Well folks, amid all the hoopla and anticipation
regarding the ongoing and upcoming releases of topless gliders,
Wills Wing has preceded its own topless glider release with its
newest entry to the intermediate glider market the "Ultra
I'd like to take this opportunity to review this
little jewel, and I'm going to do so in a slightly different manner
than usual. First, I'd like to offer up a short quiz.
There is no time limit and there are no wrong answers. Ready...
- Does your personal schedule and/or local site conditions realistically
allow you to average only a couple of flying days per month?
- While no longer a beginner, are you not yet an expert?
- Do your aspirations to enter and win the U.S. Nationals
in the next two years end at wearing the event T-shirt (or
entering for the hell of it)?
- If you currently fly a "blade wing" do you find
yourself going X-C less frequently than you used to because
the fields are getting too small for your glider and the glider
too manly for you?
- Do you find yourself passing up booming, midday flying (and
landings) for the same reasons (conditions you once lived
- Do you spend most of your time flying under 35 mph in winds
that rarely exceed 25 mph?
- Is your idea of "going for a loop" eating a bowl
of Fruit Loops?
- Are you currently flying an entry-level glider, but have
reservations about everyone else's enthusiasm for you getting
into one of the hot new superships?
- Would you like to discover a way to explore your personal
limits and X-C capabilities, and improve your overall flying
performance without the anxiety normally associated with the
- Would you like to do this for only $3,975?
Okay. Place your pencil on the desk when you are
finished. If you answered yes to any of these questions
run (don't walk) to arrange for a test flight on an Ultra Sport.
The more yes answers you scored the faster you should run.
It has long been my opinion that there are way
too many pilots out there who choose to fly gliders that are capable
of much more performance than they will ever need, use or feel
comfortable with. (Read: capable of handling in all conditions.)
We have come to accept that a glider manufacturer's flagship is
their competition ship, regardless of the fact that the vast majority
of pilots really fall into the recreational, fly-for-fun, try-to-be-high-guy-for-awhile
(and land near the cooler), ordinary guys and girls.
The Ultra Sport impresses me as representing an
outstanding blend of performance, handling, versatility (it sports
a wide-range VG system) and economy, with all of the latest contemporary
technology that Wills Wing knows how to put into a hang glider.
Overview, Construction and Setup
Although they have maintained the term "Sport"
in the name of this glider, it is obvious to me that this is a
completely new design bearing very little resemblance to its predecessor,
the Super Sport. Personally, I might have chosen a different
name, but Wills Wing likes the association of the lineage of their
"Sport" gliders and the intermediate market they are
The sail cut resembles a well-fed XC 142, hence
the 147 size. The airframe also bears a resemblance to the
XC series gliders, although it utilizes both 6061 and 7075 tubing.
The airfoil is very tall and blunt when compared to both the Super
Sport and the XC. As a matter of fact, the Ultra Sport's
airfoil is the same one used in Wills Wing's topless glider, the
Fusion. XC hardware, internal fabric ribs, VG technology,
kingpost hang and other current Wills tricks are all incorporated
into this new design with two new tricks added. On the Ultra
Sport, Wills has lengthened the leading edge sail tip mount straps
by sewing them into the sail about four inches in from the tip
(instead of all the way out at the tip). This allows the
sail to pivot more freely at the tips, not unlike ball-swivel
tip designs. Another distinctive feature they've embellished
upon (beyond the 142 XC) is the trailing edge rear double panel
which is now offered in color across the entire span of the trailing
edge. I think this looks really cool.
I won't put you through a description of the setup,
but with the folding basetube option suffice it to say that setup
is simple and quick with no wing nuts or parts to lose.
I do have one beef with all of the Wills Wing gliders
since the RamAir regarding the two nose battens found in the gliders.
These ribs are simply installed onto the top of the nose plates
with no mechanism to retain them. I hate to find after landing
that my nose battens have jumped off the nose plates at some point
during the flight, presumably at the cost of some performance.
A simple pair of raised studs to lodge these ribs onto is all
that is needed. I have been installing these on customer
gliders for about ten cents per glider for years. Rivets
and washers are all it takes.
The US 147
Nose, inside view
Anyway, with that one and only peeve explained,
I'll proceed to the flying department.
Since I'm not a technical guy I'll keep this non-technical
and try to have some fun with it. Starting with the basics
(launching and landing) we are in luck. As with all of the
recent Wills offerings (after the HP AT series), this glider exhibits
an exceptionally straightforward and forgiving personality when
it comes leaving the earth and, more importantly, returning to
earth. The glider has a nice, detectable trim bar position
and offers good feedback in pitch. The flare window is generous,
while energy retention and resulting ground effect are a bit less
prominent than those of the XC series. In addition, you
can slow this glider down a little more than the XC's and maybe
even the Super Sports, which is nice on those no-wind landings!
I experienced one landing during which I had to flare the Ultra
Sport while still slightly banked, and the outcome was a no-step,
In flight the Ultra Sport exhibits a very predictable,
responsive handling personality. Control pressures are light
in roll, while pitch pressure is less than that of the Super Sport
and a tad more than that of the 142 XC.
One test I attempted several times involved turning
into thermals after briefly allowing myself to be "turned
away." Unlike stiffer gliders, this glider can generally
be rolled into thermals that I would call moderately strong.
I've only had to muscle the glider on a couple of occasions, and
these were in strong thermal conditions (in which I was happy
to be in this glider). Once turning within a thermal, the glider's
thermalling personality is very friendly, and its climb rate exceptional.
