Hang gliding early 1980s part 1
This page follows Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2.
Some images on this page are artistic derivations of contemporary photos. See Copyright of early hang gliding photos.
The Gannet was successor of the Gryphon. (See the related topics menu Miles Wings Gulp and Gryphon.) Together with the Sigma (see South downs later on this page) and the Aolus (see the Spectra Aolus page) the Gannett, also known as the Super Gryphon, was the last of the bowsprit-rigged high performance hang gliders.
Bob England went on to create the double-surface enclosed cross-tube Hiway Demon, after which he moved to the USA and created the Bennett Streak. I read that he was killed about the turn of the century flying a paraglider at Torrey Pines.
I worked with him at Hiway in their South Wales factory for a short time. We made an extra large Demon as I remember, for a heavy customer. Bob drew out the sail and I did all the machining. They then got me to test fly it on a trike. Think someone flew it before my flight, but remember it was getting late. They had a short strip outside their Tredegar factory. Anyway got pretty high and remember cruising around for ages. Happy days.
— Roly Lewis-Evans (5)
Hiway of Tredegar, south Wales, was by this time the largest hang glider manufacturer in Europe. (Their move from Brighton in Sussex in the 1970s was funded by government grants.) After Hiway co-founder Steve Hunt started his own powered ultralight manufacturing business, co-founder John Ievers brought in Miles Handley, Bob England, Bill Pain, and Keith Cockroft to drive further developments. They came up with the the Alien, a flex-wing, and the Explorer, a collapsible rigid. Both of them failed to reach production and Hiway Hang Gliders ceased trading in March 1983, at least in the form of a company with large premises and consequent ‘overhead’ costs. (1)
Upon Hiway’s closure, La Mouette of France, led by Gerard Thevenot, immediately became Europe’s largest hang glider manufacturer.
See the related topics menu Hiway of Sussex, England, and Abergavenny, Wales.
Bob England went to California, where his first successful design was the Streak. See Bennett delta wing in Hang gliding mid 1980s for a photo.
Behind the iron curtain making progress was even harder to achieve than in the west.
Stephan Nitsch lived in East Germany, where he created gyroplanes and hang gliders, among other inventions. The hang gliding world was just one group of people saddened to hear of his death from cancer in 2008.
See Ice man in Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 1 for a photo of hang gliding near Moscow.
Taiwan is not behind the iron curtain, but it is perhaps through one of those stylish bamboo curtains… Kris Hartinian was one of the early female pilots. She later married instructor Joe Greblo.
The crosstube fairings (made by a different manufacturer as an add-on) were intended to reduce drag and possibly even provide a small amount of extra lift. However, I suspect their main effect was aesthetic.
See also Birdman and Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England.
Then, in 1980, La Mouette in France released an apparently unremarkable single surface wing; the Atlas.
During my one flight in the Atlas I had a wing loading of 1.6 in the 175 square foot glider and was easily able to outfly two top pilots from another manufacturer who were test-flying production gliders at a wing loading of 1.3. The glider outperformed their latest hot ship so much it was embarrassing.
— Chris Price writing in Hang Gliding, June 1980
Everyone I knew who could afford a new glider placed orders for Atlases and every other manufacturer raced to catch up with La Mouette’s carefully crafted wing. However, the day of the single surface wing with exposed cross-tubes or bowsprit cables, as the case may be, among top performance hang gliders was about to end.
A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I’ll be darned if I know how the hellican.
— Dixon Lanier Merritt
Foremost among performance flex-wings in late 1979 and early 1980 in Britain was the Southdown Sailwings Sigma, built near Brighton on the Sussex coast of England. Ian Grayland designed the first prototype while at Hiway Hang Gliders in 1978. Bill Pain helped him make the sail over a weekend when he had just started apprenticing as a sail maker aged 17. (9)
See under External links for some better quality photos of the Sigma and Emu.
The bowsprit configuration looked set to become the norm, at least for high performance hang gliders. However, in the USA a refinement of an older innovation had been developed, which was to reverse that trend. Together with the Gannet (see near the top of this page) and the Aolus (see the Spectra Aolus page) the Sigma was the last of the bowsprit-rigged high performance hang gliders.
Bill Pain continued with hang glider design after the Pelican. (Indeed, in 2010 he was in Australia flight testing another prototype.)
See the related topics menu Southdown Sailwings, Vulturelite, and Aerial Arts of Sussex, England.
Roy Haggard, who designed the 1974 Dragonfly and the 1979 Comet, and Ray Morgan developed the Arrow, a conventional glider with three-axis controls, but made out of hang glider materials and fittings. Ray Morgan worked for Sailplane aerodynamicist Dr. Paul MacCready at Aerovironment. He was previously at the Lockheed plant known as the Skunkworks. (8) See the related topics menu Ultralight Products of California and Utah.
In Britain, Len Gabriels created a canard version of this concept; the Orion. See under Hang gliding in Skyhook Sailwings.
