Hang glider review: Guggenmos ESC


Big in Japan … The Guggenmos ESC in action

We sent rigid virgin Richard Sheppard to Monaco to review the latest class 2 creation from German craftsman Jos Guggenmos. His conclusion? ‘Flying one of these gliders is so easy it’’s a sin.’

This should have been the highlight of my flying career. But standing under the Guggenmos ESC review glider on the take-off ramp at Monaco in a crosswind with cloudbase down around my ears, I wasn’t in the most relaxed of moods.

I was a class two virgin at a new site, wearing an unfamiliar harness and carrying over $8000 worth of glider on my shoulders. Occasionally the swirls of mist would clear and I’d catch a rimy glimpse of the glistening Mediterranean over 2,800 ft below, just to add a twist of vertigo to my array of fears.

Five minutes ago, fellow reviewer Rob Whittall had given up and taken his La Mouette Top Secret review glider to Mont Lachens. The designer of my wing optimistically held up the wind steamer and shrugged his shoulders. The pressure was on.

This was the last flying day of our test trip to the south of France and the deadline was looming. Come hell or low cloud I was just going to have to fly the most elegant, efficient and expensive wing to come from the Guggenmos Kaufbeuren factory.

Just how elegant this wing is manifests itself in the attention to detail in the glider’s design. Whilst Jos Guggenmos rigged the ESC I watched and took photos.

It soon became apparent that I was witnessing a man who brings forth his creations with a dedication and commitment that goes beyond a means of paying the rent. He fiddled with a new fitting for the rib ends, enthusing how they were so much better than the previous – and to my eyes totally adequate – mechanism.

That was the main feeling I got about this replacement for the E7 class 2 wing; quality that isn’t only obvious in the finish and materials used but also evident in design and the attention to detail. For me that is what makes the vital difference between an object that is a joy to behold … and one that just does the job.

Seen from a distance, the ESC looks much like any other class 2 wing – high aspect ratio, flaps, spoilers. Getting closer you start to notice the details. The carbon fibre, foam cored, flaps for instance are in two pieces to allow the main part to be permanently attached to the sailcloth, Jos held one of the rear sections before me, “It’s made with love!” he beamed.

It interlocks with the forward section with a precision that I can only describe as satisfying. The D box leading edges are handed. The section tapers in depth from root to tip, as a wing should, saving weight and matching strength to spanwise loading. The curved carbon tips are moulded to that curve, tension being applied by an adjustable compression strut rather than making a cheaper, cantilevered, curved–under–tension wand.

One aspect of the design you may notice from a distance is the nose angle. At 143 degrees it is a good deal less than that of, say, the ATOS. When I queried Jos about this he stated that it was done purely for better pitch stability; “the torsional stresses on the leading edge junction are greater, but the D box was first to fail at 850 kg when we load tested it…so we are happy,” he said.

The front part of the keel, where the leading edges attach, is a deep carbon-fibre moulding. Done mainly, I assume, to save weight. The owner’s manual states a flying weight of 32.5 Kg but Jos candidly told me that the one I was to fly was a kilo more.

Getting under the small raked A-frame and lifting it, I couldn’t argue. It felt the same as a well-balanced kingpostless class 1 glider. The sail is made from 170g/m Dacron as opposed to the 70g used on some other class 2s. “Using that would save 2 kilos but the stuff is just not puncture proof,” explained Jos.

The wing splits into two bags for transport, the heavier piece having the A frame and keel attached. I initially saw this as a nuisance, being denied a single trip from car to take off. But then as I thought about it, it didn’t really make much difference: If the launch is near to the car a few minutes extra walking won’t ruin your day.

If it’s a long steep trudge you are going to be thankful of two lightweight trips instead of one back–breaker. About the only drawback I can see with these gliders is the fragility of the composite leading edges. You have to learn to be careful.

So…What happened at launch? The cloud thinned just enough for me to see the millionaires’ residences below, the light zephyr came within 45 degrees and I ran: out of excuses and down the ramp. Mindful of warnings not to over control, I flew straight out with a bit of bar pressure on until I was clear of cloud base. With the turquoise sea opening up below me I initiated a turn.

There is a bit of slack in the control wires which meant that small light movements had no effect and I got the impression that I was trying to balance on top of a wobbly pole. I relaxed my grip and tried a larger movement, feeling the resistance of the spoilers. The left wing dropped instantly and I was curving round in a smooth co–ordinated turn.

Precise control of bank was effortlessly simple and done by roll alone – just as every other pilot who had tried class 2 had told me. I had taken off with about 20 degrees of flap and left it there whilst I soared. Pitch control was comfortable, pressure–wise. Acceleration was instantaneous and grin–inducing. Having dropped about 200 m I spotted a kingpostless glider circling under the cloud about 0.5 km away and 50 m higher, so I raised the flaps, pulled in a little and went there.

Then I dropped the flaps, put in some bank as the vario squawked and just went round and round till I reached cloud base, leaving the other glider below. Flying one of these gliders is so easy it’s a sin. Glancing along the slender, solid–looking wing confirms that you’re flying a real ‘go–places’ sailplane.

After a while I headed out over the sea and tried full flap just so I knew what to expect on landing. Pitch control seemed unaltered but the sink rate increased dramatically when I pulled the bar in. The beach landing at Roquebrune isn’t massive, and to get in you have to approach over the sea. I was a little worried about getting it right on such a high performance machine but remembered that the flaps offer good control of glide angle.

