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.
In 1980 the Comet set the standard in hang glider performance.
The Centurion, successor to the Herron, was originally made by King Horizon then by Sport Aviation Mfrs of San Clemente, California.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. (See Dove in Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2 about a related problem with a prototype licence-built Electra Flyer Dove.)
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.
That’s all a man needs…to be forty years old and to fall one hundred goddamned thousand feet in a flat spin and punch out and make a million-dollar hole in the ground and get half his head and his hand burned up and have his eye practically ripped out of his skull…and have the Good Samaritan, A.A.D., arrive as if sent by the spirit of Pancho Barnes herself to render a midnight verdict among the motherless Joshua trees while the screen doors bang and the pictures of a hundred dead pilots rattle in their frames:
“My God!…You look awful!”
— Tom Wolfe describing Chuck Yeager’s ejection from an experimental rocket-powered F-104 in The Right Stuff, 1979
World War 2 fighter ace Chuck Yeager (1923 – 2020) 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. (See also the World War 2 related topics menu.)
Peripheral technology in hang gliding
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 of Chattanooga, Tennessee, offered visiting pilots the luxury of color televisions and video tapes of flying events.
This early manifestation of the flight park increased pilots’ connections with each other and their wings…
On a flying trip to the Chattanooga area in ’78, one morning, still in bed in the flyers bunkhouse, I listened to Chuck Toth negotiate the sale of his all yellow Cumi-10 to a guy outside. Chuck ran the Crystal Hotel where we all stayed. 6 months later, flying in West Rutland VT, by pure chance, I met the guy who bought it. I shared several thermals with the guy, and boy that glider thermalled great. A real beauty. I had no idea it was a Dave Cronk design.
— Chris Gonzales (3)
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.
See Training aids.
In Van Nuys near Los Angeles, California, a different kind of supporting technology was implemented…
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.’ (For more hang glider factory images including sail-making, see Birdman and Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England.)
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)
See also the Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders related topics menu.
See the Sport Kites/Wills Wing of California related topics menu.
Dick Boone was president of the Hang Glider Manufacturers Association in the early 1980s. See the Dick Boone, hang glider designer related topics menu.
Samuel Nottage of the Maui School of Hang Gliding created a competition flight simulator for the Commodore 64. It was claimed to be useful for improving ‘speed to fly’, thermalling, and competition skills. (1)
See also the Computing in hang gliding related topics menu.
Back in Tennessee, home of the Tennessee Tree Toppers hang gliding club, larger scale construction was under way.
In the trusses arrival photo, designer Denis van Dam is nearest the camera.
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
The clutter at the center of the glider — where the pilot’s harness is attached — is a double French connection. (The clutter in front of the glider’s nose is the chair lift up the mountain!) For more of Jan Kulhavy’s color photos, see Grouse Mountain invitational 1984.
The French Connection, invented by Jean Louis Darlet(5) and known in French as the point d’Ancrage flottant or PAF(2) was a nuts-and-bolts metal parallelogram that lightened the forces necessary for pitch control of the early double-surface hang gliders; the so-called Comet clones. Placing another at right-angles to the first created the double French connection (piff paff in French) which lightened roll control forces too.
See what’s coming next in this pre-political correctness age from High Sports & Thin Air Ltd, based in Bothel, Washington.
Simpler gadgets that achieved similar results were the speed rail, by Mission Soaring Center, and the pitchy, created by British hang gliding champion (and Frenchman) Michael Carnet of Sky Systems.
Fortunately, hang glider design evolved sufficiently so that, about a couple of years later, the need for such complex additions went away.
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
More conventional modes of transporting hang gliders, such as the Volkswagen bus, were adapted to become hang glider wagons. In eastern USA, John LaTorre was still trying to make a living from selling and maintaining gliders, and helping with a hang gliding school…
I had built a roof rack for my bus that could accommodate four gliders when the pop-up roof was raised, and up to eight when the roof was lowered. And it was the bus that all the students followed, like a line of chicks follows its mother, as we traveled through the countrysides of Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania, and northern Virginia. It was not uncommon for me to lead a caravan of up to ten cars to the training hills. CB radios were quite the fad back then, and I had one in the bus. If any student’s car was similarly equipped, we would put that car at the rear of the caravan, so that between us we could keep an eye on potential stragglers and traffic stops.
— John LaTorre (see the John LaTorre related topics menu)
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.
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.
Torrey Pines is a hang gliding site inside San Diego city limits. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography pier is visible in the image. See also the Torrey Pines page.
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.
Hugh Morton, like his west coast equivalent Leroy Grannis, sometimes attached a camera to someone’s glider to obtain photos from the sky. Not an easy task in the days of film cameras.
See Hugh Morton’s photos (related topics menu).
Dave Thompson used a hand held Vivitar 35mm camera loaded with Kodak film to take this shot from high above Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina shortly before sunset. Fifty miles distant a mountain range horizon rests atop Mount Mitchell with sunset colors beginning to form. Dave writes that in the foreground below is; Grandfather Mountain McCrae Peak, the swinging bridge, with Grandmother Lake being the body of water to the left, and the primary landing area McCrae Meadows is flat green grass with a clay track around resting on the center to the right.
This Bennett Streak crashed at Grandfather Mountain. The Mile High Swinging Bridge provided folks with a good view of recovery operations. (I have no info about the pilot’s injuries, if any.)
See also the Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders related topics menu.
On September 3, 1980, WFMY-TV in Greensboro sent reporter Cheryl Deutsch up to Grandfather Mountain to cover the annual Masters Hang Gliding competition. What made this effort unique was that the Channel 2 engineers were able to get a microwave hit from the top of Grandfather Mountain to the WFMY studio in northeast Greensboro. That was quite a feat in 1980. Today’s satellites would make this easy, but back then Channel 2 didn’t have local satellite capability.
— Jack Hilliard (4)
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 Ultralight Products Comet under licence. Carter and Deegan were both also hang glider pilots and designers.
The Airwave Magic, derived from the Comet, and then the K-series hang gliders were considered the best in the world and were the gliders chosen by top pilots.
See Airwave of the Isle of Wight, UK.
While in ‘first world’ countries the era of building your own hang glider was long over, adventurous individuals in other parts of the world carried on that lost art. Vijay Sulakhe, who started by building bamboo hang gliders at 20 years old in India, was one.
Vijay also built a power trike with a twin Yamaha 135cc engine for this wing. Photos of that along with some of his other various flying machines appear on his flickr albums; see under External links later on this page.
See the Hang glider sail art related topics menu.
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.
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.
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)
Vijay Sulakhe on flickr; including photos and videos of Vijay’s hang gliders, airplanes, RPVs, a gyroplane, paragliders and a powered parachute/paraglider
1. Competition flight simulator for the Commodore 64: Whole Air October 1985
2. Point d’Ancrage Flottant, or PAF: Gib Eggen, Whole Air January 1985
3. Comment by Chris Gonzales in Cronk works
4. Jack Hilliard in For A Few Glorious Moments… on UNC Chapel Hill library
5. French Connection invented by Jean Louis Darlet: Wings (BHGA magazine) June 1982