prey hunt for dinner. It was nice to take in the scenery and tune into my glider.

Near sunset, I pushed out west again and found much more buoyant conditions. Flew down valley again, and suddenly my girlfriend came over the radio singing. She was at the town concert with friends. I hadn't heard her before, and the music and singing made me question if it was reality. We had a brief chat, and I decided to fly back to my truck rather than complicating the retrieve.

Looking NE toward the Gore range.

Landed just after 8pm. What a beautiful area. It whet my appetite for the scenery that could be perused on a stronger day.

My local guides, Thane Chase and Charlie Hedley couldn't have been nicer. Thane offered to drive us up, and Charlie offered to take his rig. He wouldn't except any gas money and Thane hung out to make sure we were sorted properly. I really appreciated the effort! Looking forward to more Wolcott.

Airtime: 1:30. Flights: 1. Altitude: 12,500ft.

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Moyes weighs in with an advisory (7.13.10): LINK HERE

After perusing forums, there seems to be little debate - 2mm sidewires aren't worth the performance advantage.

Several of the intimate players in previous incidents have weighed in via comment on the Wills Wing blog:

Image from the Wills Wing website

Dave Shields:

"My sidewire failure was just out of the nicopressing on a wire with just around 100 hours airtime very little of which included aerobatics (maybe 2 days at Stanwell park in January). At the time the wire failed I was pulling 122kph (taken from vario) to build speed and was flying with straight arms but was not pushing out! The glider was rounding out at the bottom of the dive. Eye witnesses reported a dusty or thermal in the field moments after my incident. Maybe this caused a shock loading? Who can say!
What i do know is that the wires on my replacement glider will be slightly thicker.. maybe the 7x7 type for greater flexibility too!
I can send pics of the failed wire if it helps..."

Thanks much Dave! Photos would be instructive. Best at the Europeans.

Adam Parer:

"My sidewire also failed at the nico but it was obvious the tang was kinked at the time of failure. This greatly reduces the performance of the wire. There is no doubt the sidewire kinked during the tumbles as it had definitely been checked during preflight, and by the launch marshal only seconds before towing out of the airfield. A thicker sidewire in my case most likely would have failed also. Point being, a stronger sidewire also needs the correct 'never-kink' size, it requires the same amount of care, checking and maintenance. No redundancy here. What we launch with is what we rely on. Glad Dave is OK."

Thanks Adam!

Mitch McAleer:

"turn your head sideways for 5 seconds and you've lost all the performance gained from skinny wires for the entire flight.
Or any number of blunders that results in an aerodynamic disruption, at what cost? breaking your glider in flight, that's what.
The glider breaks positive at max lift, around 20-25ยบ AoA to the relative airflow. Skinny wires tested to failure around 450-575 #, stock wires 890-1250# in my experience, your results may vary.
How much performance do you think you're getting from a reduction in the diameter of the side wires?
you're winning..... "

Thanks Mitch!

Image from

Is this safety concern serious enough to attempt to ban 2mm sidewires in competition? Regardless of policy, it has always been the pilot in command who makes the final determination on safety whether it's gear or conditions related. As I mentioned before, all US team members flying Wills Wing will be flying with 3/32 (thicker) wires in upcoming competitions.

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Relaxing at JB's Fish Camp across the street from the beach south of New Smyrna

The first try a few weeks ago got me less than half way with heavy over development on course and all around. Yesterday, conditions lined up perfectly with breezy WSW winds, plenty of clouds and no overdevelopment on course.

After a morning of towing and tandems I was able to talk Mitch and Campbell into attempting the New Smyrna route. We all checked out the sectional and plugged in key airspace locations and set off around 2pm.

Mitch had bad luck and landed early, while Campbell and I blazed the first leg - it seemed too easy, and it was. From the moment we turned the corner at the edge of Sanford airspace and started heading east to the beach, the lift turned to crap and the clouds were rarely working. Nothing was making sense to me and I spent an hour stuck just southeast of Deland airport while Campbell eased ahead as if he was in completely different conditions.

After dodging the huge Deland jump plane on its five mile finals and sawtoothing back and forth into the wind in order to stay out of Daytona airspace, the fourth or fifth perfect cloud I flew under started to work. 3000 feet seemed high by then and this allowed me to head south back onto the original course and get into good clouds again. I took a very conservative 5200 foot final glide in case the seabreeze was strong. I made it at 6pm with 2000 feet to play over the Atlantic before landing on the white sand and having a bucket of shrimp across the road. Even swam with a random manatee that was cruising the waves heading south.

Turns out Campbell couldn't get high in the last climb and was being conservative as well, aborting his final across the 1.5 mile swampy inland waterway thinking there could be a strong seabreeze. The seabreeze ended up only being from the south and what got me there so high could have carried him over the swamp as well, but he ended up landing on 95 in the end.

Two coasts in three days, attempting Cuba tomorrow.

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The daily storm pattern took a break yesterday and the wind clocked around from the east northeast so I decided to head down to Curt's homeland 200kms to the southwest for a swim and some seafood.

Thermals were very rarely 5-600 fpm, more often 2-300. Wind was cross from the east but always had some sort of tailwind component. Cloudbase rose from 3500 feet near Quest at takeoff time to 5500 feet at the coast at 6 pm.

Conditions at the beach were identical to the first time I flew there with the Brits and Davis last year. The convergence line was within a couple miles of shore and the seabreeze was more cross than onshore so final glide and landing conditions were awesome.

Outskirts of Lakeland looking back north toward Quest and thinning clouds.

South of Lakeland heading into sparsely populated areas. Asphalt roads under me the entire way.

Getting into the convergence line for the drag race down the coast, looking west into Sarasota.

Final glide into the seabreeze over the Curt Warren spawning grounds.

Fisherman's Wharf right in the center of the picture, better food than Sharkey's.

Looking south down the coast to Venice airport.

Playing chicken with the coast, landing was at Sharkey's restaurant on the pier.

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