Hang gliding early 1980s part 2

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Hang gliding early 1980s part 2

This page follows Hang gliding early 1980s part 1.

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

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of a hang glider dropping ballast (sand) at the Southern California regionals in 1980
Ultralight Products Comet dropping ballast (sand) at the Southern California regionals in 1980. Photo by Bettina Gray.

In 1980 the Comet set the standard in hang glider performance.

Sport Aviation Centurion hang glider advert in Whole Air, March-April 1983
Sport Aviation Centurion advert in Whole Air, March-April 1983

The Centurion, successor to the Herron, was originally made by King Horizon then by Sport Aviation Mfrs of San Clemente, California. (Source: Dan Johnson, Product Lines, Whole Air July-August 1981)

The majority of the hardware is stainless steel plate cut to shape and bent into channels and brackets.
…a properly trimmed Centurion with a pilot who is wired into it, will outsink a 185 Comet. The glide angle and speed range matched the Comet in side by side dives in some informal races.

— Neal Harris, Whole Air, September-October 1982

The Centurion’s light pitch pressure apparently indicated its closeness to acceptable limits of pitch stability. Flattening of the camber in the battens was reported to give rise to a question of its compliance with HGMA stability standards.

Chuck Stahl, designer of the Centurion, was among the pioneers of early 1970s hang gliding in California. He appears in the group photo in Annie Green Springs 1973 briefing photo key.

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of Chuck Yeager and Dave Stanfield at Telluride, Colorado, in 1980
Chuck Yeager and Dave Stanfield at Telluride, Colorado, in 1980. Photo by Leroy Grannis.

World War 2 fighter ace Chuck Yeager was first to break the sound barrier. He did so in the Bell X-1 rocket plane in 1947. In 1980 he flew dual from Gold Hill, Telluride, with Jack Carey in a hang glider.

From our house to bunkhaus

The technology of hang glider design and construction is only half the story. Visual aids to learning, the early personal computers, and small scale civil engineering all contributed to the advance of hang gliding.

Crystal Air Sports hang gliding center bunkhaus in 1981
Crystal Air Sports bunkhaus in 1981

Crystal Air Sports of Chattanooga, Tennessee, offered visiting pilots the luxury of color televisions and video tapes of flying events.

Photo by Dan Johnson of the Crystal Air Sports simulator hang gliding training aid at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1984
Photo by Dan Johnson of the Crystal Air Sports simulator at Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1984

A hang glider sliding down a wire, which limits the pilot’s ability to get into difficulties, is an old idea that apparently works well. In addition to training, or rather pre-training in that you put the new pilot on the simulator before he or she starts flight school proper, it can be used for practicing emergency parachute deployment.

According to Tom Phillips writing in Hang Gliding, December 1984, the Crystal launch ramp was 125 feet above the sawdust landing zone, the distance traveled was about 700 feet, and flights lasted from 20 to 30 seconds.

In at Van Nuys near Los Angeles, California, a different kind of supporting technology was implemented…

Sunken pit for seamstress in hang glider factory, 1981
Sunken pit for seamstress (at left, with her back to the camera)

The sunken pit for the seamstress (at left of the photo, with her back to the camera) causes the sail loft floor to effectively become a table. That was said to facilitate ‘more controlled movement of sailcloth during construction.’

Bill Bennett, originally from Australia, started making hang gliders the in USA in March 1969 and was almost certainly the first manufacturer of Rogallo hang gliders in the world. By the early 1980s, the Bennett factory staff used Olivetti and Apple II computers and they communicated with their many dealers around the world by Telex. (This was long before the World Wide Web.) Flight testing was normally carried out at nearby Sylmar. (Source: Whole Air January-February 1983)

Apple II computer at Bill Bennett's Delta Wing Kites and Gliders in 1982
Apple II computer at Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders in 1982

For earlier use of computing in hang glider development, see Calculus in Flying squad, a history of the east coast manufacturer Sky Sports.

Bill Bennett was killed in a powered ultralight crash in 2007.

Back in Tennessee, home of the Tennessee Tree Toppers hang gliding club, more construction was under way.

Curved trusses arrive at Henson's Gap, Tennessee, to construct a hang glider launch ramp in 1982
Curved trusses arrive at Henson’s Gap, Tennessee, in 1982

In the trusses arrival photo, designer Denis van Dam is nearest the camera.

