Hang gliding 1976 part 2


Home (contents) Chronology Hang gliding 1976 part 2

Hang gliding 1976 part 2

This page follows Hang gliding 1976 part 1.

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

Developments Stateside

Art based on a photo of the Pliable Moose Diffusion Tip hang glider of 1974
Pliable Moose Diffusion Tip hang glider of 1976

Pliable Moose of Wichita, Kansas, was founded by Gary Osoba, who still flies (in 2019). For a development in Britain influenced by this design, see Moonraker 78 in Birdman and Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England.


Pliable Moose Diffusion Tip drawings from their 1976 magazine advert
Pliable Moose Diffusion Tip drawings from their 1976 magazine advert

See also Semi cylindrical Rogallo in Rogallo wing definitions and diagrams.


Bettina Gray by Penny Wolin-Semple
Pioneering hang glider photographer Bettina Gray by Penny Wolin-Semple. Reprinted courtesy Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Former stage actress Bettina Gray was one of the most prolific photographers of early hang gliding. Twenty years before, she was a bridesmaid at Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. (1)

See also the related topics menu Photographers of early hang gliding. And for a ‘virtual handshake’ connection with hang glider designer Larry Newman, of which I assume she might not have been aware, see the related topics menu Electra Flyer of Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Bill Liscomb flying an ASG-21 at Telluride, Colorado, in August 1976. Photo by Bettina Gray.

The ASG-21, in this picture being flown by Bettina Gray’s son Bill Liscomb, was an advanced hang glider — by the standards of 1976.

Art based on a photo by Stephen McCarroll at Mill Creek, Telluride, Colorado
Hang glider carry-up start point at Mill Creek, Telluride, Colorado. Photo by Stephen McCarroll.

See also the related topics menu Telluride, Colorado.

Art based on another Bettina Gray photo of the ASG-21, as used in the 1975 Albatross Sails magazine advert
ASG-21, as used in the 1975 Albatross Sails magazine advert. Another Bettina Gray photo.
ASG-21 hang glider photo by Bettina Gray
Tom Price flying an ASG-21. Photo by Bettina Gray.

See Tom Price’s flying machines for more.

SST

Frank Colver flying the prototype Wills Wing SuperSwallowtail
Frank Colver on his first flight in the prototype SST

This SST was Bob Wills original prototype which he had thoroughly “wrung out” in Hawaii. The production SSTs were a little different. I loved mine and flew it until I thought it was getting too beat up to be safe anymore. The guy I traded it to cut it in half and made a land sailer mast and sail out of it. I sure wish I had kept that historic Bob Wills personal glider. 😦

— Frank Colver (via e-mail, March 2020)

The prototype Wills Wing Super Swallowtail had only two battens each side. Production gliders had three battens each side.

Frank Colver flying the prototype Wills Wing Super Swallowtail
Frank Colver again in the prototype SST

The production SST’s additional batten each side compared to the prototype is clear in this photo of Brian Wood (in green ski suit) with his SST 90 at the Beltinge cliff near Herne Bay, England, in December 1977.

Brian Wood with his SST 90 with Roly Lewis-Evans and grandparents at Herne Bay, England, in December 1977
Production SST 90

When Brian landed on the cliff-top car park, he was astonished to be greeted by Roland Lewis-Evans, sail-maker for Birdman of Wiltshire. (Roly is in the black coat next to his brother at far left in an orange-tan jacket.) Roly was visiting his grandparents, when he saw this familiar hang glider flying past the window, which overlooks those sea cliffs. The other notable memory that Brian recounts from that day is the cold December wind from the North Sea. (3)

Malcolm Hawksworth, UK agent for Wills Wing, recruited Brian as an instructor and gave him the SST to fly. Hawksworth’s partnership with Wills Wing ended eventually in a dispute about differences between UK- and U.S.-manufactured SSTs.

See under External links for more photos Brian flying this all-white production SST 90.


The first Wills Wing Super Swallowtails had 90 degree nose angles. The Wills Wing team subsequently created a version with a wider nose angle: The SST 100. It looks similar to the Bennett Phoenix VI — see the photo under More developments in Hang gliding 1975 part 2.

Art based on a photo by Roger Schoener of Chris Wills flying a Wills Wing Superswallowtail
Chris Wills flying a Wills Wing Superswallowtail 100. Photo by Roger Schoener.

Here is an update on former New York schoolteacher Mike Meier in April 1976, who was last mentioned in these pages on his motorcycle at Palos Verdes, California, in 1973…

Bob Wills had his next creation on the market, the Super Swallowtail, or SST. It was being billed as “the high performance kite you already know how to fly,” and that appealed to me. I went down to Sport Kites to order one, and Chris Wills mentioned that they were gearing up to increase production. I suggested he hire me, and two weeks later I had given up a $1000 a month job in the motorcycle business to go to work for $700 a month at Wills Wing.

