Hang gliding 1976 part 1

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Hang gliding 1976 part 1

This page follows Hang gliding 1975 part 2.

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

Developments in Britain

While Australia and southern California were the centers of hang glider development in the early 1970s, innovation happened elsewhere through copying, modifying, and refining. In Britain a couple of radical new designs appeared in 1976.

Birdman Firebird

As well as stretching the Swallowtail concept, the Firebird, made by Birdman of Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, was said to be so quick to rig it opened like an umbrella. Radial battens such as these were straight — because they aligned with the axes of cones that constituted the wing shape — and they rolled up with the sail, so imposing no extra time in rigging and de-rigging.

Art based on a photo of the Birdman Firebird
Birdman Firebird

See also the related topics menu Birdman of Wiltshire, England.

Hiway Scorpion

Art based on a photo of a Hiway experimental wing at Firle Beacon on the Sussex Downs, England, in 1976
Brian Harrison in a Hiway experimental wing at Firle Beacon on the Sussex Downs, England, in 1976

The photograph by Adrian Turner on which this art is based depicts a Hiway experimental wing that evolved into the Scorpion. (See under External links later on this page for more of Adrian Turner’s photography.)

The prone launch (pictured) is used in strong winds. The wire person holds on to the front wires for the pre-launch hang check, but because the wind is strong enough to provide sufficient airspeed for the rig to fly, when he (or she) reports that he is applying little or no pressure to the wires, the pilot says “Release” (in the UK) whereupon the wire person lets go.

Art based on a photo of a Hiway Scorpion flaring high above a beach
Hiway Scorpion flaring high above a beach

Notice the abundance of leading edge deflexor cables with adjustment turnbuckles. While useful in flight test, they provided the non-test pilot an opportunity to over-tension the trailing edge of the sail, which caused instability that could, in the extreme, prove dangerous. Even test pilots flew without emergency parachutes in 1976. We wondered how you would detach yourself from the glider and whether you would have time anyway…

The Hiway Scorpion sported a fin protruding downwards from the aft keel tube. I saw British champion Chris Johnson flying a prototype or pre-production Scorpion in Wales when I was instructing there late in 1976.

See also the related topics menu Hiway of Sussex, England, and Abergavenny, Wales and see under Lancer in Graeme Bird’s hang gliders for a common ancestor of both the Scorpion and the Lancer.


Art based on a photo of a Chargus Midas
Chargus Midas

The Midas, designed by Martin Farnham, was manufactured by Chargus of Buckinghamshire, a few miles north-west of London, England. Chargus was run by Murray Rose, who started out by building a standard Rogallo in 1972 and rebuilding it several times after crashing it. Hang gliders made by Chargus, culminating in the Cyclone of 1979, all featured innovations in either airframe design or sail aerodynamics; often both.

David Parsons flying a Chargus Vortex hang glider
David Parsons flying a Chargus Vortex

The Chargus Vortex of 1976 looked no different from most contemporary hang gliders, but it incorporated several innovations, some new — which would be used again — and some that had been tried before.

Technical: Notice the cable from the centre to the near wing tip. (The one the other side is hidden by the right down-tube.) These ‘bow strings’ limited the flex of the leading edges in the opposite way of the earlier deflexor systems — cables on struts along the leading edges. The hang strap has a pitch limiter, similar to that used on the Skyhook Cloud 9, but the Chargus version seems to be made of cable rather than webbing. (Webbing provides better resilience to shock loading.) What this photo does not show are rows of circular holes in the sail near the leading edges at the tips. The idea was that, at a nose-high angle of attack, higher pressure air would go up from those holes and energize the air flowing over the top, preventing the tips from stalling.

The pilot in the photo is David Parsons, Justin’s father, who died in 2019.

In 1977 I flight tested a Vortex that was reported to exhibit a turn. I flew it from a low hill and discovered that it did indeed tend to turn one way when flown ‘hands off’ (that is, by relaxing my grip on the control bar). In contrast, when I flared to land it, it dropped the opposite wing. It seemed likely to me that the bow strings needed adjusting. However, as was often the case in those days, I heard nothing more about it.

See also the related topics menu Chargus of Buckinghamshire, England.