The double-surface revolution came with the Comet in 1980, and all the new gliders started looking alike as wild innovation gave way to steady improvement.
— Mark Sawyer (2)
The Ultralight Products Comet of 1980, designed by Roy Haggard, was the first really successful double-surface flex-wing hang glider, where a battened undersurface (not visible from this aspect) encloses the crosstubes. Prior to the Comet, no flex-wing could compete with the popular Fledgling 2 rigid wing. Modern flexwing hang gliders fly better than the Comet, but they look similar.
Roy Haggard, Pete Brock, Mike Quinn, and Gene Blythe were principal contributors to this minor revolution. (3)
“The Comet was the first glider in which the cross spar was restrained aft with a cable that allowed the sail force to position the cross spar vertically.” That accomplished two things:
- It nested the cross spar neatly between the upper and lower surfaces to provide an uncompromised airfoil section.
- It greatly improved the pitch stability by allowing the entire root section airfoil to reflex at low angles of attack. (The center of the cross spar would move down nearly a foot and rest on the keel.)
Source: Reference 4
If the Raven was the glider to buy for the first half of the year, the Comet wins honors for the last half of 1980.
— Dan Johnson (presumably for the benefit of those who buy a new glider every six months!) 11
Pete Brock was an automotive designer before (and after) he ran Ultralight Products. He fitted his Volkswagen van with a big engine and welded aerodynamic roof bars, all integrated into the structure for adequate strength. In a documentary video by Jay Leno’s Garage (linked in the UP related topics menu) he says that the success of his team in competitions in the Owens Valley partly resulted from this vehicle, which could carry pilots, hang gliders, and their gear up the steep and rugged fire tracks without overheating.
See the related topics menu Ultralight Products of California and Utah. And see Rick Masters’ web site (linked farther on) for more about the Owens Valley among many other things.
Ironically, the first successful British double-surface flexwing hang glider, the Southdown Sailwaings Lightning, while possibly inspired by the UP Comet, was not a Comet clone, as the following photos illustrate.
Note the rearward raked king post and integral fin. The sail planform is also markedly different from that of the Comet. In addition, the Lightning had no stand-up keel pocket. When its designer Ian Grayland brought the prototype to Mill Hill, near Shoreham in Sussex, I was so astonished at its retrograde appearance (narrow nose angle, short span, broad chord and crosstubes instead of a bowsprit — although those crosstubes were hidden inside the double surface sail) I said, “What’s the idea behind this then?”
On a Sunday in December 1980, soaring conditions prevailed at the Devil’s Dyke, a north-facing ridge north of Brighton on the Sussex coast, and a race was held. Johnny Carr won it flying a Fledge 2 rigid wing, but the Lightning was close behind. Results:
- Manta Fledge 2 — rigid wing
- Southdown Sailwings Lightning — double-surface flex-wing
- Solar Wings Typhoon — double-surface flex-wing
- Another Lightning
- Hiway Demon — double-surface flex-wing
- Moyes Mega 2 — high performing single surface flex-wing
- Waspair Gryphon — high performing single surface flex-wing
Only the Ultralight Products Comet itself was missing from the race, but other flying days had proven it to be about equal to the Lightning, Typhoon, and Demon. (6)
The incoming wind was strong and quartering the rather gradual ridge face, creating a minimum of rather trashy and turbulent lift. Here, Haddon’s Comet displayed a clear-cut advantage. Its turn radius was tighter, and the Virginia pilot was able to scratch and pass the Fledge…
— James Hall (7)
Roly tells me that he still (in 2019) has this Lightning stored in his shed.
See the related topics menu Southdown Sailwings, Vulturelite, and Aerial Arts of Sussex, England.
Several pilots on the South Downs (Sussex) in 1980 used the speed of the earlier bowsprit-rigged Sigma in a dive to pull up and over in a loop. It scared the bejeezus out of me watching these stunts. Then, one day, Joe 90 (as we called most pilots who wore spectacles, although this guy always flew with a tape player and earphones for music as well — the Battle of Britain movie theme tune for all I know) flying a Lightning at the Devil’s Dyke stabilized upside-down and rode it all the way down. (No idea why he did not deploy his parachute.) Amazingly, he was unhurt. The cause, he said (as I recall) was the different roll handling of the Lightning compared to the Sigma, which prevented him from turning the loop into a wang when he realized that he did not have adequate speed.
Here is a quote from the anonymous Ann Landings column in Hang Gliding, June 1980. (It immediately precedes Lauran Emerson’s Birds Eye View in the mag.) I hope its author does not mind me reproducing it here:
How about them glider loopers,
Ain’t they a sight?
Looping them gliders
Mornin’ and night.
Loopin’ them high ones,
Loopin’ them low,
Goin’ in fast
And comin’ out slow.
Loopin’ in the blue sky,
Pink smoke trailin’,
Hopin’ them wing tubes
Won’t be failin.’
Wanna be a glider looper?
Ain’t nothin’ to it;
Just grab hold of your brain
And unscrew it.
