Hang gliding 1974 part 4

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Hang gliding 1974 part 4

This page continues from Hang gliding 1974 part 3.

Many of the images on this page are artistic derivations of contemporary photos. See Copyright of early hang gliding photos.

On the eastern side of the USA, John LaTorre and his wife had a friend staying. Hang gliding instructor Don Clarke slept on the couch of their living room on the third floor of a row house on University Parkway…

On weekends, we’d hear him come up the steps, slowly and painfully. He’d let himself down on the couch with a groan, and we’d hand him a beer. And he would proceed to tell us how great a sport hang gliding was! If a sport could cause so much pain and yet be rewarding enough for him to evangelize it, there must really be something to it…

— John LaTorre (see the John LaTorre related topics menu)

Roger P's first hang glider
Roger Platt’s first hang glider at Monk’s Down, north Dorset

These photos of Roger Platt of Poole in Dorset, England, are by Roland Lewis-Evans. Like John LaTorre in the USA, Roly was to become a leading hang glider sail-maker. Roger bought this glider from somebody in Brighton, Sussex, via an advert in the weekly periodical Exchange & Mart. We suspect that it is an early Skyhook with a replacement control frame and a stand-up webbing harness, like that made by Wasp in Surrey, rather than a Skyhook seat harness. Notice the absence of top rigging and the flapping of the distorted sail.

Roger previously manufactured surf boards. In keeping with the ‘surfing model’ of early southern California hang gliding, wittingly or otherwise, together with Pete Jordan, he started manufacturing hang gliders and harnesses under the name Kestrel Kites in Poole.

To impart a flavor of the difficulty in learning to fly a hang glider at this time, here is disillusioned New Zealand television producer John Veysey, who received his first hang gliding lesson in 1975. (What he refers to as the cross-bar is the control frame base tube)…

The two men had let go of the wing-tips and were shouting at me: “Pull the bar in! Pull the bar in!” With its nose facing upwards, the glider slowed to a halt. We had lost flying speed and it was too late for me to pull the bar in before the ground came up at us in a hurry. I lifted my feet high thinking I’d be air borne that much longer. My fingers, clenched round the cross-bar, took the full impact of the crash but my body plunged through the A-frame without injury.

“Very good, Very good.” said the instructor running up to me. He looked genuinely pleased. “Would you like another go?”

“Yes. Yes please” I said.

— John Veysey via e-mail August 11th, 2020

Roger P's first hang glider
Roger Platt’s first hang glider

Technical: Roger is clearly experiencing difficulty in getting the glider nose-down enough to gain adequate airspeed. The large amount of billow undoubtedly caused a forward center of lift, which would account for that. All these gliders seemed prone to lurching to one side or the other as a result of turbulence. That might be because of the pointed wing tips: Some years later, Rollin Klingberg discovered that the ‘stickiness’ of air molecules (so-called Reynolds number) causes airfoils of short chord — such as those at the tip of a standard Rogallo — (at the short spans and low airspeeds of hang gliders) to stall at a comparatively low angle of attack. It seems to me that could affect standard Rogallos even with their huge washout (wing twist). When batten-supported tip roach was introduced the following year, gliders so equipped seemed to me much better behaved (as well as being more efficient).

Page from the 1974 Kestrel Kites brochure
Page from the 1974 Kestrel Kites brochure

The original art, here modified to show the curved one-piece control frame, was by Don Murray for Eipper Formance. (See Naming of parts in Rogallo wing definitions and diagrams.) For more about Kestrel Kites, see under External links later on this page.

While in California five years later, Roly visited Roger, who had emigrated to San Luis Obispo. See the Plowshare peak box on the Spectra Aolus page for more about that. See also the Roly Lewis-Evans, sail maker, related topics menu.

John Jenkins in his home-built wing
John Jenkins in his home-built wing

Author’s reminiscence: I saw John Jenkins’ glider flying subsequently and I was struck by the way its thin rip-stop nylon sail rippled audibly–a kind of muted rustling–yet it seemed to perform at least as well as other hang gliders of the time.

