The Exxtacy
A pilot tells his story...
(by Hansjörg Trisllinsinn, who has no commercial interest in the world of Free Flight.)

The Exxtacy has been front and center since Summer '97. Here is the first "hang-glider-like" rigid wing, or "hybrid wing," that has met with commercial success. Flight Design has already sold 400 wings worldwide. This wing holds almost 100% of the market for new hang-gliders here in Switzerland.

Leisure pilots are as pleased with it as are long distance cross-country pilots for whom new horizons open up. Comp skygods are the only pilots still forced to torture themselves flying traditional equipment--a sad thing... It was easy to guess last year already that the performances announced would not be just marketing hype. But the proof of the cake was still missing: long distance flying, and competition flying, against the best pilots.

The cake tastes just fine. This new rigid wing has been a hands-down winner of all comparisons and all competitions it entered in Switzerland to this day: best glide, cumulative mileage flights (CCC Cup), local, regional and national comps. The Exxtacy beats all the traditional hang-gliders in terms of glide ratio. The difference between an Exxtacy and a hang-glider sporting a king-post is roughly equivalent to the difference between a hang-glider and a paraglider. Furthermore, the Exxtacy climbs much better than any other free-flight machine when the thermals are weak and wide. And it certainly holds its own when they are narrow and booming. Flying along other wings on XC flights, the best Exxtacy was consistently 25 to 35% faster than the best hang-gliders. Local comps and, specifically, the 71 km triangle, illustrate that very well: six Exxtacys finish before the first hang-glider. Average speed for the winner was 51 km/h (1 h 23 min!), compared to 35 km/h (1 h 50 min). The Exxtacy gained roughly 20 km over a 71 km course. By the way, no-one had ever clocked a 51 km/h average speed in a comp in Switzerland before.

Indeed, the "Big Bang", for instance a 300 km flight in the Alps, hasn't happened yet. But the cumulative mileage that Heini Moser has logged for the CCC Cup is an outstanding testimony to its potential: 220 km distance record in the Jura (somewhat milder mountain area in France, north of Switzerland) in 4 hours (Belchen-Genève), record for an out-and-back in Switzerland, flying with Richi Meier, under an Exxtacy (first flight over 200 km, Andermatt-Anzère and back), 210 km flight with a turning point (Kühboden-Anzère-Laax). All these flights were done when weather conditions were far from being the best: The Jura record was broken when the wind was howling at 40 km/h--a hang-glider pilot would not have launched in such conditions. The out-and-back in the Valais suffered from the lousy thermals that were popping up that day--average speed was 30 km/h. The flight with turning point to Anzère was done bucking a strong westerly wind. The cumulative mileage logged by the current European champion is the best since the Cup was started--yet, Heini would have easily won the hang-glider CCC Cup with the miles that had to be docked. ///NOT TOO CLEAR--I GUESS IT MEANS THE MILES LOGGED WITH THE EXXTACY DIDN'T COUNT???/// According to the testing done this year in Switzerland, the longest distances for the Exxtacy could be, using the best scenarios, a 400 km flight (for instance, Kühboden-Zell am Zee) and a 300 km out-and-back (for instance Flims-Crans-Flims.)

Great performance is one thing, but safety is another matter to ponder! The Exxtacy wins in this category as well, thanks to:

There has not been, worldwide, one tuck or any other accident that could be blamed on its new design. This reflects well the feeling of stability and reliability one gets when flying the Exxtacy. Sure, an Exxtacy broke up in flight at the Salève! A beginner had brutalized the wing trying to do botchy and slipshod acrobatics, that he could not complete (no harm to the pilot.) The Exxtacy has passed every single strength test done within its flight domain, in all the renown world sites, at times with rather extreme weather conditions.

In general, the pilot feels that s/he is more relaxed, more free, more independent when flying:

Certain fears need to be debunked, notably regarding the leading edge (honeycomb/fiberglass mat), and regarding how durable the wing would be in daily use. Little dings that occur when transporting the wing do not affect its mechanical strength and can be fixed almost for nothing by the pilot himself. One can even repair some pretty heavy damage done to the main spar with an available repair kit, as it was done after a collision with a hang-glider in Florida, or after a dust devil tossed a wing on a parked car in Australia. A broken main spar could probably even be repaired by a professional skilled worker. In the beginning, the weight appeared as a handicap for many pilots. It is now possible to pull the two halves apart: handling the weight of the whole wing is not such an issue anymore. Initial flaws have been spotted and corrected: for instance, the trapeze ///TRIANGLE???/// was too weak and would buckle after small errors when landing, and some anchoring tape was not glued properly on the main spar.

Flight Design is not resting on its laurels: the Exxtacy has welcomed a 36 kg little brother in July '98 (certification still pending): the word is that it would be as good a fit for pilots of average weight. In the U.S., Bright Star sells the successor of the Swift, the Millennium, which boasts of foldable ribs, a pilot seat with fairing and joystick. A number of manufacturers try to copy the Pegasus and the Exxtacy, with little innovation to offer. At any rate, those "hybrid wings" represent the most futuristic designs spawned to this day by the hang-gliding world in the 80's and 90's. Should you leave your hang-glider to gather dust in your garage and go buy an Exxtacy? Every pilot must decide for him- or herself. But if it is time to replace your wing, it would be a pity not to go test fly an Exxtacy. Unfortunately, this wing offers one sore spot: it should have come fifteen years earlier…