Early powered ultralights part 1


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Early powered ultralights part 1

Broadly, the early days of modern hang gliding (mid- to late 1970s) gave rise to powered ultralights (known as microlights in Britain because of an existing ultralight category). However, powered Rogallos (too heavy to be regarded as ultralights) preceded man-carrying Rogallo wing hang gliders.

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

Photo by Michel Moussier of the Ryan 'flying jeep' on the cover of a French magazine for insomniacs in May 1961
Photo by Michel Moussier of the Ryan ‘flying jeep’ on the cover of a magazine in May 1961

…Two people where I worked at Aerojet General, in Nimbus, California, came to see me independently and showed me a magazine photograph of Ryan’s first powered flex wing. I don’t know whose light went on or whose buzzer went off, but the conclusion was that a hang glider could be built. I sized up the wing and studied its performance, using a digital computer, in late 1961.

— Barry Palmer quoted by Dan Poynter in Hang Gliding by Martin Hunt & David Hunn, 1977

For more about Palmer’s early Rogallo hang gliders, see 1960s in Hang gliding before 1973. See also the Computing in hang gliding related topics menu.

Art based on a photo of Barry Palmer in a 7.5hp powered Rogallo at Bloomfield, near Hartford, Connecticut, in 1966
Art based on a photo of Barry Palmer in a 7.5hp powered Rogallo at Bloomfield, near Hartford, Connecticut, in 1966

But as you know, ideas are cheap and it’s the doing that counts.

— Barry Palmer quoted by Dan Poynter in Hang Gliding by Martin Hunt & David Hunn, 1977

Art based on a photo of Barry Palmer in a 7.5hp powered Rogallo at Bloomfield, near Hartford, Connecticut, in 1966
Engine above the sail

Art based on a photo of Barry Palmer flying a Rogallo trike powered ultralight in July 1967
Art based on a photo of Barry Palmer flying a Rogallo trike powered ultralight in July 1967

See under External links later on this page for film of this one in action.


Powered VJ-23 Swingwing
Powered VJ-23 Swingwing

In the early days of hang gliding, it was not certain that the Rogallo wing would become dominant and the same question was unresolved when power was added. See the related topics menu VJ dayVolmer Jensen’s hang gliders for more about the VJ-23. Its most successful descendant is the CFM Shadow.


Chris Wills powered Swallowtail at Little Norco in December 1975. Photo by Frank Colver.
Chris Wills powered Swallowtail at Little Norco in December 1975. Photo by Frank Colver.

These photos by Frank Colver document the powering of a higher performing Rogallo: The Wills Wing Swallowtail of 1974. The placement of the engine and propeller places the thrust line closer to the center of mass, negating the problem of the rig pitching over in the event of stalling the wing with full power applied. The horizontal tubes across the control frame presumably help to remind everyone to keep clear of the propeller.

Chris Wills powered Swallowtail at Little Norco in December 1975. Photo by Frank Colver.
Lift off!

I assume that this is one of the Swallowtails that was painted black for the 1976 movie Sky Riders, filmed in Greece in 1975. (See Paint it black, a review of that film.) On their way home after flying for the film, the Wills Wing team stopped by at the British championship at Mere in Wiltshire, England, where Bob Wills was the highest scoring pilot in one of the black-painted Swallowtails. At least one of these gliders, the sail of which had distorted under the hot sun in Greece, was given to a hang gliding school in Britain. The sail of this one appears to be in good shape.

Chris Wills, the first U.S. hang gliding champion, became an orthopedic surgeon and he continued to build and fly powered aircraft.


Powered hang gliding brought problems additional to those inherent in hang gliding.

Meeting between the FAA and power pilots at Wilton, New Hampshire, on 2 April 1977. Photo by Rick Roelke.

Seahawk 2 with Soarmaster power unit. Photo by Robert Turner.
Seahawk 2 with Soarmaster power unit. Photo by Robert Turner. Reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

The late 1970s Soarmaster power pack for hang gliders was simple and effective, but its high thrust line posed a serious danger in turbulent conditions.

(See also Sail painting in Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2.)

Boris Popov with actor Gary Busey (clipped in to glider) in Foolin Around, 1979
Boris Popov with actor Gary Busey (clipped in to glider) in Foolin’ Around, 1979. Photo reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

Boris Popov was filmed from a helicopter for some great views of Minneapolis–Saint Paul in the alleged comedy Foolin’ Around. What it lacked in humor (in this author’s opinion) it compensated for in documenting the ‘twin cities’ and north American culture as they were in the late 1979s, including conflicting attitudes to rich and poor.

Boris Popov's glider in the street outside the movie theater on opening night of Foolin Around
Boris Popov’s glider in the street outside the movie theater on opening night of Foolin’ Around. Photo by St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press.

Technical: The Soarmaster power unit was attached to the keel tube of the wing and the thrust line of the propeller was significantly above the center of mass of the whole rig. If you stalled the wing when flying slowly in powered flight, the consequent immediate reduction in lift and — more importantly in this scenario — the reduced ‘induced’ drag (that results from the creation of lift) no longer fully opposed the thrust. (Drag and thrust are in equilibrium in straight and level flight.)

Gerry Breen in a Moonraker 78 Soarmaster in 1978 or early 1979
Gerry Breen in a Moonraker 78 Soarmaster in 1978 or early 1979. Photo by Paul Beukers.