— Mike Meier (2)

Art based on a photo of load testing a Super Swallowtail to 5G
Load testing a Super Swallowtail to 5G

At a Wills Wing testing session at the Guadalupe dunes (California) on April 25th, 1976, a Super Swallowtail was subjected to excessive loads in a 35 mph on-shore wind…


Bob next tried to launch with six (four on the bottom bar) but could not quite achieve sustained flight. The distortion of the wing was so great that even with an airspeed of 45 mph the glider couldn’t lift the 1000-plus pound gross weight. Through all the flight attempts, however, there was no permanent deformation of the glider’s airframe.

— Mike Meier (2)

See the related topics menu Testing for stability and structural strength.

Jim Debauch flying a Wills Wing Superswallowtail at Telluride, Colorado, in August 1976. Photo by Stephen McCarroll.

Cover photo of Santa Barbara Wind & Water, December 1976
SST at Santa Barbara in 1976. The original photograph was by Bill Pierce.

The pilot here is instructor Ken de Russy. See the Santa Barbara Hang Gliding Emporium page for more.


Here is a snippet from instructor, author, and humorist Erik Fair’s 1983 interview of Mike Meier:

Mike: “I was the production manager and purchasing agent, but the job only lasted three months. Chris Wills left for medical school, and hired John Lake to replace him as general manager. John Lake and I worked together for two days before he decided it couldn’t go on and he fired me.”

Erik: “Far out! What did you do next?”

— Erik Fair, Hang Gliding, December 1983

In the early years of hang gliding, John Lake invented the sailfeather device for preventing luffing dives. (See Luff in the time of cholera.) After John also left Wills Wing, Mike returned and he stayed when tragedy struck Wills Wing the following year.

See the related topics menu Sport Kites/Wills Wing of California.

Flight of the Phoenix

Art based on a photo by Stephen McCarroll of Paul Courtney past vertical in a Sky Sports Merlin
Paul Courtney past vertical in a Sky Sports Merlin. Photo by Stephen McCarroll.

The Sky Sports Merlin featured chord-wise battens and a large amount of double surface. However, the cross-tubes were still outside and exposed to the air flow, creating drag. For a short history of the east coast U.S. hang glider manufacturer Sky Sports, see Flying squad.

Art based on the photo in the Bennett Phoenix 6B magazine advert of 1976
From the Bennett Phoenix 6B magazine advert of 1976

The Phoenix 6B was designed by Dick Boone.


Art based on a photo by W.A. Allen  of two Electra Flyer Cirrus IIIs
Two Electra Flyer Cirrus IIIs. Photo by W.A. Allen.

Like the Phoenix 6B, the Cirrus II and Cirrus III embodied the improvement of roached wing-tips supported by radial battens. The Cirrus III was a successful and popular hang glider.

It was manufactured by Electra Flyer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, founded by Learjet captain Larry Newman. The Cirrus series originated with the Windlord development of the standard Rogallo by Rich Finley in 1974. His short keel, low billow, spiky looking Windlord 4 was manufactured by Electra Flyer as the Cirrus. It soon acquired a full set of chord-wise battens, taking on the basic appearance that culminated in the popular Cirrus 3. For more about the Cirrus series, see the Electra Flyer of Albuquerque, New Mexico related topics menu.

Irv Alward having failed to reach the LZ in his Cirrus 3 at Escape Country in April 1976. Photo by Stephen McCarroll.
Irv Alward having failed to reach the LZ in his Cirrus 3 at Escape Country in April 1976. Photo by Stephen McCarroll.

The Cirrus 3 and subsequent Electra Flyer gliders were also manufactured by Scotkites, led by Brian Harrison (1937 – 2020) in Scotland under licence from Electra Flyer. Harrison later manufactured the Electra Flyer Eagle powered ultralight. (See Early powered ultralights.)


Intense, fiercely intelligent and highly articulate, Brian Harrison was a larger-than-life character who influenced the lives of many hundreds of fellow enthusiasts in car racing, kit building, hang gliding and microlighting. …one of his Cirrus 3 gliders is now displayed at the Scottish Museum of Flight.

— BHPA magazine SkyWings, July 2020

'Dorset Countryside' cover photo of a hang glider launching at Ringstead
Electra Flyer Cirrus 3 launching at Ringstead

We no longer launch from the cliff top at Ringstead. Instead, we take off from a hill a little way inland and fly out to the cliff. I am told that this part of the slope crumbled away at some point. (See Overview of Ringstead.)


Ultralight Products Dragonfly Mark 2 (screenshot from Bill Liscomb's Big Blue Sky)
Ultralight Products Dragonfly Mark 2 (screenshot from Bill Liscomb’s Big Blue Sky)

The Mark 2 version of the Ultralight Products Dragonfly also incorporated chord-wise battens, but this type of fixed wing-tip design was becoming less popular.


