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Wills Wing Sport 3 Review

Aaron writes:

After spending some time getting used to how the Wills Wing Sport
3 flies, as well as discussing the characteristics with others who have flown
them, I felt compelled to write up my impressions about it. I have always been a
fan of the glider reviews that Dennis Pagen would do for Hang Gliding magazine,
and I always put a lot of stock in what he would present. This won’t be in that
same vein, however, because there’s only one Dennis Pagen, and I am not him.
These are my own personal impressions.

Full disclosure; I have been a Wills Wing dealer for a long time now, and I love
selling people new gliders, but only if I believe that the new glider will be an
asset to their flying. Also, I am not a typical pilot in that I don’t fly with
instruments and prefer a more tactile and intuitive sensory style of flying,
which will become a little more clear throughout this review.

I have sold a number of Sport 2’s over the years, and as such I have had the
pleasure (and responsibility) of test flying them to make sure that they were
well tuned and ready to go for customers so that they could hook right into them
without any glider related issues to sort out while transitioning to the new
wing. Typically nothing needs to be done to tune gliders straight form the
factory, but occasionally there is a bit of a turn that needs to be
straightened, or the trim needs to be adjusted, but that’s fairly standard for
most new gliders. Modern gliders are manufactured to such tight tolerances these
days that gliders come out very consistently, and so that makes test flying much
easier than in decades past.

But flying the Sport 3 has been a bit different. I had a conversation with Steve
Pearson quite a while back about the 135 Sport 3, and I was saying that were I
to get one as my own personal glider, I’d likely get the 135. I told him that I
preferred it over the 155 because it handled incredibly well, like a toy, and
that even at its smaller size it had a great sink rate compared to other gliders
that I would be competing with at our local sites. If I could stay up during a
mid day flush, while others sunk out, I attributed it to the superior handling
that allowed me to more precisely negotiate the light lift, and yet still
maintain a sink rate that would make that light lift survivable. Steve seemed to
disagree with my preference, although not my opinion of the little Sport.

Then we got a Sport 3 demo, in the 155 size. This glider changed my mind
completely about the model line as a whole. Previously I felt that the Sport 2
155 was a bit large for my weight, and a bit too docile for my preference. By
docile I mean that the handling was a bit too soft and not as snappy as I would
have wanted from a mid range glider, and that the trim seemed to be a bit on the
slow side, which again would tend to make the glider feel a bit spongey. Which
is why I liked the snappiness of the smaller size. But the Sport 3 155 seemed to
have more than a few refinements which I can’t really speak of in great detail
because Wills Wing doesn’t always spell out every little tweak and nip/tuck that
they do between various models. I can describe my observations, however.

The Sport 3 sail is the first thing anyone will notice that is different. The
top surface is immaculately clean and smooth. The diagonal creases that ran from
the end of the tip wand to the end of the leading edge that were characteristic
of the Sport 2 series are gone. The new tips are clean, smooth, and beautiful. I
really love a clean sail, and the Sport 3 doesn’t disappoint. The bottom surface
has also been cleaned up a lot. In general, most gliders have always had a
“soft” area on the bottom surface around the crossbar to leading edge junction,
even with VG tight. Frequently the bottom surface would also be soft out near
the tip, as well. No more. When the VG is pulled progressively tighter, the
bottom surface of the Sport 3 also gets progressively cleaner, and once the VG
is about 3/4 tight, the bottom has become smooth and clean and quiet. By quiet,
I mean devoid of movement which can be felt as a sort of tactile “noise” in the
basetube. I’ll describe that in a bit.

The bottom surface has been expanded rearward to enclose the single sprog inside
the sail, as opposed to the narrower bottom surface that allowed the sprog to
extend out of the rear of the bottom surface into the airflow. Now the bottom of
the glider is smooth and clean from the leading edge to the trailing edge, with
no protrusions or excess material to disrupt the airflow and create drag. Drag
negatively impacts performance, and cleaning up drag can improve performance
across the speed range, particularly at higher speeds.

