Hang gliding before 1973 part 1
…there is less margin for error in hang gliding than in almost anything else a person might attempt in life.
— Instructor Ken de Russy interviewed by Carol Price in Hang Gliding magazine, November 1980
While this history of hang gliding concentrates on the rediscovery of the hang glider in the second half of the 20th century, its foundations were laid by pioneers in Britain, Germany, the U.S.A., and other locations during the preceding century. Those foundations are described briefly in Earliest hang gliders.
Most of the images on this page are artistic derivations of contemporary photos. See Copyright of early hang gliding photos.
I now possessed the world’s cheapest aircraft — the materials cost under 11 dollars.
— Barry Palmer quoted in the British hang gliding magazine SkyWings, May 2011
There is film of Palmer flying an earlier version of this glider in December 1961 in Bill Liscomb’s 2008 documentary Big Blue Sky (see under External links later on this page). He also experimented with engines attached; see Early powered ultralights, which includes a photo of the powered Rogallo that, ironically, inspired the design of his first unpowered hang glider.
I contacted Paul Bikle, Director of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, sending him a film clip and stills of the craft in flight.
— Barry Palmer, SkyWings, May 2011
Paul Bikle was also a sailplane (glider) pilot who held two world height records, one of which still stands as of 2011. One of the projects under his control was a powered Rogallo wing. (See Paresev in Space flight and hang gliding.) Bikle’s position in that pre-internet world enabled him to act as a hub for Barry Palmer, Richard Miller, Francis Rogallo and others to contact each other, thereby facilitating the birth of modern hang gliding.
These kite-shaped wings are known as Rogallos, after Francis ‘F.M.’ Rogallo, the NASA engineer most closely associated with development efforts by the space agency in putting the bi-conical flex-wing to use. Barry Palmer, Dave Cronk, Roy Haggard, Taras Kiceniuk Jr, the Wills brothers, along with other early adopters of the Rogallo wing hang glider, used the parallel bar hang frame initially. In contrast, Australian John Dickenson built a Rogallo wing and, instead of the parallel bars, he used a swing seat and a cable-braced control frame.
I was running a parachute loft at the Oakland Airport when in walked Miller in early 1964 searching for materials for his ‘Bamboo Butterfly.’ This particularly literate sky dreamer knew where he was going, but I am not sure he knew how he was going to get there.
— Dan Poynter in Hang Gliding by Martin Hunt and David Hunn, 1977
In March 1967 Emil Riesel of Saratoga, California, began a newsletter, Low and Slow and Out of Control. Mentioned in the first issue is Richard Miller flying his ‘Bamboo Butterfly’ Rogallo from the dunes at Dockweiler State Park on January 16, 1966. (1)
In the landmark 1971 hang glider meet (see On this hill, May 23, 1971) Richard Miller flew a wing that pointed the way to the future while 22-year-old engineering student Doug Carmichael flew Miller’s earlier jib-sailed Rogallo wing.
Richard had no problem with the math or the physics of flight. Complicated graphs, charts, equations and structural requirements were second nature to him. When faced with something he didn’t know, however, he would simply pull a pendulum out of his pocket and ask it. Twirling clockwise was yes, counterclockwise was no.
— Doug Carmichael (3)
See Mystical Visionary, Richard Miller under External links later on this page.
In 1970, Matt Colver talked the 15 year old Roy Haggard out of building an expensive radio control sailplane and proposed that he build a hang glider instead. (Matt Colver is the son of Frank Colver — see Sound barrier in Variometers.) Via a phone call Colver described how to build a Batso (a polythene and bamboo Rogallo wing). Haggard jotted it all down and finished building it a little more than a week later. He states that, if he had not known the Colvers, his life would have been very different. (5)
As far as is known to this author, Roy Haggard’s emergency parachute system was the first to be carried aboard a hang glider. For his subsequent innovations, see the Ultralight Products of California and Utah related topics menu.
He says further that he never lost sight of the fact that there was support from all those early 1970s hang glider people. For example, when Pete Brock of Ultralight Products hired him, Dave and Karen Cronk (see Cronk works) put him up for a couple of weeks before he found a place to stay. Tom Price was always there to bounce ideas off… (See Tom Price’s flying machines.)
At that point, I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world, and still do.
