Airwave of the Isle of Wight, UK

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Airwave of the Isle of Wight, UK

Airwave Magic 4 hang glider in France, in 1994
The author flying an Airwave Magic 4 on the France/Switzerland border

Yeah, we’re gonna get high
We’re gonna touch the sky

— from the lyrics of Living on an Island by Status Quo, 1979

In 1980, racing yacht designer Rory Carter, who lived and worked on the Isle of Wight off the central south coast of England, together with New Zealand sailmaker Graham Deegan, manufactured the Ultralight Products Comet under licence. Carter and Deegan were both also hang glider pilots and designers.

…production began in a local council ‘nursery’ factory unit. The metalwork was done five miles down the road in Newport and the office work in Rory’s bedroom.

— Stan Abbott (1)

Airwave hang glider factory on the Isle of Wight in 1986
New Airwave factory on a former farm at Shalfleet on the Isle of Wight in 1986. Photo by Gib Eggen. (No larger imaage available.)

The manufacturing licence was never signed and, as is often the case with such things, Ultralight Products and Airwave parted company, the latter renaming their glider the Magic. In the 1970s, Ulralight Products wings were renowned for their purpose-made high-quality fittings while other manufacturers used functional but cruder ‘nuts and bolts’ hardware. Birdman of Wiltshire, England, briefly partnered with UP, thereby gaining a lead in hardware that was clearly visible in the polished and clean look of their hang gliders.

Carter and Deegan began paying Brock royalties. A bank in Los Angeles apparently chose to hold on to the funds for six weeks and both parties thought they were being duped by the other.

— Gib Eggen (2)

Hang glider at Kimmeridge, Dorset, England, in 2002
Gary Dear launches in an Airwave Magic 3

However, by 1980, all American hang gliders had fallen behind the Brits in the design of fittings, particularly those that enable the pilot to rig his wing quickly and easily. After Airwave built several Comets, they started making improvements on the design and they called their version the Magic Comet. It including a different airfoil and a modified sail cut. The Airwave Magic Comet was superior to the UP Comet in its ergonomics and its performance and handling were at least as good.

Their first product was the UP Comet., the rights to build which cost the new company quite a large sum, and the royalties on the first one hundred units sold absorbed much of the profit. At the same time, the Comet seemed to be being copied for nothing by a number of other factories throughout the world.

— Noel Whittall (3)

Gary Dear launches in an Airwave Magic 3
…and away

To shed another flashlight beam into the dim corridors of the UP-Airwave collaboration: According to another industry insider, Airwave shipped a Magic Comet to UP in California, but received no response. After repeated requests for what UP’s intentions were, they finally got the glider back and discovered that it had never been out of the bag: All the original padding material was still in place exactly as when it was shipped out. That was what ultimately what made them decide to part ways with UP and manufacture the Magic Comet independently. The result was a feud with UP regarding whether the company was breaking its contract, one result of which was that Airwave dropped the Comet part of the name and their version was thereafter called simply the Magic.

Hang glider in flight viewed from below
The author in his Airwave 166 Magic IV. Photo by Justin Parsons. (No larger image available.)

Its definitive version was, arguably, the Magic IV, released in the spring of 1985. The Magic IV (and inevitable American-made copies) remained competitive among the next generation of flex-wings with superior performance, including the Wills Wing HP, Ultralight Products Glidezilla, Seedwings Sensor, and Moyes GTR. Those wings did not match the Magic 4’s combination of easy rigging and benign handling qualities combined with good performance. (I flew one from 1993, with a gap when I flew the UP TRX for about five years, until 2003. Before that change, other pilots sometimes asked when I was going to buy a new wing. I replied “As soon as they make one as good as the Magic 4!”)

The Mystic was an Airwave Magic clone made in the USA…

Until someone proves to me that there is something out there that out-performs my Mystic, I’ll stay with it. But, the main reason I fly a Mystic is safety. I fly in a lot of high winds, and the Mystic was designed for ease of setup and breakdown in high winds. In seconds, with the pull of one pin, I can have my glider lying flat in any wind. This has saved me more than once.

— Kevin Christopherson, World Record in Wyoming, published in Hang Gliding, August 1988. For more about Kevin’s adventures, see Wyoming in Hang gliding late 1980s.

Vision IV advert
The Vision IV advert in Hang Gliding, July 1987

Jean Michel Bernasconi set up Pacific Windcraft in California after leaving Flight Designs in 1982 and he used some of the features of competition wings in his easier to fly designs, the Vision Mk 4 being the best known example. In 1987 Pacific Windcraft became the U.S. importer of high performance Airwave hang gliders and the two firms merged as Pacific Airwave in 1987. The Isle of Wight factory then also manufactured the Vision Mk 4, renamed the Calypso. The Pulse was another in this line of intermediate wings.

Pacific Airwave Vision Pulse hang glider
Pacific Airwave Vision Pulse on the dunes of North Carolina

For a detailed history by John LaTorre of this collaboration, including differences between equivalent models made on each side of thee Atlantic, see Pacific Airwave in Jean-Michel Bernasconi and Pacific Windcraft.

Steve Siuda flying an Airwave K4 in July 2005. Photo by Craig Byrne.
Steve Siuda still flying his K4 in July 2005. Photo by paragliding ace Craig Byrne.

Airwave’s Magic and then the K-series hang gliders (starting with the Magic Kiss of 1989) were considered the best in the world and were the gliders chosen by top pilots.

Author’s reminiscence: Some pilots along with Airwave chief Rory Carter were rigging a new demonstration Magic Kiss in a concrete revetment in the village of Ager, northern Spain, in 1989. A clever and handsome pilot stopped by and asked about it. One on the crew explained a quirk concerning its rigging procedure, the details of which this author has long ago forgotten. Later in the day, after he had been up the mountain, the same people were still there, but they were de-rigging the glider. However, they were stuck. (Bear in mind that they were likely hot and dehydrated from carrying out a fairly physical task in that sun-baked concrete square for several hours.) Our hero spotted the problem. They had explained it to him that morning, so he merely explained it back to them. They were then able to continue de-rigging. They thanked him; the expert on the finer details of Airwave’s new hang glider!
— E.C.


Hang gliding early 1980s part 1

Jean-Michel Bernasconi and Pacific Windcraft

Rogallo versus Quicksilver in colour in Hang gliding 1974 part 3 for Graham Deegan’s first contribution to advancing the art of hang glider design

Solar Wings (Airwave’s principal British rival in hang glider manufacture) in Birdman and Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England

Ultralight Products of California and Utah related topics menu


1. Stan Abbott, There’s Magic in the Air, BHGA magazine Wings, June 1982

2. Gib Eggen writing in Whole Air, April 1986

3. Noel Whittall writing in Whole Air, December 1983

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