The Craggy Aero “Ultimate” flight computer is better than good. The glare-free screen is amazing in sunshine and it runs all the major soaring programs easily.
(Click for large size - new window)
You’ve probably seen the photo on the Craggy Aero web site with the shadow line of the glareshield crossing the computer and you can’t see the shadow at all on the screen? You would think that that the digital photo contrast was adjusted or you have to hold the camera just right to get that effect. No, it’s real. You absolutely cannot see the sunlight on the screen. It’s like a hole in the universe and you’re looking at a really high resolution VGA screen as clearly as sitting at your desk in your office. It is uncanny. Look at the glare on the mechanical instruments in my photo and then look at the Ultimate - there simply is no glare at all. It has a brightness control but you never need to turn it up to maximum.
The computer runs either WinPilot or SeeYou Mobile, so you’re not locked in to proprietary software. You could probably run XC-Soar or even install Linux on it. It has a CNC aluminium case, so there’s no PCB hanging out the back like the ClearNav (now known as the ClutterNav.) It has USB ports for downloading the files onto USB sticks and every other possible connector you might need. The processor is 4 times faster than the ClutterNav, the screen has 4 times the resolution and it has so many gigabytes of memory that you’ll never run out, even with maps for the whole world loaded.
The only thing that counts against the Ultimate is that all of the software is designed for use on a touch screen PDA but this screen has no touch-sensitive overlay, to keep down the glare. You must plug a mouse into it to use it. Richard has found these really great little trackballs that you hold with your index finger and your thumb operates the ball. It just uses a standard USB port so you can plug in any corded or cordless USB mouse that you prefer. The trackball is visible lying on the seat in my second photo.
Like all of these computers and PDAs, it works best with an input from a proper GPS vario such as a Cambridge 302. You would also want to have one of those as a secure logger, since the Ultimate would not be approved by the IGC. It will work with any logger or Flarm, even displaying the Flarm traffic on the map (dependent on the software chosen.)
Disclaimer: Richard did feed me dinner and let me sleep on his couch for a night but he didn’t ask me to write this review. I just had to share my great photos of this amazing device.
The Sparrowhawk ultralight glider is an absolutely amazing aircraft. Its origins, construction and performance make great stories but all of that is forgotten when you fly it. It flies like a conventional sailplane except it is different in every way. It is impossible to describe all of the differences or how they work to make this glider so much fun to fly.
Remember the old saying about thermals? “For every true fact which is known about thermals, there is an opposite fact which is equally true.” The Sparrowhawk does this for everything I thought I knew about glider handling and performance. This glider will soar the “sucker lift” outside the main core of a thermal because it’s able to turn inside those annoying 10-knot gusts that are unusable for a conventional sailplane. You don’t need to waste time searching for the core when you can get that kind of lift anywhere.
I had a chance to soar with a couple of hawks. You are thinking that you do this all the time with your local wedge-tailed eagles? No I mean really soar with the hawks. The birds treated the Sparrowhawk as if it was another bird. When the Sparrowhawk caught a gust, the birds came over to share the gust. When the birds nicked off in their own gust, then the Sparrowhawk was able to to follow them and utilise the same energy. Suddenly I had the feeling “So this is what it’s like for the birds.” My awareness of the canopy and the audio vario disappeared and I became only a pair of eyes on the front of a carbon fibre wing, accessing the same lift that the birds were using. The hawks were able to out-climb me but you would expect the older birds would be able to out-climb a fledgling sparrowhawk that’s only just fallen out of the nest and spread its wings for the first time.
But somewhow, for all its newness and differences, the Sparrowhawk is similar to a conventional sailplane. After a couple of hours I found myself thermalling at 40-50 knots, about 45 degrees bank angle, using all my normal centering techniques. I’m looking at the computer, plotting out my next turnpoint. Then I hit a gust. Roll! Pull! Cloudbase! Dive! Turnpoint! Turn!
Matt Hall has done his country proud yet again. Another 5th place in only his second Red Bull race.
Matt’s performance exceeded all expectations. He was the highest-placed rookie and beat many of the experienced pilots. And he’s only flying a rented plane! Most of the other pilots have modified their airplanes to suit their preferences but Matt is still flying a standard plane exactly as it came from the factory.
Matt was kind enough to give me a pit-pass for the race day so that I could come in and see how the pits are set up. There are 16 portable hangars which are air-freighted around the world for each race. The hangars are arranged in order of the pilot’s standing in the championship so Matt is near the front.
Click on the panorama to see a larger version. Matt’s hangar is still hard to see because he’s so close to the front.
One of the dramatic events of the race was a pelican hitting Hannes Arch, the championship leader, on the first lap of his final run. The pelican was absolutely shredded and fell into the bay in small pieces. The plane suffered a large hole in the tailplane. This didn’t prevent Hannes from completing the course and getting third place.
The crowd wasn’t too crowded in the area I was in. (Note the Perlan glider on the shirt.) One of the interesting things about this kind of racing is that it’s possible for non-pilots in the crowd to understand what the pilots are doing wrong when they get a penalty. It is obvious when the plane is too high or when it touches a pylon.
Go Matt Go!