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Hang gliding before 1973 part 2
This page continues from Hang gliding before 1973 part 1.
Dacron and aluminium
Bamboo and polythene might be adequate for ‘low and slow’ flight, the mantra for which was “Don’t fly higher than you are prepared to fall.” However, heights attained by Rogallos launched behind power-boats with the aid of tow lines and water skis demanded stronger materials. Australian Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders, of Van Nuys, California, Dick Eipper’s excruciatingly named company Eipper-Formance, of Lomita, California, and Bill Moyes’ eponymous Moyes Delta Gliders of Australia were the first manufacturers of quality hang gliders.
Even though equipped with wings made of strong materials, the northern California fliers, notably Donnita Holland and brothers Dave and Rich Kilbourne, took obvious risks soaring in strong winds high above inland ridges starting in 1971.
See under Big Blue Sky video external links later on this page for more of Dave Kilbourne.
In contrast, the activities of the southern California fliers, centered on the beaches in the Los Angeles area, looked benign. Regardless, tragedy was bound to strike sooner or later.
In the late summer of 1972, Ed Gardia became one of the first fatalities of modern hang gliding, while flying at Slide Mountain near Lake Tahoe. His glider clipped tree-tops, causing it to stop flying and dive to the ground.(3) There had been two fatalities in auto-tow launches of Rogallos prior to that, but Gardia was the first ‘free flight’ fatality. (*) During the years that followed, the development of this new way of flying caused the loss of some of the most courageous and innovative individuals of their generation. Many of them were still in their twenties when they died (Gardia was 22) and some were younger than that.
Chris Price was an old school friend of the Wills brothers, who played a large part in early hang glider development.
Incidentally, color film of this glider (see under External links later on this page) shows the sail to be black or dark blue with Price’s trademark yellow lightning flashes. For a color painting based on this photo, in which the artist guessed the colors, also see under External links.
Paul Dees was 13 years old when he started flying home-built Rogallo hang gliders in 1972…
I started to meet other pilots in Illinois, Michigan and Missouri–the typical pilot back then was in his 20s and was a free spirit, an adventurer. Many were Vietnam vets and now they could let their hair grow long. To fly free was the best, and nobody could tell any of us to wear a helmet, because you had to feel the wind in your hair. These were the badass kind of people mamas do not like, but who have a very good time. Many of them did not live to become old…
— Paul Dees quoted by C.J. Sturtevant (8)
Dick Boone’s interest in hang gliding was not all that unusual for a college student in the early 1970s.
As a student at the University of Washington, Richard studied mechanical engineering and worked in the university’s aeronautical laboratory. During the summers, he worked in Boeing’s composite fabrication facility in Wichita, Kansas.
However, his career in heavy aircraft design was shortly to be hijacked by his interest in and talent at hang glider design. See the Dick Boone, hang glider designer related topics menu.
Sticks and rudders
There was a energy level within the HG community, you witnessed it at the monthly meetings of the SCHGA at the Gas Co. Building on Flower downtown L.A. In that one location we could all come together & be the members of a real man flight organism of humans. Volmer would show up wearing his ‘uniform’ always shades of Powder Blue.
— Neil Larson (6)
Modern hang gliding has its roots in the 1960s American space program and the efforts of pioneers such as Barry Palmer, John Dickenson, Richard Miller, and Jack Lambie. However, even before World War 2 (1941) Volmer Jensen of Glendale, California, designed, built, and flew hang gliders.
Self-taught aerodynamicist Irv Culver, who designed the thick airfoil section of the VJ-23, had worked with Albert Einstein. (4) Culver worked for Lockheed in World War 2 and, although private company records are largely hidden, he is credited with solving the P-38’s dive recovery problem when accelerated airflow over its wings reached the speed of sound. (9, 10)
As Kelly Johnson’s top man at Lockheed’s ‘Skunk Works’, Irv Culver had been responsible for such diverse machines as the U-2 spyplane, F-104 Starfighter, SR-71 Blackbird and the Cosmic Wind single-seat Goodyear Formula One racers.
