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Review by: John Thompson
Published: Feb. 12, 2000
I remember the first flight simulator I ever played. It was on my father’s original Macintosh, and it consisted of a wireframe landscape and a basic cockpit, and it ran in black and white only. I thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. That was many years ago; now today’s flight sims are pushing the boundaries of photo-realism, and the intricate code used to recreate the flight models of a modern jet would make my dad’s poor Mac implode. At times, when playing these technologically stunning sims, I have wished for a return to the good old days, when a simple product could still give me gaming goosebumps. Enter Hangsim, a new flight simulator by Wilco Publishing focused not on taking out the bad guy with a missile from 50 miles away, but on taking a 50-mile-long flight up the coast in your favorite ultralight or hang-glider. The only thing to fight in Hangsim are the thermals–and that’s a good thing.
New ideas in this industry are few and far between, so when even a small company puts out a product in limited release that is different from anything else on the shelf, it’s worth a look. Hangsim is all that and more. It takes a new idea–a sim devoted solely toward ultralight powered and unpowered flight–and runs with it. There are no furballs at 40,000 feet, no flak exploding outside, and no radar warnings blaring about an incoming SAM. There’s just you, your aircraft, and the world around you. Oh yes, and there are the winds–the fickle, fickle winds–which are both your friend and foe. Learning to read what the prevailing winds are doing to your glider takes the place of the learning curves in other flight sims built around finding and destroying the enemy, or negotiating the crowded airspace over Chicago’s O’Hare International. My point is that just because you don’t have engines doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do and learn in Hangsim.
One of the strengths of Hangsim is that it doesn’t start you at too high a point along the learning curve, as in asking you to hop into your glider and conquer the zephyrs–although you do have that option. Instead, flyers are given the chance to learn by trying more forgiving craft first. My inaugural attempt at ultralighting was in the Thunder Motorized Ultralight. The specs in the manual show this craft weighs in at a disconcertingly buoyant 450 pounds. The ultralight is a hybrid between an aircraft and a hang-glider, consisting of some fabric stretched over a complex web of aluminum tubing, and designed to allow maximum support and strength for minimum weight. The lawnmower-esque motor, which sits behind the pilot in a “pusher” alignment, allows powered climbs, a crucial element to the beginner’s management of the basics of flight. The ultralight’s top speed is around 31 knots, and is nobody’s idea of a speed demon. But what it offers is a safe, fun, and easy way to get used to flying.
Once the Thunder has been mastered, a bevy of other choices await, each becoming successively harder. Next in line is the Spider motorized paraglider. To get an idea of the Spider, picture a parachutist with a huge fan strapped to his back. To take off in the Spider, the pilot cranks up the engine and dashes down the runway, creating an area of low pressure under the canopy’s wing, which then lifts the pilot into the air. After the Spider, it’s time to strap into a hang-glider and truly test your knowledge. There are three models from which to choose: the Storm, a beginner’s model; the Seagull, a powered version of the Storm; and the Sensor, a high-performance model made for acrobatics. Also available is the Hawk, a glider that is towed into the air by a powered aircraft. Once at the desired altitude, the glider pilot pops the tow rope loose and is free to glide to his or her heart’s content.
Each aircraft in Hangsim has been extensively and meticulously researched and tested; the developers at Wilco are obviously big fans of ultralights. The modeling is accurate down to differences in drag coefficients, glide ratios, and load factors, giving each its own set of characteristics and foibles. For instance, flying the Storm allows for a much more ham-handed flying technique than the Sensor; little twitches and gusts of air don’t affect you nearly as much. If the Storm could be described as one of the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Sensor is Secretariat himself. All the craft come with a basic instrument panel with an airspeed indicator, an altimeter, a vertical speed indicator, a tachometer, and a compass. Besides being available through a basic panel, this information is also viewable through a heads-up display, so pilots won’t have to take their eyes off the landscape to check their instruments.
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