Hang gliding 1976 part 2
This page follows Hang gliding 1976 part 1.
Most of the images on this page are my artistic derivations of contemporary photos. Some are largely unedited photos by Hugh Morton. See Copyright of early hang gliding photos.
In the spring of 1976 John LaTorre was still struggling to make a living from hang gliding in eastern USA…
I drove back to Maryland, and Bob [Martin] and I headed back to Deep Creek Lake. There was no money for a campground this year, so we camped in the meadow behind the skeet shop — me in my camper, and Bob and his family in a new, larger pop-up trailer. I cooked all my meals in the bus and used the toilet facilities in the ski lodge. When I needed to take a shower, I headed up the road to Grantsville, where some old friends of mine were renovating a hundred-year-old hotel on the old Cumberland Trail.
— John LaTorre (see the John LaTorre related topics menu)
Like most small hang gliding schools and manufacturers at this time, that business could not make ends meet. LaTorre and his colleagues carried on nonetheless…
Through an arrangement with Kitty Hawk Kites, we became dealers for all the lines they were carrying, which included Seagull, Eipper, Bennett, Sky Sports, and Wills Wing. We also had separate arrangements with Electra Flyer and UFM, the makers of the Easy Riser kits. As I recall, most of our sales were Electra Flyer and Seagull gliders.
— John LaTorre
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.
The projecting bracket at the top of the control frame provided for adjustable pitch trim — by clipping the hang loop to one of several positions. (Other designs, including the Sun IV, featured a similar bracket.) However, the danger it posed to the pilot, if he should hit his head against it, occurred to somebody and manufacturers stopped using it.
See also Semi cylindrical Rogallo in Rogallo wing definitions and diagrams.
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.
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.
See also the related topics menu Telluride, Colorado.
See Tom Price’s flying machines for more.
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.
This prototype was built before a pulley system was added to the horizontal deflexor at the nose, so that the aft (outer) leading edge tubes could flex in synchrony. That is, when one side flexed inward in response to turbulence or to a roll induced by the pilot shifting his weight sideways, the other side flexed outward the same amount. Frank’s glider did not turn as well as production models with the pulley and, when he saw one, he added a pulley to his. He says that the increase in weight shift roll ability was so dramatic that he almost turned into the ground shortly after launch the first time.
Coincidentally, this author fitted an experimental Rogallo with just such a deflexor pulley. As I slowed above my planned landing point*, the glider flat spun and dumped me on the ground, still prone, facing the opposite direction. I hit in a couple of inches of water/swamp. Splosh! Frank says he did exactly the same slow flat spin on his SST while attempting to stretch the glide beyond a ditch for landing. And then it went straight nose down into the ground from about 15 feet. He cleared all obstacles (flying seated) and his legs absorbed the shock of the abrupt landing. (4)
* Not sure why I did that. Nowadays I always pull on extra speed for landing.
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.
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 a window that 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.
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.
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)
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.
The pilot here is instructor Ken de Russy. See the Santa Barbara Hang Gliding Emporium page for more.
…the Super Swallowtail […] was a real game changer. The pace of change was so rapid that competition pilots had to change gliders twice a year to remain competitive.
— Roger Middleton (7)
Wills Wing manufactured 1016 Super Swallowtails. See Wills Wing glider production history.
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.
The Swift, which replaced the fixed-tip Sun IV (see under More developments in Hang gliding 1975 part 2) was made by Sun Sail of Denver, Colorado. The Swift replaced the fixed tip tubes of the Sun IV with ‘roach cut’ outboard trailing edges supported by three chord-wise battens each side. While deleting the fixed truncated tips improved handling generally, it also removed one of the defenses against the luffing dive. (See Luff in the time of cholera for more on that complex subject.)
It was very light and quite a fast glider, small area compared to many of that era, used to convert speed into lift well and could ridge soar with the best.
— Martin Orr (6)
Martin Orr, who as of 2021 still flies paragliders in southern England, imported this Sun Swift from the USA. He says that its battens were extremely stiff and bolted to the leading edges to fix washout. He was told the Swift was divergent before the bolts were used.
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.
The following year, 1976, my father decided he wanted to sponsor an invitational event patterned after the Masters of Golf.
For a the next 10 years he invited 20 of the top pilots in the world for a best-of-the-best competition at the Masters of Hang Gliding. We welcomed champions from Australia, France, England and South America as well as the best of the best from the USA.
— Catherine Morton (5)
See Hugh Morton’s photos (related topics menu).
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.
My Cirrus 3 required piano-tuning skills to keep all the deflexor cables in tune, and it would randomly and inexplicably go into a turn after launch when during the last flight it flew great.
— Paul Dees quoted by C.J. Sturtevant (8)
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 part 1.)
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
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.) The pilot here is believed to be Roger Blakemore of Christchurch, Dorset.
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. Notice the transparent panels in the sail to facilitate upward visibility.
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.
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. See also the Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders related topics menu.
The Mylar windows in the sail are possibly an idea that we should re-visit. However, such innovations need to proceed with caution…
We put a lot of those transparent plastic wing sections inlaid into our single-surface gliders in the late 1970s, but we got a report of a pilot who had been flying in very cold conditions, at high altitudes in the winter in the mountains of Arizona. When he landed and pushed out to flare, the windows shattered. After that, we asked customers not to order them unless they always flew in temperate climates.
— John LaTorre; e-mail correspondence with the author, March 2021. See also the John LaTorre related topics menu.
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.
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.
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
Hawaii Hang Gliding 1976-1977 : Makapu’u on Oahu, Hawaii, video by mike dillon on YouTube
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)
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
4. Flat spin apparently contributed to by nose pulley deflexor system: Discussion on why weight shift works on hanggliding.org forum
5. Catherine Morton in For A Few Glorious Moments… by Jack Hilliard on UNC Chapel Hill library
6. Martin Orr e-mail communication with the author in November 2021
7. Roger Middleton in this topic on the British Hangies Facebook group
8. The ‘Bad Old Days’ of Hang Gliding, A Coming-of-age Story by C.J. Sturtevant in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, January 2015