Airwave of the Isle of Wight, UK


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Airwave of the Isle of Wight, UK

Airwave Magic 4 hang glider in France, in 1994
The author flying an Airwave Magic 4 on the France/Switzerland border

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 Ultralight Products 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 (1)

Airwave hang glider factory on the Isle of Wight in 1986
New Airwave factory on a former farm at Shalfleet on the Isle of Wight in 1986. Photo by Gib Eggen. (No larger imaage available.)

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.

Carter and Deegan began paying Brock royalties. A bank in Los Angeles apparently chose to hold on to the funds for six weeks and both parties thought they were being duped by the other.

— Gib Eggen (2)

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.

Their first product was the UP Comet., the rights to build which cost the new company quite a large sum, and the royalties on the first one hundred units sold absorbed much of the profit. At the same time, the Comet seemed to be being copied for nothing by a number of other factories throughout the world.

— Noel Whittall (3)

Hang glider in flight viewed from below
The author in his 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.

Pacific Airwave Vision Pulse hang glider
Pacific Airwave Vision Pulse on the dunes of North Carolina

Jean Michel Bernasconi set up Pacific Windcraft in California after leaving Flight Designs in 1982 and he used some of the features of competition wings in his easier to fly designs, the Vision Mk 4 being the best known example. In 1987 Pacific Windcraft became the U.S. importer of high performance Airwave hang gliders and the two firms merged as Pacific Airwave in 1987. The Isle of Wight factory then also manufactured the Vision Mk 4, renamed the Calypso. The Pulse was another in this line of intermediate wings.


Mark Vaughn photo of an Airwave K5 hang glider launching
Art based on a Mark Vaughn photo of an Airwave K5 launching at Ellenville, New York

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

Steve Siuda flying an Airwave K4 in July 2005. Photo by Craig Byrne.
Steve Siuda still flying his K4 in July 2005. Photo by paragliding ace Craig Byrne.

Related

Hang gliding early 1980s part 1

Rogallo versus Quicksilver in colour in Hang gliding 1974 part 2 for Graham Deegan’s first contribution to advancing the art of hang glider design

Solar Wings (Airwave’s principal British rival in hang glider manufacture) in Birdman and Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England

Ultralight Products of California and Utah related topics menu

References

1. Stan Abbott, There’s Magic in the Air, BHGA magazine Wings, June 1982

2. Gib Eggen writing in Whole Air, April 1986

3. Noel Whittall writing in Whole Air, December 1983

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