Construction of hang glider launch ramp at Henson's Gap, Tennessee, in 1982
Construction under way

Including two days spent prefabricating the curved trusses, the entire ramp took nine days to complete.

— Hang glider pilot and ramp designer Denis van Dam, Whole Air, November-December 1982

Henson's Gap hang glider launch ramp in 1982. Photo by BJ Schulte.
Henson’s Gap ramp in 1982. Photo by BJ Schulte.

Steve Moore with his motorcycle hang glider rack at La Cumbre Peak near Santa Barbara, California
Steve Moore with his motorcycle glider rack at La Cumbre Peak near Santa Barbara, California

As in most endeavors, not all innovations catch on. As well as novel methods of transporting hang gliders, Steve Moore designed, built, and flew a series of experimental canard-configured wings. (That is, with a horizontal stabilizer in front of the wing.)

…Steve plummeted many hundreds of feet to grisly impacts several times. He always recovered and came back for more. He was endlessly entertaining…

— Instructor Ken de Russy via e-mail in February 2020

Steve described his ideas in the pages of the USHGA magazine and I (the original author of this web site) corresponded with him for a few years (by post) about our various design efforts. One problem that Steve encountered that I did not was a neighbor objecting to his metal working late in the evening and pulling a gun on him to make his point.

Eventually Steve died of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

…but his wild personality stayed with him to the end.

— says Ken de Russy


Donnell Hewitt of Texas
Donnell Hewitt of Texas

Donnell Hewitt developed equipment and procedures for relatively safe winch-launching of hang gliders, a center-of-mass bridle system, which he termed Skyting. Incidentally, the photo here was used as an illustration of one of the dangers; that of the release line and tow line passing either side of the pilot’s head. It was published in industry expert Dan Johnson’s Whole Air magazine, August 1983.

British instructors Tony and Rona Webb trained under Hewitt as part of their world tour learning tow-launching for their eventual school in the flat-lands of Norfolk, north of London, England. They opted for a simpler technique than Hewitt’s. See Lejair (Tony and Rona Webb).

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of north Vancouver from Sean Dever's Wills Wing Raven
North Vancouver from Sean Dever’s Wills Wing Raven flying from Grouse Mountain. Photo by Leroy Grannis.

For more of Grouse Mountain, see Grouse Mountain invitational 1984.

As well as taking photos from the ground and by rigging his cameras on others’ gliders, Leroy Grannis took to the air with his camera on occasion.

Art based of a photo of Leroy Grannis and Herb Fenner at Torrey Pines, San Diego
Leroy Grannis and Herb Fenner at Torrey Pines, San Diego

Torrey Pines is a hang gliding site inside San Diego city limits. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography pier is visible in the image.

Roly launching in a Solar Wings Typhoon at Ager, northern Spain, in 1982
Roly, Solar Wings’ sailmaker, launching in a Typhoon at Ager, northern Spain, in 1982

The Solar Wings Typhoon was a popular British ‘Comet clone’ from the early- to mid-1980s. See my related topics page Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England.

Graeme Bird Shark hang glider

Rather than jump on the Comet clone bandwagon, a manufacturer in New Zealand created a double surface flex-wing with an even flatter glide when flown fast. See Shark in Graeme Bird’s hang gliders.


Yeah, we’re gonna get high
We’re gonna touch the sky

— from the lyrics of Living on an Island by Status Quo, 1979

In 1980, racing yacht designer Rory Carter, who lived and worked on the Isle of Wight, off the central south coast of England, together with New Zealand sailmaker Graham Deegan, manufactured the UP Comet under licence. (Carter and Deegan were both also hang glider pilots and designers.)

…production began in a local council ‘nursery’ factory unit. The metalwork was done five miles down the road in Newport and the office work in Rory’s bedroom.

— Stan Abbott, There’s Magic in the Air, Wings magazine, June 1982

The manufacturing licence was never signed and, as is often the case with such things, Ultralight Products and Airwave parted company, the latter renaming their glider the Magic. In the 1970s, Ulralight Products wings were renowned for their purpose-made high-quality fittings while other manufacturers used functional but cruder ‘nuts and bolts’ hardware. (Birdman of Wiltshire, England, briefly partnered with UP, thereby gaining a lead in hardware that was clearly visible in the polished and clean look of their hang gliders.) However, by 1980, all American hang gliders had fallen behind the Brits in the design of fittings, particularly those that enable the pilot to rig his wing quickly and easily. The Airwave Magic was superior to the UP Comet in that respect, and its performance and handling were at least as good.