Meanwhile, in the USA…

Eight hang gliders in the air in 1974 and more on the hill
Eight in the air, more on the hill. Photo by Leroy Grannis via Ken de Russy.
Eight hang gliders in the air in 1974 with arrows overlaid
Arrows point to the wings in the air

Screenshot from film by Robert E. Lorey at Elberta dune, Michigan, June and July 1974
Unusual control frame at the Elberta dune (screenshot from a film by Robert E. Lorey, no larger version available)

While these pages generally refrain from depicting the many variations of structure and wing shape that were tried at this time, this serves as an example of a reasonable adaptation that fell to the scythe of natural selection. It is one of two standard Rogallos of different manufacture at the same event where the control frame is shaped to better accommodate the pilot in a prone harness. As it turned out (reasoning retrospectively) the advantage, if any, was outweighed by the need to use stronger tubing (the down-tubes are under compression, so are ideally straight) as well as incurring higher manufacturing cost and more difficulty in folding it neatly alongside the main tubes in the glider’s de-rigged state (for transporting and storage).

Screenshot from film by Robert E. Lorey at the Elberta dune, Michigan, June and July 1974
Blown over by the wind at the Elberta dune (screenshot from a film by Robert E. Lorey)

For more images and links to film and photos taken at this event, see Elberta Dune, Michigan, July 1974.

Standard Rogallo hang glider launching from Grandfather Mountain
Standard Rogallo hang glider launching from Grandfather Mountain in September 1974, in the Hugh Morton Photographs and Films #P0081, copyright © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library

The pilot here has his left hand on the base tube and his right hand on the down-tube, a popular method for ground handling and launching at the time. The transition from ground to air, involving physical and sensory coordination unique in aviation*, is one of the most difficult aspects of hang gliding to learn.

* Learning to launch in a paraglider is similarly challenging, but it is less physical. Paragliders were still 15 years away at this time.

See more of Hugh Morton’s photos at this site in Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina, 1974.

Pushing the outside of the envelope

Many pilots in these early days only gradually became aware that hang gliding was not like off-road bike riding where, if you came off, your chances of being seriously hurt were slight. (I had already been hospitalised before even getting off the ground. Have you ever seen the workings of a knee joint — your own — between the exposed thick skin and muscle of a horizontal gash? I do not recommend it.)

Downwind by Larry Fleming. (The wing in the photo is a late 1970s design.)

To illustrate the point, here is an excerpt from Larry Fleming’s delightful little account of the early days of hang gliding in the USA:

Sometimes pilots attempt a three sixty in front and below the cliff and end up misjudging the distance. They would plow into the sheer wall with a twenty-five mile an hour wind pushing their thirty mile an hour glider at fifty-five miles an hour ground speed. It was like a fly hitting a windshield on the freeway. The pilot’s body took most of the impact, the wing tore and slid down the cliff side in a twisted mess of broken tubing and flapping sail with not even a scream coming from the pilot above the noise of the pounding surf because his brain had been smashed.

— Larry Fleming, Downwind, a True Hang Gliding Story, 1992

Art based on a photo by Susan Terry in Arkansas, July 1974
Arkansas, July 1974. Photo by Susan Terry.
A television camera crew films a hang glider stalling 50 feet up and crashing
A television camera crew films a hang glider stalling 50 feet up and crashing. Photo by Don Dedera.

Mike Huetter at Point Fermin, California, by Leroy Grannis
Mike Huetter at Point Fermin, California, by Leroy Grannis

See the Point Fermin page for more about this treacherous site.

Appliance of science

Art based on a photo of Mike Markowski flying the Eagle III at Cape Cod
Mike Markowski flying the Eagle III at Cape Cod

Mike Markowski’s Eagle III was an attempt at achieving the performance of contemporary rigid wings such as the Icarus V combined with the portability of a Rogallo. See Scientific American hang glider for more about the Eagle III and its designer.

Wills Wing 4G load test about 1974 from Big Blue Sky by Bill Liscomb
Wills Wing 4G load test. Screenshot from Big Blue Sky by Bill Liscomb. No larger image available.

For the film from which this screenshot is taken, see Four-G test under External links later on this page. See also the related topics menu Testing for stability and structural strength.

Ernest Feher flight testing the Colver Skysail hang glider
Ernest Feher flight testing the Colver Skysail at Vineyard Hill, California, in the spring of 1974. Photo by Frank Colver.

Frank Colver, famous for creating the first popular audio variometer used widely by hang glider pilots (see Sound barrier on the Variometers page) additionally combined conventional aerodynamics with existing hang glider technology to obtain greater performance. At this stage nobody really knew whether advanced designs such as the Skysail would consign the simple Rogallo wing to the dustbin of history.

