On this hill, May 23, 1971…


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On this hill, May 23, 1971…

This is a sub-page of Hang gliding before 1973. It draws on recollections of the event by participants and it also describes Frank Colver’s memorial to it. The event, often referred to as the ‘Otto meet’ (it was held on Otto Lilienthal’s 123rd birthday) was organized by Olympic high jumper Joe Faust and the designer of the popular Hang Loose biplane, Jack Lambie.

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

Joe Faust (no larger image available)

Event

At the time, the hillside concerned was part of the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Newport Beach, a coastal city in Orange County, California. It was accessible from a dirt road that was soon to become San Miguel Drive. That portion of the hill had already been sold to a developer.

On the morning of May 23, 1971, more hang gliders and hang gliding enthusiasts than anyone had even guessed existed, showed up at that location.

— Frank Colver (1)

Larry Dighera at the Otto Lilienthal meet in May 1971
Larry Dighera at the Otto Lilienthal meet in May 1971 (video screenshot, no larger image available)

Larry Dighera has placed online digitized film of the event. See under External links later on this page.

At one moment, forever frozen in my memory, one ship climbed straight up, stalled and collapsed in slow motion; another cartwheeled in the background to the left, while another spun to the right.

— Jack Lambie, In the Beginning… The First Hang Gliding Meet in the December 1978 edition of Hang Gliding

Bill LIscomb in a Hang Loose 1971-05-23
Bill LIscomb in a Hang Loose on May 23rd, 1971

Crucially, among the spectators was James Collison, a photographer for National Geographic, and Russell Hawkes, a reporter for that magazine, which enjoyed an enormous readership world wide. Hawkes, an airplane pilot of 25 years experience, not only spectated; he participated along with three 17-year-old high school students, Taras Kiceniuk Jr, Tom Dickinson, and Steve Elliot…

The people around me sink out of sight. Their voices thin away behind the rumbling of the sail-like wing. I look down the tow-line at Tom and Steve. They are running down the hillside, bounding over rocks and thistles as they go.

They look winded, I think. So I lift my thumb, and the green cord disappears. I become a pendulum, swinging under the wing. The ground shoots upward, then steadies. I am neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. I’m just there, like the people standing below me. I feel no fright. For roller-coaster thrills go to an amusement park. This is something else.

— Russell Hawkes, National Geographic, February 1972

Bill Liscomb launching in a Hang Loose on May 23rd, 1971, by Deris Jeanette
Bill Liscomb launching in a Hang Loose on May 23rd, 1971, by Deris Jeanette

The photo of Bill Liscomb launching, along with two more of his flight appeared in the Los Angeles Times, May 24th, 1971 (see under External links for rough copies). He became one of the top hang glider pilots of the 1970s.

That afternoon, hang gliding was introduced to the world.

— Bill Liscomb narrating Big Blue Sky (on YouTube at 15 minutes 57 seconds)


Art based on a photo by George Uveges of a Hang Loose in 1971
Art based on a photo by George Uveges

This photo is of airplane flying instructor Keith Lindsay launching in Larry Dighera’s Hang Loose. They built it from fir, bamboo, and 3-millimetre Mylar sheeting donated by the 3M Corporation.(3) See under External links later on this page for plans to build a Hang Loose.

Only one injury occurred that day. My daughter, Laura, broke her toe tripping on the hillside and she had never attempted to launch in a glider. I didn’t report that to Joe Faust so it is often told that no injuries occurred that day.

— Frank Colver (2)

Frank goes on to state that, before the close of 1971, brand new businesses had been created as companies sprang up to manufacture hang gliders. Wills Wing, in Orange, is still going strong. Later that year he designed, built, and learned to fly his own rigid flying wing hang glider that he called the Skysail. It had much better performance than the standard Rogallo. See under External links later on this page for Frank’s web site.

Hang gliding in National Geographic, February 1972
National Geographic, February 1972

The police helicopter drove back and forth.
“Will the organizers of the meet please report to the squad car at the bottom of the hill,” bellowed its speaker over and over… Joe Faust went down but reportedly confused them even more with his particular brand of discourse.

— Jack Lambie, In the Beginning… The First Hang Gliding Meet in the December 1978 edition of Hang Gliding

Jack Lambie briefs the crews 1971-05-23 Photo by Philip C. Todd.
Jack Lambie briefs the crews. The original photo on which this derivation is based was by Philip C. Todd.