Miles Wings Gryphon

While Australia and the USA generally led development of hang glider technology, British designer Miles Handley, creator of the Gulp monoplane flex-wing hang glider in 1975, created the Gryphon in ’76. Like the Gulp, it used a bowsprit and hefty cables instead of cross-tubes to hold the wings spread. However, while the Gulp had a three-piece tail, the Gryphon had no tail.

Art based on a photo by Ann Welch of Graham Leason landing an early Gryphon at Kossen, Austria
Graham Leason landing an early Gryphon at Kossen, Austria. Photo by Ann Welch.

A bowsprit rig is clearly a lighter structure than cross-tubes on a very wide nose angle flex-wing. (Intuitively, it might seem also that cables cause less drag than tubes, but I am informed that the difference is not that great.) However, the Gryphon was not the first tail-less bowsprit hang glider. See Hang gliding before 1973 for Jack Lambie flying a ‘bowsprit bomber.’

The first Gryphons had considerable double surface and rudders on the wing tips.

Ann Welch OBE, president of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, in 1975
Ann Welch OBE, president of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, in 1975 (no larger image available)

See the related topics menu Miles Wings Gulp and Gryphon, which includes external links to color photos of early Gryphons with wing-tip rudders.

The photographer here, incidentally, was Ann Welch, president of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. See ATA girl Ann Welch.


When you attain a large height above the ground, it is impossible to discern whether you are rising or sinking. To assist the pilot in staying in rising air, the variometer was adapted from the sailplane world (conventional cockpit gliders). The first flask variometer used in hang gliding that I know of is Dave Cronk’s 1973 variometer.

Art based on a photo of a flask variometer by Trip Mellinger
Flask variometer by Trip Mellinger

A main component was a flask, which contains only air. However, because the sensor measured air exiting or entering through a small tube as a result of changes in pressure of the surrounding air, the flask had to be rigid to prevent in bulging or caving in instead. Furthermore, it had to be insulated against temperature changes. (The air generally is colder higher up.) I covered the flask I made, using a length of plastic drainpipe, in layered aluminium foil and transparent plastic. A major problem was that you had to watch the dial (or a couple of pith balls rising in little transparent tubes on mine) to determine whether you were going up or down. In hang gliding, you really need to be looking about you.

Art based on a photo of a Colver variometer of 1976
Colver variometer of 1976

More sophisticated variometers were soon manufactured with internal flasks and audio tones indicating lift or sink. You could then maintain a good look out and listen to the variometer to assist in centering on the strongest lift. As far as I know, the first of these was created by USHGA member 007, Frank Colver. Frank’s son Matt used a cobbled together first version (taped to his control bar) in the 1973 Annie Green Springs competition (see Annie Green Springs 1973 briefing photo key). Before the contest was over, pilots were trying to buy it. However, he could not sell it because he needed to make sure he could duplicate it. (*)

See the link to Frank’s web site under External links later on this page.

Internals of the Systek II variometer of 1984
Internals of the Systek II variometer of 1984

The Systek II variometer was about three inches by two by two.

For the addition of total energy compensation to hang glider variometers, see Grouse Mountain invitational 1984.

This topic continues in Hang gliding 1976 part 2.

External links

1976 Hang Ten Hang Gliding Worlds Championships digitized film on YouTube. (Although claiming to be the world championship, as far as I know it was not sanctioned by the FAI, unlike the competition held in June at Kössen, Austria.)

1976 Kössen 1 de 3 15 min digitized film on YouTube by Roman Camps taken at the second FAI world championship, Kössen, Austria, in June, 1976. The film, uploaded in three parts, has deteriorated over the years, unfortunately.

Adrian Turner’s photography on Facebook

First FAI World hang gliding championships, Austria 1976 [actually the second FAI World championships] by bobbylangs on YouTube

Frank Colver, USHGA #7, hang glider designer and creator of the Colver variometer of 1973

HANG GLIDING – COLOUR in Britain by British Movietone on YouTube

Photo by the Westmorland Gazette of Roger Middleton flying a Ridge Rider standard Rogallo at Latrig, Keswick, in 1976. Keswick bypass was under construction and they used the part-finished road surface as a landing field.

WORLD HANG GLIDING CHAMPIONSHIPS – COLOUR: Kössen, Austria, 1976 by British Movietone on YouTube


Frank Colver’s reply in Annie Green Springs 1973 briefing photo key topic on the hang gliding forum