Overall, the Sport 3 still maintains the moderate aspect ratio planform that it
always has, but within that platform it has become cleaner, smoother, and even
tighter and flatter at the upper range of the VG settings. Part of that is due
to the sail refinements, but also due to the addition of a second reflex bridle
cable per side, which allows for a lower sprog setting. Pitch stability is
consistent with the Sport 2’s single bridle line per side and higher sprog
settings, but with a flatter, lower twist configuration that improves glide
performance as well as pitch pressure while gliding.

Dennis Pagen would normally talk about setup and breakdown, and what a glider’s
hardware is like, but by now most people are pretty familiar with Wills Wing’s
hardware, so there’s no need to go on about that. These gliders are statically
well balanced and are easy to ground handle and launch. There are no surprises
with launch and landing. Their light weight makes it easy to get the glider
moving down the launch slope, and they don’t have any strange or annoying
tendencies to pitch up while standing in a wind on launch. Launching is easy,
perhaps the easiest of any of the current Wills Wing models to date. Falcons are
super easy to launch, but in a wind they have a bit more of a positive pitch
tendency which can make it a bit more difficult to keep the nose down
comfortably in increasing winds. The Sport 3 is extremely easy to manage in no
winds or even higher winds.

So after the easy launch, how does it fly? I can dig deep into the handling
characteristics, and will, but in a single sentence I will say that it is pure
fun. This is where I describe the tactile and intuitive aspect that defines my
own flying style which translates to glider preferences. As I said, I don’t fly
with instruments. That means no vario, no altimeter, nothing. In order to work
lift, I need to feel it, sense it, and work it without the assistance of a
beeping vario to tell me I’m in lift. I also have to be able to tell when I’m in
lift, sink, or simply turbulence. In order to fly this way, it helps
dramatically to have a glider that responds to the changes in the air, the
textural differences taht we could see if there were smoke in the air, and which
we can sense if our gliders act as a sensitive and reliable interface between us
and the air. Sounds esoteric, and those dependent on varios always like to
debate such concepts, but such debates can be had at another time.

Because I fly with no instruments, I want a glider that I can feel connected to.
Like a good set of skiis, or a favorite airbrush, or a custom guitar, or any
other tool that we might have that fits so well that we don’t have to think
about using it to make it do what we want it to do. Such pieces of equipment
have to feel just right in order for people to get beyond the mechanical aspects
of operating them and just “doing” what they want to do with them. This
difficult to define quality is what I have absolutely loved about the T2 and now
the T3, but it also exists abundantly in the Sport 3. Let me try to explain.
This might be hard.

When entering an area of lift, the air is not simply static around that area,
with a clear cut shear boundary where beyond that the air is moving straight up.
The air is a fluid medium, and lift moves upwards, outwards, shifting, swirling,
sometimes rotating, and demonstrating a fair bit of dynamic behavior. Watch
steam or smoke stacks rising to see how complex all the eddies and vortices and
currents move around. The influence of a thermal extends well beyond its actual
upward rising mass, and until we actually get into air that is rising faster
than our sink rate, we get no audible signal of lift. Unless of course you’re
using something configured more complexly than the average vario is. One thing
that helps me with thermaling is to know where the thermal is, to the left or
the right. A glider that is sensitive to up, down, sideways, and swirling air
helps to point to where the thermal is, which gives a clue as to which way to
turn to go find it. The same applies to defining the core of the thermal.
Without a vario beeping to tell me the variations in vertical speed, I depend on
the glider to indicate if I have more lift on the right than the left, and vice