— Bob and Karen Grimstead, David Cook pilot profile, Pilot magazine, February 1984
For more of Jensen and Culver’s work, see the VJ day — Volmer Jensen’s hang gliders related topics menu. See also the World War 2 related topics menu.
This image, cropped from of a group photo taken at a pilots’ briefing in 1973, is the only photo of George Uveges that I know of.
Bob Lovejoy lived in Torrance. The area is known as South Bay. That’s where a large aerospace & aircraft industry was already established.
— Neil Larson (6)
While working for General Motors in Detroit, Californian Bob Lovejoy was encouraged by a former World War 2 Luftwaffe pilot who shared his ambition to build an inexpensive and lightweight glider. In contrast, after Lovejoy moved back to California and consulted senior engineers at his workplace about the possibility of building such a craft, they informed him that, if it was possible, it would already have been done.
Then he saw a photo of an early hang glider in the Los Angeles Times and, in 1971, he set about designing, building, and flying his own advanced hang gliders, culminating in the Quicksilver. He eventually teamed up with Dave Cronk and the Eipper-Formance factory and they brought it to production standard. (1)
Bob could run ideas through his work at Mattel Toys, make a couple phone calls & do a consult with a half dozen aircraft machine tool & die shops & then spend an afternoon on the beach with any number of Tie Dyed Beautiful People.
— Neil Larson (6)
The Quicksilver was made out of the same materials used in production Rogallo wings; sailcloth, aluminium alloy tube, and steel cable. It used a rudder connected to the pilot’s seat harness to initiate turns. That placed the glider into a skid and the high dihedral then caused the craft to bank.
Was this the future of hang gliding? For more about its development, see Dave Cronk, Bob Lovejoy, and the Quicksilver in Cronk works.
Coincidentally, Bob Lovejoy and Joe Faust, who organized several early 1970s hang glider meets, had competed against each other in high jump. Lovejoy was also an aviation illustrator and some of his work adorned a beach cafe (Orville & Wilbur’s Steak House) where they held a couple of early organizational meetings. (2; 8)
Bob resurfaced in about 1980 and had a small ultralight aircraft under development. During a test flight there was a hardware failure which led to a control problem. Not much is known except it cut his life tragically short.
— Dave Cronk, e-mail correspondence with the author, June 2020
Bob Lovejoy was killed flight testing a powered ultralight of his own design in 1982. (5)
Late 1960s and early 1970s in color
Seventeen year old Taras Kiceniuk Jr. designed and built the Icarus biplane. The resemblance of the scene in this photo to that in the group photo farther on, the black glider, and that the photo was taken by the same photographer suggests that this was taken in December 1971.
Olympic high jumper and early hang glider pilot Joe Faust flight tested the Icarus from the cliff at Torrance Beach…
…about 3 seconds from launch, a slight push back for a slight rounding out of the higher speed, the two wing halves folded on the cockpit and me; my butt hit the hard sandstone and I obtained a memento for life that is fully managed and does not block me from running and jumping and flying. The Icarus I is in the backroom at the Smithsonian Institute waiting for someone to resurrect it. An Icarus II was quickly built by Taras with higher-grade alloy.
— Joe Faust (11)
For more of Taras and his designs, see School for perfection in Hang gliding 1973 part 2. See also under Big Blue Sky video external links and under Playground in the Sky video external links, later on this page for more of Taras.
See also Torrance Beach.
Dick Eipper first flew a hang glider in 1969…
A few months later Dick and I founded Eipper Formance Hang Gliders. A year and a half later we incorporated and brought on Dave Muehl, Mike Huetter, Bob Lovejoy and Dave Cronk as partners.
— Steve Wilson (14)
He was so creative and forward looking – the excitement in his eyes when he got a new idea that would seize his imagination that looked like he was looking way past the mundane world most are rooted in…
— Steve Penny (13)
In this photo I assume the harness riser is hidden behind the down tube. Dick Eipper went on to found hang glider manufacturer, and later powered ultralight manufacturer, Eipper Formance Inc. See the Eipper Formance of Torrance, California related topics menu.