The Moyes Mega was one of the last single surface flex-wings (with exposed cross-tubes) to be competitive after the release of the Ultralight Products Comet.
The evolution of the flex-wing hang glider is not straight-forward. This single surface design, which I think is a Seedwings (California) Sensor of the late 1970s, pre-dates the discarding of draggy deflexor cables in favour of stronger and stiffer leading edge tubes. However, the Seedwings trade mark curved tip, configured with a tapered glass fiber extension of the leading edge bowed by sail tension, was ahead of its time. (Seedwings of California is a separate entity from Seedwings in Europe.)
Running a major hang gliding competition in the USA was a complex endeavor.
…the organizing committee began wading through the streams of township, state, insurance and health department regulations. Additional acreage was leased and prepared for the landing field and spectator areas… Hot air balloon rides, parachute jumps, ultralight demonstrations, sailplane displays and frisbee contests were ready when needed for slow times during the competition. E-Z Wider provided banners, signs, financial support and $500 first place prize money. The U.S. Army Reserve brought in a sound system, drinking water, support equipment, a med-evac helicopter and personnel.
— Lars Isaacson, Hang Gliding November 1980
Wills Wing did not, at first, jump on the double surface (enclosed cross-tubes) bandwagon. Instead, they refined the single surface hang glider, which resulted in the Harrier of 1980. It reputedly handled better than the Comet, but its glide at speed was not as good. In November 1980 Wills Wing started development on an enclosed cross-tube design, which they did not release until more than a year later.
See the related topics menu Sport Kites/Wills Wing of California.
The Seagull Sierra was designed by Tom Peghiny. It was deflexorless and featured Mylar stiffeners inside the leading edge pockets. Battens were constructed from three parts: Aluminium, Lexan, and aluminium again, for maximum up-elevator effect in the event of ‘blow-down’, while maintaining fixed camber and reflex in normal flight. (10)
The original photos were by Don Whitmore.
The Sierra was Seagull’s last hang glider.
Within a very few days, the apparently well executed plan had shut down Seagull, sold off all remaining assets to Kitty Hawk Kites, and opened the factory to its new lessee, a trucking firm. A bunch of the respected Seagull names are left with salaries still due, and several dealers within the industry will have to close their accounts with the epitaph, “bad debt.”
— Dan Johnson (11)
It does not require much ability at ‘reading between the lines’ of Dan Johnson’s brief report to see that, to the fat men in suits, Seagull Aircraft was viewed as just another business in financial difficulty to be asset-stripped.
See the related topics menu Seagull Aircraft of Santa Monica, California.
In 1980, the Spectra Aircraft Corporation (of Concord, California) offered hang glider pilots a radical looking new wing: The Aolus. See Spectra Aolus for more.
This topic continues in Hang gliding early 1980s part 2.
Bill Pain flying a Vulturelite Emu photo by Don Liddard
Bill Pain flying a Vulturelite Emu; another photo by Don Liddard
Bob England testing the prototype Gannet; digitized film titled kossen on YouTube starting at 21 minutes 33 seconds
Prototype Gannet photo by Roger Middleton. Info accompanying the photo (as of June 2020) states that it is the similar Southdown Sailwings Sigma. However, several experts agree that it is Bob England in the prototype Gannet.
Rick Masters, guru of the Owens Valley, California. His web site documents a whole world of adventure and creativity.
Southdown Sailwings Sigma photo by Don Liddard
1. Stan Abbot article about Miles Handley in Wings magazine, December 1982 and report on Hiway’s demise in Wings, March 1983
2. Mark Sawyer, The History of Hang Gliding; a Personal View of a Collective Experience 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 & 4. Roy Haggard letter in Hang Gliding July 1993
5. Roland Lewis-Evans e-mail correspondence with the author, May 2019
6. The Great Clone Race by Tony Fuell, Wings magazine, January 1981
7. James Hall, Comet Vs Fledge — a Shoot-Out, describing world champions Rex Miller and Tom Haddon flying a one-on-one race at Ellenville, in Glider Rider, November 1980
8. Ray Morgan: Roy Haggard via e-mail, March 2020
9. Southdown Sailwings topic on British Hangies Facebook group
10. Seagull Sierra: Dan Johnson, Whole Air magazine, July-August 1980
11. Product Lines by Dan Johnson, Whole Air magazine, November-December 1980
[I copied this from the actual feedback, which, because I split the original page, ended up on the wrong page.]
Bill Pain says:
July 5, 2010 at 10:16 am
Hi Everard. Stumbled accross your web site. Thoroughly enjoyed. Could not help noticing the pic of me flying the Pelican. I have nothing from that era and would love a copy. It was a lovely glider to fly incidently.
I am still working on hang glider designs as well as flying sail planes. Living in Australia now. All the best Bill.
July 5, 2010 at 7:19 pm
The Pelican sure was a good-looking wing. Glad to hear that you are still designing the things.
I will send you a bigger copy of the photo (without my copyright mark on it).