So sensitivity is key to successfully mapping out what the air is doing, but
balance is equally if not more key to managing that feedback. I have flown
gliders that tend towards roll unstable, where once they are banked tend to bank
even more, which then requires more effort to halt the banking and to unbank
them if it is turbulence induced. Similarly, I have flown gliders that have
transient trim, where if I encounter turbulence or sink, the nose can drop and
remain down at a lower angle of attack even if the speed is increasing. That
kind of glider seems to be happy with varying trim positions in different types
of air, which can be uncomfortable on the one hand, and also make it hard to
define what is air texture and what is glider behavior. I prefer gliders that
have very distinct and consistent behavior, so that wherever I am feeling is
then attributable to the air texture. Roll neutral, so that once tipped the
gliders don’t tend to want to keep banking steeper, and yet also will remain
banked in a thermal without constantly low siding to keep it there. And pitch
trim distinct so that if the bar comes back and stays back, then I know I am in
increasingly poor quality air, sink, or the over the falls area of a thermal. A
glider that is well balanced in both roll neutrality and pitch consistency,
combined with enough sensitivity to transmit all the variations of air texture
is what makes for a beautifully flying glider for me, and makes it a dream to
fly without instruments.

The T2, and now the T3, both have these qualities built in. I love flying them,
and taking advantage of the top of the line performance that they deliver.
Higher speed gliding, aerobatics (which I absolutely love!), top of the line
glide ratio and reach, and the handling behavior mentioned above are what has
had me loving the T series gliders for what, a decade and a half now? But the T
series gliders are comp gliders, and being comp gliders are definitely not for
every pilot. A lot of pilots get them for the performance, thinking that it will
put them on equal ground with other top pilots, allowing them to get as high and
go as far. That’s not necessarily the case, and too many pilots get comp gliders
when they would be better served all around with a mid range glider like the
Sport series.

Which brings us back to the Sport 3. The Sport 3 is more sensitive than the comp
series gliders, so it provides more feedback. It’s also more responsive, which
means that once you receive that feedback you can respond quicker and take
advantage of even smaller, more localized patches of lift. It also means that
when launching or landing, if you get tossed around by turbulence, you can get
on it faster and maintain a more defined and desired path around and into the
landing area. As disconcerting as it is to get a big turbulent bump while banked
up from base to final, it’s very reassuring to know that you can immediately
counter that upset with rapid and predictable handling. That translates to less
stress and more fun.

In my honest opinion, the Sport 3 is an awesome glider. Technically it has
maintained every bit of friendliness as its predecessor, being light weight and
easy to launch and land, and handles quickly and predictably. But beyond that,
it has incorporated features and refinements seen on the comp gliders to make it
cleaner and more efficient. In other words, the Sport 3 is as easy and fun to
fly with the VG loose and at slower speeds, but with the VG tight and at higher
speeds it is definitely more competitive with higher performance gliders. The
useable envelope has been expanded from the Sport 2 to the Sport 3, which is not
often seen these days.

I wanted to really test out the wing before giving any in depth commentary on
it, and I have been doing just that. I have been flying it in the same
conditions and with the same goals as I have with the T series gliders. I have
found that I can climb at least as well as I can with the T gliders, and with
noticeably less effort expended. The quick, sweet handling makes navigating
thermals quite pleasant and less tiring. It slows down quite well, and floats
beautifully in lift. On the faster side, when the VG is pulled tighter, it
glides remarkably well, although to be fair it does not hold its glide as well
as the T gliders at high speeds. That’s to be expected, of course, BUT it does
maintain an incredibly respectable glide that to me is unexpected. In fact, I
have been pleasantly surprised at how good the glide is with VG 3/4 to full on.
It cruises, and one of the best improvements to the Sport 3 is that the bar
pressure has been lightened up within the range from trim to just beyond best
glide. One thing that always bugs me is having to hold X number of pounds of
pressure on the basetube when going on a long glide. Holding a penny out at arms
length for a few minutes makes the penny seem really heavy. Similarly holding
the bar in for best glide, or faster when penetrating a headwind, can get
annoying after a few minutes, but WW has managed to make that process a lot more
pleasant by reducing the pitch pressure within the normal range of glide speeds.

My conclusion is that the Sport 3 is probably the best all around recreational
glider Wills Wing has ever made. It definitely owns the ladder rung when
stepping up from a single surface glider like the Falcon, being light weight and
easy to manage. And it has an amazing ability to climb with or at times better
than any other wing. And with a very effective VG range it is not even close to
being a slouch with its reach. I think this is it. A really awesome, fun, all
around glider that so far I have not seen any downsides to. How weird is that?
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