— Roy Haggard (5)
Here are the 1971 plans by Taras Kiceniuk Jr. for building a Batso. They were sent to me by long time hang glider pilot Chris Gonzales:
Dick Eipper lived in a small studio in the back of a house in Redondo Beach, California, where he worked on the grass in the backyard building hang gliders from polythene sheet, bamboo, hose clamps, and duct tape. He then found employment with Blue Water Sails in Lomita, where he was able to work on his own projects after hours in their sail loft. (7)
…he was a “people person” with a natural ability to find favor with whomever he was chatting. His appearance on the national Sunday night TV program 60 Minutes, with a very brief segment directly focusing on his unique sport in a short leap off a coastal bluff, propelled Dick into a spotlight among the rest of the HG fliers.
— Neil Larson (6)
See the Eipper Formance of Torrance, California related topics menu.
Ground Skimmer magazine was successor to Low and Slow (by which time they had gained control and shortened the title accordingly). Ground Skimmer was published by the Southern California Hang Glider Association (SCHGA) which grew from the 25-member Peninsula Hang Glider Club, founded by Dick Eipper in December 1971(2) and it eventually became the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.
On May 23rd, 1971, on a hillside that was part of the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Newport Beach, a coastal city in Orange County, California, the first organized hang gliding event took place. (The organizers kept a low profile in that troubled time…) For more about this landmark event, see On this hill, May 23, 1971. It includes participants’ recollections and photos as well as links to digitized film.
Jack Lambie sold plans for his Hang Loose in 1971 and he could barely keep up with demand after photos of it appeared in magazines across the USA, and then around the world.
Bill Liscomb became one of the top hang glider pilots of the 1970s. In later life he created the 2008 documentary Big Blue Sky — The history of modern hang gliding – the first extreme sport! I include links to applicable points in his video upload of that documentary on YouTube in the External links sections of this page and other early hang gliding pages.
In 1971 my friends and I would pile into the VW van and drive around Riverside looking for stands of bamboo. When we’d spot some, we’d empty out with our hacksaws and leave with components for a Batso…
Then we discovered aluminum irrigation tubing. 2″ .050 wall, probably 5050 or 5052 T-0. It had little chunks of metal in it that would rust, but we had a hot rod aluminum Batso.
— Bill Liscomb (4)
A bowsprit and cables to hold the wings spread is clearly a lighter structure than cross-tubes on a very wide nose angle flex-wing.
This topic continues in Hang gliding before 1973 part 2.
Barry Palmer’s early 1960s Rogallo: Hang Gliding, 1960’s style video on YouTube
Doug Carmichael Recalls May 23 1971 on the US Hawks Hang Gliding Association web site: Jib-sailed Rogallo that Richard Miller gave to Carmichael
Early Hang Gliding digitized film by John Elwell on YouTube
F-0838 Free Flight Systems Hang Gliding, 1972, a series of adverts by what was almost certainly the largest hang glider manufacturer in the world at the time, in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives YouTube channel
F-0841 Hang Gliding: The New Freedom, 1972, by Ronald B. Underwood, in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives YouTube channel
F-0057 Soaring – Frank Allen filmed at Imperial Beach, California, by Channel 10 KOGO NEWS, in the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives YouTube channel. This pre-dates the similar Hang Loose by ten years.
Hang gliding pioneers video on YouTube with Francis Rogallo, John Dickenson, and Bill Moyes in conversation in 1988
Hang Loose Hang Glider Home Movie on YouTube of a young pilot (passenger is more accurate) being towed up into a stiff breeze in a biplane rigid hang glider
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
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:
First to Fly, Barry Palmer starting at 5 minutes 11 seconds
Innovative Designs, Taras Kiceniuk starting at 21 minutes 15 seconds
Mystical Visionary, Richard Miller starting at 6 minutes 29 seconds
Playground in the Sky video external links
These are links to Playground in the Sky, 1977, by Carl Boenish on YouTube (low resolution):
Francis Rogallo learns to fly the invention that bears his name: Playground in the Sky starting at 40 minutes 29 seconds
1. Vic Powell in Hang Gliding, September 1991
2. Peninsula Hang Glider Club and SCHGA: Dan Poynter writing in Hang Gliding by Martin Hunt and David Hunn, Pelham Books, London, 1977
3. Doug Carmichael Recalls May 23 1971 on US Hawks Hang Gliding Association
4. Two replies by Bill Liscomb in this Facebook post by Jonathan Dietch in 2021
5. Roy Haggard communication via e-mail in March 2020
6. USHPA / USHGA / SCHGA Member # 1 Dick Eipper by Neil Larson on U.S. Hawks forum
7. Steve Penny reply in USHPA / USHGA / SCHGA Member # 1 Dick Eipper on U.S. Hawks forum