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)
In early 1983 Tom 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)
Cronk works: David Cronk’s hang gliders and powered ultralights
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
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)