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.
…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
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
See under External links later on this page for film of this one in action.
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 day — Volmer Jensen’s hang gliders for more about the VJ-23. Its most successful descendant is the CFM Shadow.
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.
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.
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 under Sail painting in Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2 for more.
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.
In the late 1970s, Hang glider manufacturer Larry Newman branched out into powered ultralights with the Eagle. 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.
The Pterodactyl was based on the Manta Fledgeling 2 rigid hang glider. (See the Manta Products of California related topics menu.)
The Pterodactyl was based on the early 1970s Fledgling rigid hang glider. (See the Manta Products of California related topics menu.)
Powered ultralights enabled greater access to the skies than was previously possible.
The sturdy yet voluminous nature of the biplane found a modern resurgence in powered ultralights. Most if not all biplane ultralights were derived from Taras Kicenuik’s Icarus 2 (see School for perfection in Hang gliding 1973 part 2.).
In early 1983 Tom Price re-joined Eipper Aircraft, for whom he had worked in its days as one of the first three hang glider manufacturers in the world. See Tom Price’s flying machines for more.
The Quicksilver was an early hang glider which became the basis of a popular line of powered ultralights. This is a multi-axis control variant incorporating spoilerons for roll control. The original Quicksilver had only a rudder and lots of dihedral. The rudder put the craft into a skid and the dihedral then caused it to roll. Kind of weird, but it seemed to work.
The Quicksilver was manufactured by Eipper Formance Inc. See the Eipper-Formance of Torrance, California, related topics menu.
Ted Rhudy was partly paralyzed in a car crash, but that did not prevent him from learning to fly. See also Ability in Hang gliding 1990 to 1993.
The dream of personal powered flight from a field near your home became reality with the invention of powered ultralights. However, because of low flying rules in most countries, flying from a field as close as this to your home is, for most people, not a realistic aim.
While some lines of powered ultralight development became more like lightweight conventional airplanes, the power ‘trike’ brought back the barnstorming days of the beginnings of aviation, but with the increased safety and efficiency of hang glider technology.
Tony Prentice designed and built flex-wing hang gliders in the 1960s. Here, he takes advantage of the high performance of the Sigma bowsprit-rigged hang glider under power, flying with the Wealden Microlight Club in Kent.
The red cylinder mounted on the keel at the back is a Skymaster emergency parachute. (See also the Southdown Sailwings, Vulturelite, and Aerial Arts of Sussex, England related topics menu.)
For this experiment, conducted on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, Tony reverted to a 1970s hang glider of Super Swallowtail type design owned by Pete Scott and Derek George of the Britten Norman Skysurfers Club. (Britten Norman made the Islander series of light transport aircraft.) They made Tony Prentice an honorary member of the club.
In the following air-to-air photo, a flex-wing powered ultralight (middle left) shoots the space shuttle runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was taken by hang glider sail-maker Roly in about 1999. He writes, “…you could call up NASA radio and get permission to run along it and return, not below 500′.”
According to the wiki, it is one of the longest runways in the world, at 4,572 metres (15,000 ft), and is 91.4 meters (300 ft) wide.
Why the 500 foot height rule? Who knows? However, that stretch of water reminds me of these words:
About a week before the launch of Apollo 14, Cernan was flying a helicopter over the Banana River, enjoying the clear air and the smooth, mirrorlike water — so smooth, in fact, that he misjudged his altitude and crashed into the river. The chopper exploded in flames, and Cernan had to dive into the water to escape being burned to death.
— Andrew Chaikin, A Man on the Moon, the Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, 1994
At the time of writing, the Vehicle Assembly Building, which contained the Saturn V moon rockets and space shuttles while they were assembled, is the largest single-story building in the world.
Chargus of Buckinghamshire, England, related topics menu containing links to photos of the 1977 powered Midas
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:
- Easy Riser foot launched part 103 ultralight aircraft, Eric Wallner owner, builder pilot
- Eipper Formance Quicksilver Weight Shift antique ultralight vintage ultralight aircraft
- Kasperwing flying wing, Kasperwing weight shift ultralight aircraft, Witold Kasper
- Pterodactyl Fledgling, Pterodactyl Limited, designed by Jack McCornack
- Ultralight aircraft, John Moody talks to Dan Johnson about the early days of ultralight aviation