For more of Volmer Jensen and Irv Culver, see the related topics menu VJ day — Volmer Jensen’s hang gliders. Chris Jones is described as “donator of process negatives for this photograph,” whatever that means. ‘Frenchy’ is described as a member of the Imperial Engine Works Club, which I vaguely recall was a predecessor of Eipper-Formance. I hope to update the annotations embedded in this photo when I obtain the identities of others in it. For example, I am sure that is Frank Colver holding the model glider while sitting in the middle of the real thing, only half covered with fabric.
Joe Faust appears to be flying the same wing that Dick Eipper is holding in the annotated group shot, so 1971 or 1972.
Chris Wills, later of Sport Kites Inc./Wills Wing, was inspired by the National Geographic article and, with his brother Bob, set about building and flying their own bamboo butterflies.
For links to more of Richard Hovey’s photos, see his entry in the Photographers of early hang gliding related topics menu.
This topic continues in Hang gliding 1973 part 1.
Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders (related topics menu) which together with Moyes Delta Gliders and Eipper Formance was one of the earliest modern hang glider manufacturers
Eipper-Formance of Torrance, California (related topics menu) which together with Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders and Moyes Delta Gliders was one of the earliest modern hang glider manufacturers
Moyes Delta Gliders (related topics menu) which together with Bill Bennett’s Delta Wing Kites and Gliders and Eipper Formance was (and is) one of the earliest modern hang glider manufacturers
HG Retrospect : 40 Years After Day One by Neil Larson on the US Hawks forum
Ken de Russy YouTube channel of the instructor who runs a hang gliding museum
Orville & Wilbur’s Restaurant, Manhattan Beach (now closed) on Facebook
Painted history of hang glider design part 1 on Brave guys and beautiful dolls for a color painting based on the photo of Chris Price ground skimming
Quicksilver: 70s and 80’s Hang Gliding digitized film by Majic Man on YouTube starting at 9 minutes 11 seconds
Big Blue Sky video external links
These are links to Big Blue Sky — The history of modern hang gliding – the first extreme sport!, 2008, documentary by Bill Liscomb on YouTube:
Early Soaring Flights, David Kilbourne starting at 19 minutes 1 second, and more of the Kilbourne interview starting at 1 hour, 11 minutes, 47 seconds
Volmer Jensen flying the VJ-23: Big Blue Sky starting at 35 minutes 17 seconds
Playground in the Sky video external links
These are links to Playground in the Sky, 1977, by Carl Boenish on YouTube (low resolution):
Chris Price flying the glider in the ‘ground skimmer’ photo and the painting derived from it: Playground in the Sky starting at 43 minutes 32 seconds
Dave Cronk flying his Cronkite, followed by Volmer Jensen in the VJ-23, then Taras in the Icarus 2 and Icarus 5…: Playground in the Sky starting at 25 minutes 19 seconds
1. Evolution of the Quicksilver by Bob Lovejoy, Ground Skimmer July-September 1974
2. Text accompanying a print of a photo of Lovejoy flying the Hightailer; a predecessor of the Quicksilver
3. Ed Gardia discussion on US Hawks forum
4. Skunk Works’ Irven Culver Dies by Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1999
5. Bob Lovejoy fatality: Product Lines by Dan Johnson in Whole Air No. 27 November-December 1982
6. HG Retrospect : 40 Years After Day One by Neil Larson on the US Hawks forum
7. Pilots’ briefing near San Ysidro, California: Ground Skimmer, September 1972
8. The ‘Bad Old Days’ of Hang Gliding, A Coming-of-age Story by C.J. Sturtevant in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, January 2015
9. Irv Culver – An engineer’s engineer on Soaring Society of America
10. Irven H. Culver topic in U.S. Hang Gliding Pilots section of US Hawks Hang Gliding Association
11. Post by Merlin on US Hawks forum
12. Dick Boone, Richard Louis Boone, on the US Hawks forum
13. Steve Penny reply in USHPA / USHGA / SCHGA Member # 1 Dick Eipper on U.S. Hawks forum
14. Deltaplane : Unknown / Inconnu comments on Delta Club 82
Note on auto-tow launching of hang gliders
Nowadays we use winches, vehicles, and powered ultralights to launch hang gliders, but in those days the SCHGA considered auto-towing too unsafe and discouraged it.