Hang gliding 1975 part 2
This page continues from Hang gliding 1975 part 1.
Most of the images on this page are artistic derivations of contemporary photos. See Copyright of early hang gliding photos.
For more about the luffing dive, illustrated in the accompanying screenshot, see Luff in the time of cholera. (Sorry!)
While most hang glider pilots flew standard Rogallos in 1975, in the USA several people attempted to improve on the basic idea. One was the Wills Wing Swallowtail with its reduced billow, cut-out trailing edge, and (in later versions) tip roach supported by radial battens. (See the preceding section.) Other engineers tried different approaches to achieving improved performance.
The Cirrus was actually the Windlord 4 created by Rich Finley. Like most Rogallos, it had no sail battens. Manta, of Oakland, California, manufactured an earlier incarnation of Finley’s Windlord and they continued to develop it.
See also the Telluride, Colorado, related topics menu,
Chord-wise battens took extra time to rig and de-rig, but they reduced aerodynamic drag caused by sail flutter. This is the production Electra Flyer Cirrus.
For more about the Cirrus series, see the related topics menu Electra Flyer of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
See Flying squad for a short history of the east coast U.S. hang glider manufacturer Sky Sports.
Nineteen year-old Roy Haggard designed, built, and flew the Dragonfly. When Pete Brock of Ultralight Products saw it perform at the 1974 U.S. nationals, he agreed to manufacture it. At about this time, UP moved from the workshop in El Segundo to Rancho, California.
Roy designed the ubiquitous Dragonfly, test-flying it for the first time on October 27, 1974. He surprised everyone (maybe “shocked” is a better word for it) when he appeared out of the obscurity of Visalia, Calif., as a relative unknown to come in a strong 7th at the 1974 U.S. Nationals… and with such a weird-looking design.
— Rich Grigsby (I assume) writing in Ground Skimmer, June 1976
As I understand it, Charlie Baughman obtained Roy Haggard’s prototype, so it is likely that he is flying it (the lower one, white and red, relatively scruffy) in the photo and Roy Haggard is flying the upper example (with an aerodynamically cleaner orange sail) made by Ultralight Products. According to a Leroy Grannis interview by John Heiney, this photo was taken within a couple of months after February 1974.(6) That conflicts with the October dating of its first flight test mentioned previously. (If you can resolve this conflicting info, please get in touch.) See also the Domes, Palos Verdes related topics menu.
After the truncated wing tips, there still was 20 feet of leading edge, while the keel was only 11 feet long. And yet, his and the other two designs all responded amazingly well to weight shift control.
— W.A. Allen describing Roy Haggard’s Dragonfly at the 1974 US nationals in Wings Unlimited, February-March 1975
One of the other two designs that Bill Allen refers to is Rich Finley’s short-keel, low billow, and spiky-looking Windlord IV, subsequently manufactured by Electra Flyer as the Cirrus.
The lanky leading edge tubes of the new higher-performing wings needed extra support. Deflexor wires, one each side mounted on a short folding strut, seemed a logical solution. Nowadays we do not use such bolt-through-tube engineering, which necessitates adding metal to the tube to restore its strength where the hole is drilled.
British hang glider manufacturer Birdman, of Marlborough in Wiltshire, brought two (I think) Dragonflies and a Red Tail (Ultralight Products’ easier to fly wing) from the 1975 world championships at Kössen, Austria, back to Britain. They took on board UP’s purpose-made hardware and the entire Birdman range was soon unequaled in quality of finish and slickness of fittings. See also Birdman and Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England.
In the Hawaii image, notice other hang gliders specking out behind the Dragonfly.
See the related topics menu Ultralight Products of California and Utah.
For Adrian Turner’s contemporary photographic work, see under External links later on this page.
Author’s reminiscence: I asked Steve Hunt of Hiway Hang Gliders about the Boomerang’s production status. He replied that is was unlikely to go into production because its handling was too ‘twitchy.’ (I had no idea in those days that most hang glider development in Britain was carried out by copying American and Australian designs.) See the related topics menu Hiway of Sussex, England, and Abergavenny, Wales.
