My first Airwave Glider was a Magic I. This after a Cherokee was a revelation. In it's day, I felt the Cherokee was a good glider, but such is progress.
From the very first flight (1982?) to date, I have never had a single moment of worry that was attributable to any Magic that I have flown. I have been in some very tight situations; the surefooted Magic has seen me through. Safe predicable handling with the bonus of a high quality of finish and fittings, which ensure long life and good resale value.
The main points of interest from a flying point of view are easy handling and good pitch roll coordination, which the Magic has to perfection. During 1987 I started flying with a pitchy, which I found a useful aid. After such a long association with Airwave I felt felt it was time to look around to see what else was on offer. The Solar Wings Ace was now starting to be seen in prototype.
You may remember the Ace from several years ago 'sans keel pocket'. I remember Colin lark getting thrashed to the bottom of Spencers, not very impressive. This was replaced with the keel pocketed, semi-double surface. It was this machine that I began to take an in test in.
I flew a Streek in America which had 90% double surface and was very impressed with its performance. It puzzled me why Solar Wings opted for the partial double surface, (perhaps it was a computer brainchild). '
My first flight was at the rifle range at Mere, in fairly strong and roughish conditions, during which the Ace showed a slight advantage in sink rate, and I was impressed with its handling. However I was concerned with its pitch stability. Nothing actually happen In the air, but waiting to take off the Ace wanted to pitch down (a tendancy which my present RX still has).
My next encounter with the Ace was a rather amusing one. A certain Colin Graham travelled up from Devon with a full race Magic IV to meet Colin lark at Mere (actually Cowards Bowl). Colin lark had three Aces, a standard 160, a 160 RX and a special, "you've never seen anything like this'", he said. Mark Haycraft was also interested in the Ace, and I wanted to see If any advances had been made. The day was a lovely sunny high, with no wind and no thermal activity.
After an abortive attempt to soar by Bob Calvert, it was decided to have a glide-angle competition. Some discussion followed, with me elected to fly the full race Magic IV, Colin lark to fly my Magic Ill, Colin Graham on the Ace supership, Mark Haycraft on the Ace RX and ***** on the standard Ace.
Colin Lark led off, landing about 3/4 the way accross the bottom field. *** went next, but much too close behind Colln, getting a lot ot turbulent air. I don't think he made the half way mark.
I waited a good minute to let the air settle. Take-off was nil wind, and so easy it flattered my ability. I passed **** and Colin with ease and found myself heading for the next field, so I started some S-turns to shorten my distance, and even then I had to stall from about 15-20ft, recover and land (perfect stand-up). Not bad for a full race glider!
Colin Graham was next, landing short of Colin lark and Mark Haycraft just behind. Not the result we had come to see.
I wonder what happened to the supership?
That was in early 86 and it was not until early 87 that I had a chance meeting with the Solar Wings test team at Westbury. They had three Aces, a 150, 160 and 170. I flew all three on this day. The 160 was the best, but all three showed a marked tendancy to tighten up In 360's. Incidently I was given the 150 to fly with the hang strap much too far back. It went up like a bat out of hell, but was almost impossible to fly in straight line.
Colin had suggested that the 150 would be the one for me to fly. (He claimed the 170 would be too much of a handful. Funny, I thought the Ace was supposed to have exceptional handling?). After a few days with the 150 I decided to go for a 160 RX. Colin Lark offered a 160 for test, but when I arrived at the factory I was told it was not available. I asked how long it would before I could have a new one. They told me 6 months. I laughed and said, "Don't bother, I'll buy a Magic". As I walked out someone suggested I contact Simon White, as he had slots booked.
This I did and was told two weeks and I could have a new 160 Rx. Six weeks later I received it. Well most of it was new. The king post looked like an old A-frame side and the bottom bar was very second hand, the rubber grips were rotting away. Pencil marks adorned the sail. The fitting at the tips looked like it was done at the local butcher shop (sorry local butcher). The mylar leading edge material looked like reject. A former Solar Wings employee said he thought it was a sail they had been experimenting on.
What about how it flies? Well nearly as good as a Magic IV. Occasionally goes into negative bar pressure dives. A bit of a challenge really.
It's a pity that a good basic design could not be better turned out.
Sorry about the ***** but I couldn't read Bill's writing.
If ever there was a legend in his own lunch time it was Bill Niblett, the Sky God of Westbury. During the 80's and early 90's Bill was always flying at Westbury and he was nearly always having the best of it. His unusual launching style and long Cruise harness marked him out. He was never shy with his opinions either being very much a character ;-)
In the 90's after an accident made running difficult he quit flying hang-gliders and took up sailplaning. He currently flies from "the Park" just north of Mere.
This is Bill's opinion of the one of the classic late 80's hang-gliders the Solar Wings Ace. In their day Solar Wings and Airwave were very much like Coke and Pepsi. You usually loved one and hated the other.
We've had some good feedback already about this section - thanks! The more eagle-eyed will note that I've done some more work on it too. If you have any articles you'd like us to include, please email them to myself and the Nova Editor.