Dragonfly Mk2s in the Owens Valley together with UP's distinctive Wolswagen vans
Dragonfly Mk2s in the Owens Valley together with UP’s distinctive Wolswagen vans

Incidentally, there is an external link to background information about one of the UP Volkswagen vans in the related topics menu Ultralight Products of California and Utah.


Art based on a photo by Mike Jones of a Bennett Phoenix 8 with Mylar windows in the sail
Bennett Phoenix 8 with Mylar windows in the sail. Photo by Mike Jones.
Phoenix 8 and ASG-21 in May 1978. Photo by Tequask on Wikimedia Commons.
Phoenix 8 and ASG-21 in May 1978. Photo by Tequask on Wikimedia Commons.

When he took the preceding photo, Mike Jones was aboard a balloon during certification testing of the Phoenix 8 Jr above the Mojave desert, with Trip Mellinger flying. The Mylar windows in the sail are possibly an idea that we should re-visit.


Tom Low in a Seagull 7 Hang Glider at Fort Funston, California, in 1977
Tom Low in a Seagull 7 at Fort Funston, California, in 1977

There is film of a Seagull VII under External links later on this page. It shows the sail shape and how the washout (twist) is limited by its curved leading edges.

See also the Seagull Aircraft of Santa Monica, California related topics menu.


Rogallo wing hang glider of the mid-1970s
Painted sail

The pilot here is retired U.S. Navy pilot George Worthington (judging by his hat). The photo is from Worthington’s book, In Search of World Records. See the Mitchell Wing page for more of Worthington. See also the Hang glider sail art related topics menu.


While experts like George Worthington broke records, most of us were still attuning our senses and judgment to the three-dimensional element with its invisible eddies and vortexes. Here we catch up with New Zealander John Veysey, who had recently soared for the first time in his much-repaired standard Rogallo with a home-made harness:

I looked out to sea holding my line of flight forwards. When I looked to the front again I was headed straight for the bonnet of an approaching car. Out went the bar. Out and away from the cliff. I didn’t have enough speed for such a maneuvre. The car didn’t slow down at all. The driver must’ve thought this was all part of the game. A windscreen of upturned faces swept underneath me. Just. I stalled above the car and, as we fell, my feet just cleared the fence on the outer side of the road. I had managed to apply enough turn. On the sea side of the fence we soon picked up speed and I was back in full control again as if nothing untoward had happened.

I didn’t skim above any more roads.

The physical danger inherent in hang gliding was not its only disruptive element:

Our paths, which had followed side by side for so long, now led us away from each other. She wanted to buy a house. I wanted to go fly a kite.

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


This topic continues in Hang gliding 1977.

External links

1976 Hang Ten Hang Gliding Worlds Championships digitized film shot in April 1976 on YouTube. ‘World Open’ means it was open to competitors from anywhere in the world. It should not be confused with the FAI world hang gliding championship competition held in June at Kössen, Austria.

Bennett Phoenix 8 and ASG-21 photo dated May 7th, 1978 (at Point Fermin, California, although no scnery is visible) on Wikimedia Commons

Greg Mitchell in a Seagull VII in 1976: Hang Ten Hang Gliding World Meet, Part 2 video on the Steve Morris YouTube channel starting at 43 seconds

Hang Ten Hang Gliding World Meet, Part 1 ‘World Open Hang Gliding Championships’ at Escape Country, California, in April 1976 — video on the Steve Morris YouTube channel

Hang Ten Hang Gliding World Meet, Part 2

Hang Ten Hang Gliding World Meet, Part 3

Phoenix 6B: Photo by Roger Middleton of Brian Milton in Alvin Russell’s Phoenix 6B

Phoenix 8: Photo by Roger Middleton of John Fack in a Bennett Phoenix 8 at Pandy, Wales, in February 1977. Many consider this one of the finest hang glider photos ever. His twin brother Jeremy was flying an ASG-21 (see under External links in Tom Price’s flying machines).

SST: Painting the SST 90 on Brave Guys and Beautiful Dolls

SST: Photo by Roger Middleton of Brian Wood, the first British champion, flying an all-white Wills Wing Super Swallowtail. Compare it with the photo earlier on this page of the prototype flown by Frank Colver.

SST: Photo by Roger Middleton of Brian Wood on final approach in an all-white Wills Wing Super Swallowtail

SST: Hang Glide Special by David Vincent on YouTube starting at 6 minutes 21 seconds (followed by film of Bob Wills two or three years earlier)

References/sources

1: Wedding of Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly on Unofficial Royalty

2: Mike Meier, Wills Wing–The Early Years in Sky Adventures, Legends and stories About the Early Days of Hang Gliding and Paragliding edited by Jim (Sky Dog) Palmieri and Maggie Palmieri, 1998

3. Conversations in person and over phone with Brian Wood and Roly Lewis-Evans, including on April 20th, 2020