The Hang Loose, which Larry Dighera and others built, was designed by school teacher and long time aviator Jack Lambie, one of the organizers of this event.

…my brother Mark was asked by another FAA person for the entire list of participants so they could begin proceedings against them for low and slow flying in the vicinity of spectators, flying unlicensed aircraft, not reporting the crashes, flying after the crashes in the same aircraft, and so forth. They were serious.

— Jack Lambie, The Future of Hang Gliding in Ground Skimmer, Jan-March 1974. (Mark Lambie was an FAA flight controller.)

Memorials

On the 41st anniversary of that first meet, an official history marker was installed in San Miguel Park. It states that the event took place there, but it is about ¼ mile from the actual hillside where the meet was held. That hillside is now covered with houses and is a gated community, so placing the marker on the actual location was not possible. In addition to the stone marker in San Miguel Park, Frank Colver also paid for a bench in the cemetery with a hang gliding history message engraved in it.

Stone bench commemorating the first hang glider meet, May 23, 1971
Stone bench commemorating the first hang glider meet, May 23, 1971

The bench is as close to the actual hillside as anyone can get now unless you buy one of the houses sitting on the site.

Otto meet bench inscription by Frank Colver

From that spot you look straight down the hill to the reservoir that shows in old photos of the ’71 meet.

— Frank Colver (2)

You can see the reservoir in digitized film of the event. See under External links later on this page.

The following image shows the location of the history bench in Google Earth as well as pinpoints of launch sites and other notable locations. Frank says those markers are as accurate as he was able to determine from orientating the original photographs.

Bench commemorating the first hang glider meet, May 23, 1971, location in Google Earth
Bench location in Google Earth

The reason several launch directions (south, south-west, and due west) are marked on the Google Earth image is that the prevailing wind direction gradually changed as that day progressed.

— Frank Colver (2)

That accounts for the different scenery in the distance when looking down-hill in different films and photos of the event.

See also Where it all took place under External links for Ken Privitt’s analysis.

External links

Celebrating the flying ‘birdmen’ by Alexandra Baird dailypilot@latimes.com MAY 23, 2011 (Acrobat PDF document) about 40 year reunion at San Miguel Park, Irvine, California on the Privitt family web site

Frank Colver, USHGA #7 web site

Frank Colver’s Hang Gliding Photos from 1971 on the US Hawks forum

How to Build “Hang Loose” (Acrobat PDF document): Jack Lambie’s plans, illustrated by Mark Lambie, on the Privitt family web site

Los Angeles Times, May 24th, 1971, front page (Acrobat PDF document) on the Privitt family web site

Los Angeles Times, May 24th, 1971, third page (Acrobat PDF document) on the Privitt family web site

Otto Lilienthal Hang Glider Meet, May 23, 1971 low resolution digitized film on YouTube provided by Larry Dighera, who is the Hang Loose pilot with mustache and striped polo shirt. Some of that film is used, in higher resolution, in Big Blue Sky (see farther on) but this version is longer and more comprehensive. Larry’s comments are informative too.

Otto Lilienthal Hang Gliding Reunion on or before 2015 video on YouTube, featuring several who attended the original event in 1971

Photographs by Douglas Morgan in early 1970s: Color photos on the US Hawks forum. Subjects include Volmer Jensen, Joe Faust, Frank Colver, Dick Eiper, and others.

Spreading the Word, Joe Faust in Big Blue Sky — The history of modern hang gliding – the first extreme sport! 2008, documentary by Bill Liscomb on YouTube starting at 11 minutes 33 seconds

The First Meet, May 23, 1971 in Big Blue Sky starting at 14 minutes 19 seconds, Bill Liscomb narrating, then Mark Lambie (Jack’s brother) and then Joe Faust, with Dr. Paul MacCready contributing

The “Hang Loose” Bi-plane hang glider and the birth of a movement… on the Privitt family web site. This page includes photos of the Privitt Swing Low, an improved Hang Loose, and the Phoenix (rebuilt Swing Low). It also identifies several of the participants.

Where it all took place: N 33.614691, W 117.853732, Yacht Vigilant, Newport Beach, CA (web page on the Privitt family web site)

References

1. Frank Colver, December 2015, web site — see under External links on this page

2. Frank Colver via e-mail, March 2020

3. rec.aviation.piloting newsgroup

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