It requires very little input (high-siding or pitching) to keep
it going round and round. It can be flown slower in thermals
than an XC and scribes smaller circles, which really allows for
excellent centering in small cores. It has also been my
experience that this design resists "falling out" of
the back side of thermals, or roll reversing in rough air.
It seems to prefer to remain at the bank angle you've set.
Aside from the myriad improvements over the Super
Sport, the Ultra Sport is fitted with an easy-pulling 14:1 VG*.
In the full-loose setting the handling is very comparable to that
of a Spectrum 165 very light, quick and "small feeling."
With the Ultra Sport VG pulled full tight, my best description
is that the handling resembles that of a 155 XC in the VG one-quarter
on setting. Being a larger guy (I hook in at 195 pounds),
I can fly the Ultra Sport full tight all day long. This
is the way I like VG's. A VG system that isn't controllable
in tight mode is really not of much practical use. I'd say
VG loose is great for bud-picking ridge soaring. VG set
at one-half yields my favorite handling/climb control in most
thermal conditions, and full VG on is well suited for huge, smooth
thermals, between-thermal glides, and maxing out sink rate in
wonder winds or beach soaring. The glider performs well
in all of these settings.
Next I'd like to talk about speed range.
I'm going to do this by way of comparisons so as not to get caught
up in a debate about actual airspeeds. In the VG-loose setting
I think you will find that the Ultra Sport speed range very closely
resembles that of the Super Sport. In VG full-on mode the
Ultra Sport proves to be a shade slower than the XC 142, but noticeably
faster than the Super Sport.
Obviously, any discussion of speed range leads
to a discussion of performance. Again, I'll go the comparison
route, because I think it may best convey the message while sidestepping
glide-polar, speed-to-fly, whiz-kid debates. For the most
part the Ultra Sport performs just as you would expect.
It will definitely outperform a Super Sport, particularly in the
tighter VG settings. Even in the looser VG settings I think
the Ultra Sport exhibits a slight advantage over its predecessor.
The Ultra Sport's glide performance at low speeds (full VG on),
is comparable to an XC. Not so surprisingly, at higher speeds
(above 30-35 mph), glide performance deteriorates slightly with
more bar pressure and lower attainable maximum speed.
The US 147
Control Bar Corner and VG Cleat
The one exceptional performance feature of the
Ultra Sport seems to be its sink rate. Every time I've flown
this glider it has wandered to the top of the stack. Every
other pilot I have watched fly the glider has had the same experience.
There have been a couple of days when it was the only one to get
up, or was the last to fall out. I've only had it for a
little over a month, but it's sure looking like a glider with
a hell of a sink rate!
How a glider tows has become an important consideration
these days. Towing is definitely coming on strong, and more
pilots are using this launch method all the time. Pilots
are undoubtedly hoping that the Ultra Sport tows more easily than
the Super Sport, which gained a reputation as a tough glider to
tow for pilots new to this launch method.
I've had a limited number of aerotows in the Ultra
Sport, but have had conversations with Malcolm Jones at Wallaby
Ranch and with Brad Kushner, whom I coincidentally met at Quest
Air the same week. (He was aerotowing an Ultra Sport!) The consensus
reached by the three of us classifies the Ultra Sport as much
less demanding to tow than a Super Sport, but not nearly as easy
as a Falcon. (Of course, it would have been a miracle to pull
With the addition of the optional winglets there
is a very noticeable increase in geek-proofing of the Ultra Sport's
towability. In an attempt to quantify this I'll make up
some numbers for you. If a Super Sport rates a 4 out of
10, and a Falcon a 10 out of 10, then a stock Ultra Sport would
rate about a 7. Add the winglets and you've got a solid
8. These numbers are obviously arbitrary, but should accurately
rate the glider within close tolerances.
I haven't truck towed the Ultra Sport yet, but
have tons of truck-tow experience and can say confidently that
the glider should truck tow quite easily. It flies well
at speed, is damped in yaw, and has a solid-handling feel
all good truck-tow qualities.
There are three options available on the Ultra
Sport that are not otherwise considered stock. Winglets
are a $310 after-the-fact, add-on option. I'm thoroughly
convinced that winglets improve performance, yaw stability and
sink rate. I've noticed this tendency more with the Ultra
Sport than with other Wills Wing gliders. I don't have any
explanations, but I have definitely noticed the effect.
Winglets Are Available
as an Accessory
(current winglets are opaque white)
Custom colors are also a $200 option. Fortunately,
Wills intends to keep a large number of "production sails"
in inventory, so you should be able to choose from a sizable selection
of color combinations at no extra cost. But if you want
a purple and lime glider you can have it, for the custom-color
The last option is a folding basetube for $85.
A normal, stock Ultra Sport comes with an old-style, one-piece
aluminum speed bar, which means you will have one wing nut to
deal with during glider assembly. Personally, I think the
folding basetube is the neatest thing since sliced bread.
Besides being fast, it makes incomplete assembly of your control
I'm pretty sure I've been clear. I'm really jazzed
about this new glider. It's the glider I've been grabbing
off the shelf for myself lately when no one else asks to fly it.
It offers up true, serious high performance, with a large degree
of user friendliness at a very attractive price. I view
it as the premier glider out there in its class. It's because
of gliders like this that Wills Wing is the sole surviving major
U.S. manufacturer of a full line of hang gliders. This fact,
on its own, is an incentive to consider the product: parts, dealers
and factory support, and a promise to be around for a long time
to come. When considering any investment a solid company
is definitely comforting.
So, if you've got even a twinge of a notion that
this article describes a glider that fits your flying needs, why
not give one a test flight. You've got nothing to lose,
and a lot of easy altitude and airtime to gain.