The 1975 Wasp Nova was another attempt at attaining more performance without too much extra complexity. It featured an S-curved keel tube and tip fins braced by tubes, brackets, fasteners, and cables. I saw the prototype before it flew when it was on display at the inaugural meeting of the BHGA on December 8th, 1974, at the Matrix Hall in Coventry. (It had two unfinished top rigging wires with ends dangling, yet to be cut to length and swaged.)
For Adrian Turner’s contemporary photographic work, see under External links later on this page.
There are photos of the Nova linked from the related topics menu Waspair of Surrey, England.
The prone harness imparted a dramatic increase in performance and pitch control. That combined advantage greatly improved our ability to soar.
Because your angle of bank in a coordinated turn is limited by the positive (nose-up) pitch rate you can achieve, and the seated flying position conferred very little pitch range, we could only fly shallow turns without the turn degenerating into an inefficient spiral descent. The prone flying position enables the pilot to ‘push out’ and thereby coordinate a steeper banked and tighter turn. That was important for flying in thermals, which we began to do (unwittingly at first) in the long dry summer of 1976 in southern England.
As far as I know, Hiway Hang Gliders of Brighton in Sussex were the first in Britain to manufacture prone harnesses. However, in late 1974 radical hang glider designer Miles Handley created a knee hanger harness, which Johnny Carr flew at one of Steve Hunt’s gatherings at Rhossili, a high rounded hill overlooking a huge beach in south Wales. (Steve Hunt was one of the two chiefs of Hiway Hang Gliders, Brighton, Sussex and he lent Johnny a huge 260 square-foot standard Rogallo.) Inspired by Brian Wood’s eight hour flight there in October 1974 (see Hang gliding 1974 part 2) Johnny attempted a long flight in Handley’s new harness…
I lasted four and a quarter hours and had the same problems that Brian had. My legs were temporarily paralysed, it took about twenty minutes before I could walk properly. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep at the dinner table that evening. Hiway took me out to dinner to celebrate what was a prone flying record at the time.
— Johnny Carr (10)
The photo used on the cover of this not-too-serious novel looks like the same glider and pilot as in the preceding photo, so likely this one was also taken by Adrian Turner. For Adrian Turner’s contemporary photographic work, see under External links later on this page. For a more serious novel, which — in fictional form — documents the emergence of hang glider manufacturer Wills Wing, see Appendix: Soar and surrender in Eagles among men.
She has always been a low-key pilot, never interested in the limelight or notoriety, but knowing that she was one of the very first hang glider pilots in the world…
— David Jebb (5)
Donnita Holland was the first female to pilot a hang glider, one of the first humans to foot-launch a hang glider, and one of the pioneers who showed the rest of the world how to follow their dreams. She worked as a secretary at Hewlett Packard, where she met Dave Kilbourne, who was one of the first to fly a Rogallo hang glider, initially launching on water skis while towed behind a power boat. (1)
Donnita built a Rogallo wing of her own design in 1976. It had 17-foot long leading edges and a 13-foot keel. The sail was built by Albatross (led by sailmaker and aeronautical engineer Tom Price) of Southern California. (2) (See Tom Price’s flying machines.) In the picture, you might be able to make out the truncated tips, more aerodynamic than those of the Dragonfly, and side flying struts instead of wires. They obviated the need for top rigging with its attendant drag, cost, weight, and set-up time.
Many of the very early Rogallos were strut braced (with bamboo poles) but even before the advent of top rigging, cable bracing became the norm. Nonetheless, following Donnita’s lead, Seagull Aircraft’s 10 Meter, designed by Tom Peghiny and Bob Keeler, the following year was initially strut-braced. (3, 4)
Donnita’s aeronautical engineering talents were well in advance of most others at the time, yet she was content to let her partner Dave Kilbourne receive the lion’s share of the publicity, mainly for his daring flying achievements. I guess the media understood heights and distances better than they understood the technology.
For more about Donnita, see under External links later on this page.
…the late, great low-speed aerodynamicist, Dr. Paul MacCready, once told me that he felt the hang gliding design evolution had progressed further through a semi-educated trial-and-error process than what would have been achieved in the same time span by classically educated aerodynamicists.
