Tom Price’s flying machines
Tom Price gained a degree in aeronautical engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical Institute in 1965(5) and he worked as a structural engineer on Douglas DC-8, DC-9, and DC-10 airliners. (He also gained commercial, multi-engine, and instrument flight ratings.) In a radical change of direction, he then turned to ocean racing, sailmaking for North Sails in Seal Beach. That combined expertise was a springboard for what was to come. A hang glider came in for repair to North Sails and two weeks later he was working for Eipper-Formance.
A year later Tom set up his own business, Albatross Sails, initially making sails for other hang glider manufacturers. For example, see Donnita in Hang gliding 1975 part 2 for a photo of Donnita Holland flying her own design Rogallo hang glider in 1976 with a sail made by Albatross.
There Tom discovered something that others also found (including Miles Handley, struggling to manufacture his own advanced designs in Britain): The exactness required in hang glider sail construction exceeds that in boat sailmaking. The most practical method is to make both the frames and the sails together. Albatross Sails, where Tom partnered with top pilot Keith Nichols, then became a manufacturer of complete hang gliders. At one point, Tom teamed up with US Navy F-4 Phantom pilot and hang glider designer Rich Finley, who also has a masters degree in aeronautical engineering.(1)
The ASG-21, in this picture being flown by Bettina Gray’s son Bill Liscomb, was an advanced hang glider by the standards of 1975.
Tom was instrumental in setting up structural strength and aerodynamic stability testing of hang gliders in the U.S.A., shortly followed by similar efforts by hang gliding associations in other countries.
Technical: Like the Sun IV (see under More developments in Hang gliding 1975 part 2) the tip struts of early ASG-21s were supported by short diagonal struts rather than by extensions of either the leading edge tubes or the tip tubes and attendant cables and attachments. On late versions even those struts were replaced by structure inside the sail. Notice also the method by which the airfoil section is defined at the root. Instead of a curved keel tube, the ASG-21 used a stand-up keel pocket. The first curved stand-up keel pocket I am aware of is that of the 1975 Skua, made in New Zealand. (See Skua in Graeme Bird’s hang gliders.)
See under External links later on this page for a color photo of an ASG-21 flying in Britain and for several video segments featuring Tom Price and his hang glider work.
I have no information about why Albatross Sails ceased, but Tom worked for Electra Flyer in about 1979 (while its owner Larry Newman was away) where he developed the Cirrus 5, the popular successor to the Cirrus 3, the experimental Cirrus 4 never achieving production. (6)
The ASG-23 had struts instead of side wires and no top rigging or king post. The first such glider known to this author was Donnita Holland’s 1976 wing, the sail of which was made by Tom Price’s Albatross Sail Gliders. (See Donnita in Hang gliding 1975 part 2.) What made the ASG-23 unusual however, was that it had neither cross-tubes nor bowsprit, one of those structures normally considered necessary to prevent the airfame of a flex-wing from folding up as soon as any force is applied to it.
It used some carbon fiber, which also was not a new idea, the airframe of an experimental Ultralight Products Spyder having been constructed of carbon fiber in 1977, but the carbon Spyder did not see production.
The number of structural components are approximately one-third those of a conventional all aluminium frame yet the glider is designed to take aerobatic loads (especially negative loads).
— Dan Johnson (7)
Its leading edges were described by Dan Johnson as ‘semi-cantilevered’, which this author interprets to mean that compression bracing equivalent to cross-tubes was used, but up front near the nose, and possibly of carbon fiber. While the side struts relieved that new structure of some of the compressive load normally borne by cross-tubes, it must have been impressively strong even so.
The keel is pre-shaped and is totally faired into the root airfoil. The fixed tips are also internal.
–Dan Johnson (7)
The photo of Larry Croome launching in the Canadian nationals in August 1980 is the first mention of the ASG-23 that this author has found (in his incomplete collection of magazines). Incidentally, Croome would have won the comp if he had not dropped the glider in a down-wind landing, which indicates the potential of this design. (8)
One leading designer(9) claims that the ASG-23 inspired the overwhelmingly successful Ultralight Products Comet, which (as far as this author is aware) first flew in April 1979 with a partly carbon fiber airframe (dropped in favor of all aluminium). If so, the ASG-23 must have been flying in early 1979 at the latest.
A later glider it resembled was Dick Boone’s ProAir Dawn. (See Bennett delta wing in Hang gliding mid 1980s.)
Incidentally, despite the ASG designation (for Albatross Sail Gliders, Tom Price’s company in California) it was made by Canadian Ultralight Aircraft in Lumby, British Columbia, operated by Tom Price, Larry Croome, and Randy Rouck. (7)
In 1981 or 1982 (or both) Tom worked for Wills Wing(2, 4). Then, in early 1983, he re-joined Eipper Aircraft, for whom he had worked in its days as one of the first three hang glider manufacturers in the world. This time he was in charge of powered ultralight development.(3)
See also Cronk works for earlier development of the Quicksilver hang glider from which the Quicksilver MX (powered ultralight with ‘multi-axis’ controls) in this photo was derived.
Early powered ultralights part 2 for more of the powered Quicksilver
Eipper-Formance of Torrance, California related topics menu
Electra Flyer of Albuquerque, New Mexico related topics menu
Miles Wings Gulp and Gryphon: The work of British designer Miles Handley.
Sport Kites/Wills Wing of California related topics menu
Testing for stability and structural strength related topics menu
ASG-21: Photo by Roger Middleton of Jerome Fack on an ASG21 at Pandy, Wales, in February 1977
Tom Price interview in Big Blue Sky – The history of modern hang gliding – the first extreme sport! by Bill Liscomb, 2008, on YouTube, starting at 48 minutes 41 seconds. (Tom’s interview is followed by the voice of Chris Wills.)
Tom Price part-narrates structural testing on dusty side road in Big Blue Sky starting at 1 hour, 3 minutes, 54 seconds. Bill Liscomb starts the narration, then Tom Price, followed by (I think) Tom Peghiny of east coast manufacturer Sky Sports, Bill Liscomb again, then the subject changes to the development of the emergency parachute.
1. W.A. Allen in Ground Skimmer, October 1974
2. Glider Rider, February 1980
3. Interview by Carol Price (Carol Boenish, who married Chris Price, no relation to Tom although both worked at Wills Wing at various times) Hang Gliding, March 1977
4. Glider Rider, March 1982
5. Whole Air, No. 28 January-February 1983
6. John LaTorre, who ran the Flight Designs sail loft then the Electra Flyer sail loft, writing in this post on the Hanggliding.org forum (October 2020)
7. ASG-23: Dan Johnson (presumably) Whole Air November 1980
8. Glider Rider, October 1980
9. One leading designer: Steve Pearson’s comment in Bob England, hang glider designer