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First chance to fly my brand new Litesport3 at Tunkallilla, our big coastal site, on Sunday… and what a day it was! Took a while to set up my little sweetie for the first time, of course, but setting up flat on the clean, dry grass was straightforward and I had no trouble tensioning the tip wands. Fitted the wheels, a very thorough preflight, and I was ready to go!

People made admiring comments, although some expressed doubt as to my colour scheme (“did you actually, like, CHOOSE those colours?!?”), which I picked partly because they’d be unique (“for good reason”, my daughter commented drily, ha-ha) and easy to see in the sky.

Geoff also had his first flight in his orange and blue Litesport4, the bargain he’d picked up in NSW (see my blog).

I ran off the hill and WOW! I couldn’t believe it. I just went up, and up and up! Geoff later said that in the first 5 minutes in his wing, he got higher than he’d ever been at the site. Yes, it was an epic day – huge fat mellow thermals, light wind, just perfect air – the sort of special day that only happens a few times a year here, but nevertheless the feel of the wing was so different from the Shark. The Shark is a really sweet glider but is kinda stodgy and unwilling in comparison. The litesport felt so light (and it is literally lighter, almost 5 kg lighter than the Shark) and responsive to the air, so much like it wanted to fly and go up, and when I hooked it into the first thermal, I was amazed again. My little Shark is a sweet glider but to my surprise the Litesport is easier to thermal. Once banked it sits in the bank nicely, doesn’t wind in or out, so you need only tiny control inputs to finesse the core, rather than constant high-siding. It was also easy to sort of slow up the inside wing and kind of yaw up around it with it almost stationary in these mellow thermals – don’t know the technical term for this but it was fun and automatic. Someone told me that’s just a characteristic of curved tip gliders but I’ve never thermalled in one before so it was a new and wonderful experience. Yeehhaaa!

The handling is only marginally heavier than the Shark, not a problem at all, although at 69kg I’m at the heavy end of the weight range, which gives me an advantage. Not that it seemed to make much difference – I had no problems going up! The glider seemed to surge forward and up into the thermals, and the sensitivity of the wingtips made it easy to feel and turn early towards any lift.

I’d flown a friend’s Litesport at another, non-thermic coastal site, and loved the wing then, but I had no idea just how fantastic it is for thermalling.

I had plenty of height (about 1500’ agl) so I put the glider through Easterly Plumbing’s suggested list of paces, all without VG at first, then with VG at different settings.

First, hands off flying to check the trim – definitely not too slow, no porpoising and fell away equally to both sides. Then a few stalls and maybe it is trimmed a bit fast, because I couldn’t get it to stall even at full arm extension (though I was hanging slightly high in my lightweight harness, about two fists rather than one above the basebar; will have to try it with my XC harness for which the hangloop is measured and in which I’ll be my preferred one fist up). When I pushed out with stretched fingertips, I was only just able to induce a stall, a mush really. I didn’t try a stall with full vg.

Then I did turns at increasing bank angles and speeds, with corresponding roll reversals, first without VG and then with VG. It’s very stiff in the turn at what I thought was full VG, (but later when packing up I realized wasn’t – have yet to mark the cord) but, with no VG as when scratching or thermalling close to the ridge, roll reversal was amazingly good (all that carbon maybe, and my extra kilos).

Then I did some speed runs in that nice mellow air at nil and then increasing VG settings. No PIO whatsoever and wow, it’s SO FAST! Exhilarating, and I didn’t end up at half hill height at the end of the run! I’ll have to change my landing approaches – no more just pulling in the bar to drop out of the sky! I just can’t believe the difference and I’m bursting with excitement even as I write this, reliving the flight!

I remember when I first flew the Shark, how sites opened up. I was able to go places I couldn’t easily reach in the floater – less because of the performance of the wing, but because I’ve always lacked confidence in going to the back ridge or over tiger territory like unlandable rocky coastline, forests etc in case I can’t get back to the front (I’ve been caught once and landed in horrendous air; it was a TIWTIWGTD moment). But there were still many places I wasn’t comfortable going in the Shark. The Shark is notorious for its polar which drops away very fast at higher airspeeds, due to its fiberglass outboards which flex excessively. And there’s a lot more wind at height and in the compression of the back ridge than lower out the front. For this reason, I’ll often be thermalling on the coast, and as the wind strength increases bail back to the front rather than getting high over the back ridge (even though other pilots stay in the thermals perfectly safely).

So there I was in the Litesport, twirling up and drifting back… and back… and back. I started to bail, but penetrated forward so easily and quickly (although it was a lightish day, would be more careful on a stronger day) that I realized I had a HUGE margin to play with, so I flew back, and up, and up, and up! I flew places at Tunk I’d never been before with complete confidence, that wonderful glide angle giving me so much more mental freedom. Those who read my Sting3, U2, Sport2 comparison might recall that this was one of the things I was hoping extra performance at the top end would provide. I’m not sure whether other pilots will relate to this confidence thing or not, or whether it’s just a personal quirk.

Although the direction and strength were good for toplanding, I’d decided before I launched that I wouldn’t do that today, so after a couple hours of awesome flying I set up for a landing in the nice flat grassy paddock at the base of the hill. I thought I’d try to use as little of the paddock as possible (without doing any crazy maneuvers close to the ground of course), set up and waited patiently, very patiently, to lose height. Pulled in a little extra speed, came into ground effect in a pleasant 4-5kts and wait… wait… wait… flare! No steps, almost dropped the nose but it didn’t touch the ground. Woo-hoo, not bad for a first effort!

Dave G wasn’t quite sure what to make of me bouncing around ecstatically after I got out of the harness, maybe he thought I’d landed on an ant’s nest!

Geoff landed, only running it out a few steps, so he was equally stoked. Even though this glider is kingposted it is NO WAY an intermediate glider and newer pilots reading this should realise that although I'm not an especially confident pilot I have 600+ hours so I'm not inexperienced. This glider would be a handful for a new pilot. It will be quite twitchy in rougher air and I’ll work up to that. In fact, I flew the following day at the same site. It was fresh (18kts) and thermic, with the thermals also very strong and sharp-edged and bringing the wind up another 10 kts. I rather reluctantly decided not to fly the Litesport and flew the Falcon down low instead. As soon as I got into the air, I was glad of my decision: conditions were horrible and lumpy and at this stage I would have hated it in the twitchier Litesport.

The hardest thing for me will to be not to push too fast because I’ve had such a fantastic first flight, but I know what works for me and baby steps is the way to go (YMMV). Dial in the glider in good conditions, hopefully multiple launches and landings at Ochre or Tunk, so I have no scares or setbacks to knock my confidence in this lovely wing.