— Lt. Col. Mark Stucky USMC (call sign Forger) in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, January 2008
While the Rogallo offered the advantage of simplicity, its one-piece airfoil (two, if you regard both halves as separate) that combined the functions of generating lift and providing control and stability, compromised those individual needs heavily. Conventional aircraft, including gliders (sailplanes) employ separate wing and tail surfaces to provide those separate functions. That results in greater efficiency, but at the cost of complexity. Several designers created hang gliders with separate wing and tail surfaces. Some were entirely rigid, with conventional control surfaces, while others used sailcloth with a some airframe flexibility in an attempt to retain the simplicity of pilot weight shift as the control method. Foremost among practitioners of the latter, in Britain at least, was Miles Handley. His first glider, which owed almost nothing to any predecessor, was the Gulp.
Although, as Geoff McBroom stated more than once, if this vast progress had been gained in the traditional aircraft industry with all it’s traceability paperwork, quality approval requirements, and rigorous testing it would have taken five times as long or not happened at all.
— Andy Billingham (9)
I seem to recall that this photo of the Gulp, which its designer and constructor Miles Handley (who had no formal education in aerodynamics) sent me as a print, was of the second flight of the prototype.
The original Miles Wings Gulp had no battens, but — extraordinarily — the thick sailcloth maintained an airfoil section, as if by magic, even when the wing was rigged flat on the ground. It had just enough dihedral (and the sail was cut precisely) that span-wise tension together with the curved join of the two semi-spans at the root ensured its 3-D form. In the photo of a Gulp rigged at Mere, Wiltshire, in 1976 (linked farther on) notice how the sail holds its shape with no battens and no wind. Nevertheless, the Gulp was reputed to be hard to turn, a problem likely magnified by that dihedral.
I heard also that it suffered from a minor pitch control problem (a phugoid) because the changed airflow at different pitch angles (so-called angle of attack) caused the high point of the airfoil curve to move forward and back, countering the pilot’s control inputs. To resolve that problem, the next version of the Gulp featured chord-wise airfoil shaped fixed battens spaced evenly across its entire span.
On with the flying…
Brian Wood, the first British hang gliding champion, did not do as well as expected in the 1975 competition, but he demonstrated the Miles Wings Gulp 130 monoplane flex-wing one calm evening. Having launched from the ridge top, instead of gliding down to land at the bottom like every other hang glider, he flew straight out, losing barely any height until he touched down in a field far out from launch. See also the Brian Wood related topics menu.
I’ve got a full-time job which I can’t afford to jeopardise because I have people working for me. […] I produced 24 Gulps in my spare time and that nearly killed me.
— Miles Handley quoted by by Dave Worth in Wings (BHGA magazine) February 1978
Meanwhile, both Bob Wills in California and Miles Handley in Britain were working on new developments, one an extension of previous design improvements and the other so radical it took a few years to come to fruition.
Innovations at the time unique to the 1975 Phoenix VI, made by Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders Inc (phew!) of Van Nuys, Los Angeles, include a lowered ‘air intake’ under the nose, barely noticeable in this photo. It supposedly helped inflate the leading edge pockets. Another variation on the norm was that the leading edge curve was held by deflexor wires connected part way along the tubes rather than at the nose. In addition, a wire from that point to the top of the king post helped assure the designed leading edge curve almost regardless of the glider’s attitude with respect to the airflow. (Those features were retained on the Phoenix 6B the following year.)
It seems almost certain to this author that the Phoenix VI was designed by Dick Boone, who joined the Bennett manufacturer from college in 1974.
With graduation in striking distance, Richard got an offer he couldn’t refuse; a chance to work for Bill Bennett test flying hang gliders in California. Within six months, Richard was vice president of research and development for the largest hang gliding company in the world.
See the Dick Boone, hang glider designer related topics menu.
Incidentally, for more about the unusual looking Bennett harness used by the pilot in the Phoenix VI advert, see Harnesses. Jerry Katz used one when breaking the 100 mile ‘barrier’ in 1977.
For a painting based on this Phoenix VI photo, see under External links later on this page.
This factory photo shows a Phoenix 6 at right. See also the Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders related topics menu.
This Wills Wing development was similar in shape to the Phoenix VI. Both had 100 degree nose angles and, initially, two chord-wise battens each side, although the Wills Wing used three per side in production gliders.