After making a big sweep over the water I paralleled the shoreline, pulled on full flap and simply controlled my approach with the speed. I could see I was to high at one point so I pulled in and down I came skimming the sand and pebbles, bleeding speed, then giving a final flair a little to soon to avoid decapitating a paraglider pilot. The wing just stopped! I was down perfectly, without drama. Definitely the easiest to fly hang glider I have flown in 23 years.

I can’’t go into numbers here and I acknowledge that I have limited time on this type of glider. Maybe the glide is 15:1, maybe the glide is 20:1. Maybe it flies better than other class 2s, maybe it flies worse – I don’t know, I haven’t tried them. What I do know is that it performs better than any stock class 1 glider, is ridiculously easy to fly and is built with a passion that denies the very existence of imperfection. It is a jewel of a hang glider and I want one!

Vne (flaps 0 – 15 degrees) 80km/h
Vne (flaps 60 degrees) 70km/h
Max load + 4 g
Take–off weight range 102,5 – 136kg
Span 12,1 m
AR 11
Wing area 13,4 m2
Weight 32.5 kg

JOS GUGGENMOS: INTERVIEW WITH A LEGEND

With 25 years as a constructor and international hang gliding competitor Jos Guggenmos is some kind of a folk hero. He has not only lived through hang gliding’s history but also helped to shape it. Jos was World Champion in 1979 and is still one of the world’s most respected competition pilots, but his efforts are now concentrated solely on his manufacturing business.

I met this youthful 60-year-old in Southern France. Thwarted by the usually reliable January weather we sat and chatted outside a bar in Gourdon. Jos seemed pretty relaxed about the situation considering he and his right hand man, Joachim Kühnle, had just driven from southern Germany so we could review his wing.

Out of 29 German manufacturers in the 70s, only Guggenmos and Bautek are still trading. I asked Jos how he’d managed to survive. He pointed to a patch on the knee of his jeans and replied, “You see how!” with a smile. “Seriously, you have to be prepared to do things for free. I can’t expect to be charging for my time every day. We have always been a small outfit and that’s how I survive.” Jos struck me as a man who would rather do things his way than lose control in return for big profits. “You saw it in Airwave. I don’t want that sort of stuff,” he said.

Jos then went on to tell me how, when he was a young man, he used to work for a sailplane manufacturer. “We used to make them from wood and metal, covered in doped fabric. We never had much money and it was very difficult to get flying.” He had to wait nearly 20 years before he found hang gliding. He told me how there was this American serviceman called Mike Harker – then a famous name in German hang gliding – who was based at Garmisch Patenkirchen.

“He jumped of a mountain in the spring of 73. I didn’t believe it until I saw it on TV! Then I read some more about it in a mountaineering magazine. A man named Huber was importing them from the States so I bought one. Every single tube was 33mm diameter!”

Jos’s training was of the suck it and see variety. He never knew about flaring for landing and would fly onto the ground running. “Then I accidentally stalled the glider high above the ground. It wouldn’t recover and came down in a series of radical swoops. Luckily the last one was at ground level – my first flared landing!”

As to how he had come into the business of building hang gliders, he told me he was flying his Rogallo at the unofficial world championships at Kossen in 1975. UP were there with the Dragonfly. “It was flying beautifully; circling like a sailplane.” So with typical Guggenmos gusto Jos measured it, went home and made a copy. “Mine flew better than the UP version and my brother asked me to build him one. Then I did the same for some friends and in 1976 I decided to start a company.” What, I asked, were his motives? Untold riches?

“What do you think?” he replied. “It was so exciting! We were making one or two new designs every year. Glider development was very rapid and I got as much from that as from flying.”

It’s been twenty-five years. How many gliders in that time? He took a sip of water and shrugged, “Ooh…3500 maybe.” His best year was ’79 when he made 450 gliders called the ‘Wing’.. He gazed into the distance with a glint in his eye. “Yes, that was a nice glider for its time.” His recent gliders have always been very elegant, high aspect ratio designs, which must have made controlling wing twist a problem. “Yes it was, especially when the wing was highly loaded. I came into hang gliding from ‘segulflug’ in the 50s and 60s. I wanted them to be like sailplanes.”

One of his most famous designs was the Bullet, which harks back to the very earliest days of the enclosed cross tube gliders. Impressed with the speed of Jos’s 12-metre creation alongside the UP Comet the Americans started to refer to it as the bullet, “And the name seemed a good one so we used it! Later on Jos experimented by cutting off just one of the glider’s curved wing tips and flying it. “The shortened side flew better so we chopped off the other side and called the glider the Cut!”

Knowing him as a competition pilot and referring back to the small size of his enterprise I asked how he manages to ever get away. Leaning forward in his chair he smiled and told me that he just stops making gliders, “My wife, she looked after the place while I was away. But now I’m 60 I have decided to stop competing anyway. I used to enjoy flying 200 km and sleeping under my wing, waiting for the retrieve, but now I like to go home for a big bowl of pasta..”

As for sponsoring competition pilots, Jos can’t afford their terms. “They don’t expect to pay for their gliders – I can’t afford that – so although my gliders are good, the law of economics means pilots will go to the bigger companies.”

What of the future? Does he still want to build gliders? “Oh yes, yes. Especially now we have the ESC.” Just try and stop him, I thought.

Updated January 2011

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