Because of the high thrust line, that unopposed force caused a nose-down pitch rotation. That added to the nose-down pitch rotation of the wing automatically recovering from the stall because of its built-in pitch stability. The result was too often a pitch-over (the glider going inverted) followed by the airframe breaking. For an example, see under Power in Skyhook Sailwings. (A member of my club was one of several pilots who modified their Soarmasters so that the propeller was set lower; in line with the center of mass of combined glider, engine, and pilot.)


Powered Icarus V
Powered Icarus V rigid hang glider. Photo reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

The Icarus V monoplane rigid hang glider was designed by Taras Kiceniuk Jr.

Ted Ancona lifts off in a jet powered Icarus V in 1981
Ted Ancona lifts off in a jet powered Icarus V in 1981. Photo reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

Power Riser in 1978
Power Riser in 1978. Photo by James Mc Cornack reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

The Power Riser was a powered Easy Riser hang glider, derived from Taras Kiceniuk Jr’s biplane Icarus II.


Lazair of 1980
Lazair of 1980. Photo reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

The Lazair presumably conferred the additional reliability of two engines.


Steve Patmont in a powered Mitchell Wing in 1978. Reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.
Steve Patmont in a powered Mitchell Wing in 1978. Photo by Joe Diamond reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

Steve Patmont taught retired U.S. Navy pilot George Worthington to fly an Icarus II biplane hang glider to prepare him for the Mitchell Wing rigid monoplane hang glider. (See the Mitchell Wing page.) Patmont had a go in Worthington’s Wing and he then acquired his own. This photo, reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine, was published in the Motor Glider pages of the May 1978 edition of Glider Rider. It shows the profile of the Mitchell wing with its dihedral outer segments. It shows also the control stick, for the elevons, protruding from the underside of the wing ahead of the pilot. This one has no tip rudders, which all but the first few hang glider versions used, and it is possible that, for the powered version, the spoilers of the prototype and early production hang glider variants were used instead of rudders.


Catto CA-15 in flight in 1978. Photo reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

Craig Catto’s CA-15 wing shape was distinctive, but the reason for it is unknown to this author.


Flex-wing powered ultralight of 1980
Flex-wing powered ultralight of 1980. Photo reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

American Aerolights Eagle
American Aerolights Eagle. Photo reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.
American Aerolights Eagle floatplane advert in Glider Rider, August 1980
American Aerolights Eagle floatplane advert in Glider Rider, August 1980. Reprinted courtesy of Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

In the late 1970s, Hang glider manufacturer Larry Newman branched out into powered ultralights with the Eagle. Conceived by Romauld Drlik of Soarmaster(*) the Electra Flyer/American Aerolights Eagle was distinctive and popular. See the related topics menu Electra Flyer of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The Eagle was also manufactured by Scotkites (later EuroWing) led by Brian Harrison in Scotland under licence from Electra Flyer. See under Flight of the Phoenix in Hang gliding 1976 part 2 for more about Brian Harrison.


Weedhopper in 80
Weedhopper in 1980

The Weedhopper metamorphosed into the successful Thruster series of powered ultralights.


Art based on a photo of Tom Kardos with a Pterodactyl in 1980
Art based on a photo of Tom Kardos with a Pterodactyl in 1980

The Pterodactyl was based on the Manta Fledgeling 2 rigid hang glider. (See the Manta Products of California related topics menu.)

From the Pterodactyl advert in Glider Rider, January 1980
From the Pterodactyl advert in Glider Rider, January 1980. Reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.
Inside Manta Products premises in 1982
Inside Manta Products premises at Oakland, California, in 1982

Inside the Skyhook factory
Inside the Skyhook factory at Oldham, Lancashire, England, in 1978 or 1979

This and the preceding photo indicate that these two hang glider and powered ultralight factories, so far apart geographically, appear similar on the inside, superficially at least. The object on the floor in front of Skyhook boss Len Gabriels is a power unit to be attached to the white glider; a Sunspot. See also Skyhook Sailwings.


A section of two Pterodactyl powered ultralights refuels at a roadside gasoline station
A section of two Pterodactyl powered ultralights refuels at a roadside gasoline station. Reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

These Pterodactyls landed on a golf course and refueled at a gasoline station across the road. The Pterodactyl was based on the early 1970s Fledgling rigid hang glider. (See the Manta Products of California related topics menu.)


Pterodactyl powered ultralight in flight. Reprinted courtesy <em>Light Sport and Ultralight Flying</em> magazine.
Pterodactyl in flight. Reprinted courtesy Light Sport and Ultralight Flying magazine.

Related

This topic continues in Early powered ultralights part 2.

Chargus of Buckinghamshire, England, related topics menu containing links to photos of the 1977 powered Midas

External links

Early Trike by Barry Hill Palmer; digitized film from the 1960s on YouTube narrated by Palmer himself

The following are videos on Dan Johnson’s YouTube channel Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer. Dan provided much hang gliding industry information in the early years, some of which is drawn on in the hang gliding history pages. These are just a few vintage powered ulralight videos in the list:

Reference

The Electra Flyer/American Aerolights Eagle was conceived by Romauld Drlik of Soarmaster: Glider Rider, February 1980

One thought on “Early powered ultralights part 1

  1. Interesting article. I worked with Romuald Drlik on the original Eagle design before it was called the Eagle. This was at Soarmaster in Scottsdale, Arizona. Later I worked for American Aerolights and developed the 3-axis control system for the Eagle XL and worked on the canard design of the later Falcon.

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