Everybody copied everyone else, adding their own features and sometimes the result was an improvement either in handling or performance. For those who worry about who was first, the only evidence I can offer is that both designs were first advertised in the same edition of the USHGA magazine. Bennett’s advert shows a photo while the Sport Kites advert consisted of plan view drawings only (of both a 90 degree nose angle version and one of 100 degrees like the Phoenix).
For more about this Wills Wing development, see SST in Hang gliding 1976 part 2.
The Flexi 2 was presumably Eipper’s answer to the Wills Wing Swallowtail.
See also the Hang glider sail art related topics menu.
For more about the manufacturer Eipper-Formance, see High-performance in Hang gliding 1974 part 4.
In 1974 in Utah, Klaus Hill, sail-maker Dick Cheney, Larry Hall, and test pilot Tom Vayda created the Fledgling, a foldable rigid wing using standard hang glider materials: Sailcloth, aluminium tube, and steel cable. Being a rigid wing, it used drag rudders rather than pilot weight shift for turn control. It had greater performance than the standard Rogallo and was easier to transport than existing rigid hang gliders such as Taras Kiceniuk’s Icarus 2 and Icarus 5, and Volmer Jensen’s VJ-23. The first Manta-built Fledgling flew in September 1975.
See the Manta Products of California related topics menu.
Klaus Hill was killed flight testing a powered ultralight on 10 October 1979. (7)
The Sun IV, made by Sun Sail of Denver, Colorado, was one of several similar designs that adopted the large trailing edge scallop that characterized the Wills Wing Swallowtail, but combined with ‘truncated’ wing tips like those of the UP Dragonfly. (For a color painting based on this photo, see under External links later on this page.)
Similar wings included the California Glider (of San Diego) Wind Gypsy and the Eipper-Formance (of Torrance) Cumulus 5. However, the tip tubes of the Sun 4 were each supported by an inboard diagonal strut (not evident in the image) rather than short outboard cables to an extension of a tube sticking out into the airflow.
Nevertheless, by early 1976 Sun Sail abandoned truncated tips in their next wing: See Sun Swift in Hang gliding 1976 part 2.
The Sun IV also featured a permanently cambered keel tube. It did not provide much sail camber by modern standards, but root reflex — the opposite to camber — was known to be an important contributor to dive recovery, so a conservative approach to adding root camber is perhaps understandable, even when fixed tips contribute to dive recovery. In addition, putting the keel tube through a pocket running the length of the root was the only way we knew of attaching the sail to the keel tube. You can only put so much curve in a light-weight and critical aluminium alloy tube without trashing it.
The first flex-wing hang gliders I know of with permanent camber curves in their keel tubes were the Seagull 4 of 1974 and the Wasp Nova of 1975 — both of which also had a large amount of compensating reflex. (Camber at the front, reflex aft, resulting in an S-shaped keel tube.) In 1976, a British advanced glider, the Chargus Midas, featured a short keel with a small amount of camber permanently formed. Like the Sun IV, it relied on ‘truncated’ (fixed) tips for dive recovery.
In 1975, even in Britain, hang gliding competitions drew crowds of spectators and photographers.
The 1975 British championships were held in August at a range of inter-locking spurs near the village of Mere in Wiltshire. The Sport Kites/Wills Wing team attended, on their way home to California after flying for the movie Sky Riders in Greece. Bob Wills was the highest scoring pilot in an all-black Swallowtail. (It looks light grey in the screenshot because of sunlight on its semi-gloss painted sail.) You can view film of one of his flights under External links later on this page.
Author’s reminiscence: Examining Bob Wills’ glider from under its expanse of sailcloth I noticed that the sun highlighted brownish streaks criss-crossing the fabric. Wills explained that the sails of these gliders were originally white (or multicolored in some cases) and they were painted black for an upcoming movie which they had just filmed in Greece. The film was Sky Riders, starring James Coburn, Susannah York, Robert Culp, and Charles Aznavour. It was in cinemas/movie theaters the following year. See Paint it black–this site’s review of that film.
See also the related topics menu Sport Kites/Wills Wing of California.
Top Brit was Bob Calvert flying a Skyhook IIIA standard Rogallo.