Hang glider in flight viewed from below
Everard Cunion flying an Airwave 166 Magic IV. Photo by Justin Parsons. (No larger image available.)

Its definitive version was, arguably, the Magic IV, released in the spring of 1985. The Magic IV (and inevitable American-made copies) remained competitive among the next generation of flex-wings with superior performance, including the Wills Wing HP, Ultralight Products Glidezilla, Seedwings Sensor, and Moyes GTR. Those wings did not match the Magic 4’s combination of easy rigging and benign handling qualities combined with good performance. (I flew one from 1993, with a gap when I flew the UP TRX for about five years, until 2003. Before that change, other pilots sometimes asked when I was going to buy a new wing. I replied “As soon as they make one as good as the Magic 4!”)

The Mystic was an Airwave Magic clone made in the USA…

Until someone proves to me that there is something out there that out-performs my Mystic, I’ll stay with it. But, the main reason I fly a Mystic is safety. I fly in a lot of high winds, and the Mystic was designed for ease of setup and breakdown in high winds. In seconds, with the pull of one pin, I can have my glider lying flat in any wind. This has saved me more than once.

— Kevin Christopherson, World Record in Wyoming, published in Hang Gliding, August 1988. For more about Kevin’s adventures, see Wyoming in Hang gliding late 1980s.

The Magic and then the K-series hang gliders were considered the best in the world and were the gliders chosen by top pilots.

Art for art’s sake

Art based on a photo by Susan C. Andrews of California of a hang glider flying over surf
The original photo was by Susan C. Andrews of California.

Photo of a dual hang glider launching about 1980
Dual hang glider launch about 1980. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.
Art based on a photo by Hugh Morton of Australian Steve Moyes above the 'mile high swinging bridge' at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina
Australian Steve Moyes above the ‘mile high swinging bridge’ at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Photo by Hugh Morton.
Aquila drawings by Bob Rouse
Aquila drawings by Bob Rouse

In an extraordinary contribution to the hang gliding world, Bob Rouse combined sculpture with serious research into low-speed flight. The accompanying images are based on some in his book Selected Works 1982 to 1998.

Art based on a photo by Bob Rouse of his early Aquila
Early Aquila by Bob Rouse
Art based on a photo of Bob Rouse launching in his Aquila in 1982
Bob Rouse launching in his Aquila in 1982

The photo on which this image is based was the December 1983 hang gliding calendar photo. Hang gliding’s principal technical author Dennis Pagen devoted one of his series titled Hang Gliding Design considerations to bob Rouse’s Aquila. Aquila is Latin for eagle, apparently.

“Selected Works of Bob Rouse,1982-1997.” Not sure what I had in my hands at first, I became more and more amazed at the scope of what I was viewing. This 90-page book is literally a work of 15 years that starts with Bob’s early store-bought gliders, a Leaf Talon and a Phoenix Mariah. That’s when he began his own tinkering, joining parts of a Seagull IV with the Talon and the Phoenix to make an original glider.

— Dan Johnson, November 1998 (see link later on this page)

While these are not even remotely intended to be marketable aircraft, Bob does actually build AND FLY! these gliders. Though I’m no designer and have no ambitions of replicating any of Rouse’s work, I nonetheless found his new volume to be of intense interest… although this is quite clearly art, and not everyone agrees that a given type of art is appealing.

— Dan Johnson, February 2000 (see link later on this page)

For an image of another of Bob Rouse’s creations in flight, see Hang gliding 1996 to 2014.

This topic continues in
Hang gliding mid 1980s.

External links

1983 Compressed 27 – 30mph Frontside Masters of Hang Gliding Championships on David Thompson’s YouTube channel. The video is annotated to identify several individuals present.

Product Lines – November 1998 by Dan Johnson, including an overview of “Selected Works of Bob Rouse, 1982-1997

Product Lines – February 00 by Dan Johnson, including an overview of Bob’s 119-page, 8.5 x 11 book (with many fold-out pages of larger dimension)

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