See also the link to the US Hawks forum under External links later on this page.

To hell you ride

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of the view from launch at Telluride in July 1974
View from launch at Telluride in July 1974. Photo by Leroy Grannis.

The annual hang gliding festival at Telluride, Colorado, attracted pilots from all over the USA and some from other parts of the world. Colorado train conductors used to announce, “To hell you ride.”

On the way to Town Park, the pilots’ meeting place, we walk along Main Street, past Victorian houses and quaint saloons, reminding us of the Wild West.

— Ulrich Grill, translated by Heidi Attenberger, in Hang Gliding, June 1994

Art based on a photo by Telluride Chamber of Commerce of Reggie Jones on final approach to a planned landing
Reggie Jones on final approach to a planned landing. Photo by Telluride Chamber of Commerce.

See also the related topics menu Telluride, Colorado.


Art based on a photo by David Stanfield of an Eipper Formance Flexi Flier at Telluride in 1975
Eipper Formance Flexi Flier at Telluride in 1975. Photo by David Stanfield.

At Joe Faust’s urging in 1971, Dick Eipper sold plans for his standard Rogallo hang glider for $5 each…

“…by 1973, Eipper-Formance, a corporation I formed with three friends, grossed close to one million dollars and had 52 employees on the payroll.”

— Jennifer Drews quoting Eipper in her article ‘USHPA Member 00001‘ in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, June 2008 (link later on this page)

Film of the glider in the image or an identical one appears in the Wings of the Wind video, linked farther down this page, labelled Flexi Flier at Point Fermin.

Author’s reminiscence: In 1975 I tried out an Eipper Flexi Flier owned by our club chairman. I was immediately impressed by its responsiveness and quietness in flight in comparison with other Rogallos I had flown (principally my Skyhook IIIA). Standard Rogallos mostly looked alike apart from colours and states of repair, but differing sailcloth, sail cut, amount of billow, varying flexibility and weight of tubing all resulted in noticeable differences in handling and performance.

Bill Liscomb in a Quicksilver at Torrey Pines. Photo by Bettina Gray.
Bill Liscomb in a Quicksilver at Torrey Pines. Photo by Bettina Gray.

Eipper-Formance of Torrance, California, also manufactured the Quiksilver semi rigid monoplane hang glider.

By the early 1980s the company that Eipper founded was the world’s largest manufacturer of powered ultralight aircraft. Creative people are often their own harshest critics and Eipper was an example…

When I met him a couple of years before he died, he introduced himself as Richard Eipper. I asked, “Well, are you Richard or Dick?” And he said, “Call me Richard. I was a Dick for enough years.”

— Veteran instructor Ken de Russy quoted by Peter Birren and Lori Allen, Hang Gliding, March 2000

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Dave Cronk and Bill Liscomb
Hang glider designer Dave Cronk and pioneering pilot Bill Liscomb. Photo by Bettina Gray.

In October 1975 Bill Liscomb filmed the flying at Torrey Pines with a hand-held movie camera aboard his Quicksilver C. See the link to YouTube under External links in the Eipper-Formance of Torrance, California related topics menu.

This topic continues in Hang gliding 1975 part 1.

External links

1976 Kössen 1 de 3 15 min digitized film on YouTube by Roman Camps taken at the second world championship, Kössen, Austria, in 1976, starting at 13 minutes 31 seconds, where a Quicksilver launches

Colver Skysail & vario stuff on US Hawks Hang Gliding Association forum

Four-G test in a Wills Wing standard Rogallo in Bill Liscomb’s Big Blue Sky on YouTube starting at 42 minutes and 51 seconds. Narration is by Chris Wills, describing his late brother Bob.

Hang Gliding at Point Fermin, 1976 digitized film on YouTube. Although film in 1976, I have it on this 1974 page to keep it with other Point Fermin material.

Ken de Russy launching in a Wills Wing Swallowtail (white and yellow with dark tips) at Point Fermin: Wings of the Wind on YouTube starting at 21 minutes 50 seconds (very brief)

Kestrel Kites page on British Hang Gliding History

Point Fermin crash: Mike Harker – Courage Countdown – OLN -TV.wmv digitized film on YouTube by mikeharker1 starting at 1 minute 7 seconds, where Mike launches, loses control (looks like a stall), and hits the cliff…

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