Author’s reminiscence: The line for launch in the elimination round of the first day was hours long and I was first in the line behind Bob Wills with his big back Swallowtail. I missed his flight because I was too busy getting ready to launch and obeying the launch marshal’s instructions. I launched into a strong enough breeze to maintain height. As I recall, this first round of the competition was purely spot landing with no points awarded for duration or rounding markers or anything similar. After half a minute, I figured I was holding up the proceedings and it was time to head for the target. I turned left — without looking first — and immediately in front of me onlookers crowding the hillside with their scotch plaid coolers and picnic baskets rose up and parted from my direct line of flight as my glider shuddered from contact with the ground. I assumed my left wing tip had struck and in the back of my mind, even in that emergency, I was puzzled as to why I had not been turned into the hill for a hard impact. I flew down and landed (nowhere near the target). After climbing out of the harness I inspected the left tip, which showed no sign of contact with the ground. I then walked over to the back of the keel, which sprouted mud and grass…
Gerry Breen’s Breenwave (see next) is parked on the hillside in the preceding photo.
While technical developments such as the Breenwave were under development, individual pilots often struggled with worn out pre-owned gliders of dubious airworthiness. One such was former television producer in New Zealand John Veysey, who was also without a harness…
I bought some seatbelt webbing and two seatbelt clasps from a car-wrecker. I found a piece of wood to sit on and, after Rick [Fogel] had inspected the kite and said it was ready to fly, I sewed up my harness bent over a sewing machine, breaking needles and getting my measurements wrong until, finally, I could seat myself squarely suspended from the front door frame.
— John Veysey via e-mail on August 11th, 2020
This topic continues in Hang gliding 1976 part 1.
Adrian Turner, photographer
Donnita: From Toys to Wings… by C.J. Sturtevant in Hang Gliding & Paragliding Vol48-Iss1 Jan-Feb 2018
“First Lady” of Hang Gliding, Donnita Hall in Big Blue Sky by Bill Liscomb on YouTube starting at 31 minutes 45 seconds
Flight of the Phoenix, a painting of a Phoenix 6 on Brave Guys and Beautiful Dolls
HANG GLIDING CHAMPS – COLOUR British championships at Mere, Wiltshire, in August 1975 by British Movietone on YouTube. Includes Bob Wills (“Bob Willis”).
Hang Gliding Tollhouse 1975: Digitized Super 8 movie by JC Wilcox taken in October 1975. The image quality improves markedly after the first minute or so, especially in the ground-based filming.
Hawaiian Hang Gliding 1975: David Vincent flying his Swallowtail at Waimanalo and flying from a city-side 200 ft hill where the effect of turbulence is evident
Icarus V: Photo by Don Liddard of Rob S. flying a red Icarus 5 at the Devil’s Dyke, a few miles inland from Brighton on the Sussex coast, England
Mere Wiltshire BHGA photos by Don Liddard on flickr, including some taken at the 1975 British championship competition
Metamorphosis in Painted history of hang glider design on Brave guys and beautiful dolls for a color rendition of Bettina Gray’s Sun IV photo
Outlook: Icarus by Film Australia on the NFSA Films YouTube channel. Possibly the highest quality film of hang gliding of this era. It includes a Tweetie monoplane. (See Tweetie in Hang gliding 1974 part 1.)
Photo by Roger Middleton of gliders in line for launch at the British championships, held at Mere in Wiltshire in August 1975
Miles Wing Gulp photos by Don Liddard on flickr
Photo by Roger Middleton of a Miles Wings Gulp flying at Mere, Wiltshire, in 1976
Photo by Roger Middleton of a Miles Wings Gulp rigged at Mere, Wiltshire, in 1976
1: An Evening with Dave Kilbourne and Donnita Holland by W.A. Allen in Ground Skimmer, September 1973
2: Hang Gliding and Paragliding October 2007
3: Bill Allen, Hang Gliding, July 1977
4: Dennis Pagen, Hang Gliding, February 1994
5: David Jebb, The Excitement That Never Ends, Donnita Hall: 1969 to Present in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, October 2007
6. Interview with Hang Gliding Photography Legend LeRoy Grannis by John Heiney on Upshots, John’s web site
7. Glider Rider, November 1979
8. Dick Boone, Richard Louis Boone, on the US Hawks forum
9. Bob England by Andy Billingham on British Hang Gliding History
10. Miles Handley prone harness at Rhossili: Johnny Carr e-mail communication with the author in November 2021