Much early 1970s development flight test of hang gliders was carried out at Torrance Beach in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, California.
Remember we are talking about the whole Hippie culture, Hollywood empire, Underground Surfer Counter-culture & the US Space Race Military Complex all rolled into one dot on the globe of earth….
— Neil Larson (1)
As an example of the latter, TRW in the Redondo Beach district south of Los Angeles International Airport (it adjoins Torrance Beach district) designed and built the Apollo lunar module descent engine. Douglas Aircraft, which 30 years earlier built the SBD Dauntless dive bomber of World War 2 and just 10 years earlier the A-4 Skyhawk attack jet of the Vietnam War (among other airplanes) was situated in El Segundo; another part of the industrial sprawl adjacent to the south side of the airport.
The apparent absence of fences in this image might be caused by its low quality of reproduction. However, notice the glider rigged on top of the bluffs. The fences at this time seemed to be only on the right of this short stretch of cliff.
The short cliff edge (sandstone presumably) from which the early hang gliders launched above Torrance Beach is, as far as I can determine, long gone.
Eddie Paul’s Whitney Enterprises, manufacturer of the Portawing, and Peter Brock’s Ultralight Products workshop were both sited in El Segundo a short distance north of Torrance Beach. (See the Ultralight Products of California and Utah related topics menu.) The Eipper-Formance factory, which manufactured the Quicksilver, was a short way inland from Torrance Beach. (See the Eipper-Formance of Torrance, California related topics menu.)
For more about this early hang glider, incidentally, see Dave Cronk, Bob Lovejoy, and the Quicksilver in Cronk works.
Leroy was here…
This is looking south towards Palos Verdes peninsula. The building visible just above the center of the upper wing is the Palos Verdes Beach & Athletic Club, which is also visible in the following photo from the zoom lens of Leroy Grannis. Behind its low wall is a large swimming pool.
The building still exists as the Palos Verdes Beach & Athletic Club, but it was rebuilt in 1988. See under External links for more about it. Danny Bostwick and his wing appear in the photo set up by Carl Boenish from Dave Cronk’s keel tube later on this page.
Along the Esplanade in Redondo Beach, CA. The Torrance Beach Bluffs can be seen in the back ground.
— Dave Cronk (e-mail correspondence, 2020)
Zooming in to the distance, I have attempted to identify the bluffs, Falcon Rock, and the lifeguard shack in this photo by Tony Abbott.
Note the trees on the sky line (on Palos Verdes) in these two photos. This is looking in about the same direction as the preceding zoomed-in and cropped image, but from a lower point on Torrance Beach itself. The bluffs are just out of view at lower left of the second photo, I reckon. (The highest flying glider is a VJ-23 rigid type.)
This photo, taken nearly a half century before hang gliders flew here, more clearly locates those bluffs. They were above where Louis Dart built his ‘flotsam castle’ on the beach in about 1920. See History of Torrance by Bruce and Maureen Megowan (linked later on this page) for more.
Looking north at the background, the ridge height diminishes (along the Esplanade). We would take off on windy days along the Esplanade, soar above the condos, then fly South to the Torrance Beach bluffs. It had become illegal to fly in Torrance, so sometimes we would take off in Redondo Beach, get elevation above the condos, fly the Torrance Beach bluffs, then return to Redondo in the dark, to avoid trouble with the police. Very surreal.
— Dave Cronk
Torrance Beach, about 1973 or so. Carl Boenish set up a keel mounted camera, and we got this great shot. Jack Schroeder and Danny Bostwick flank both sides on a beautiful, post-storm day.
— Dave Cronk
Danny Bostwick’s keel is in line with the Palos Verdes Beach & Athletic Club built just above the rocky beach.
Hang gliders flew from in front of the fences until hang gliding was finally banned entirely from Torrance and Redondo beaches in I think early 1975.
This messy composite of screenshots from Bill Liscomb’s 2008 documentary Big Blue Sky (linked later on this page) would be better if the original photo by Leroy Grannis was available. Please let me know if you anything about it…
Leroy Grannis took these photos in February 1974. He had only one roll of film with a 50 millimetre lens, so he had his wife go home and collect the rest of his gear while he started shooting. That was the start of his hang gliding photography. (2)
This screenshot from the 2008 documentary Big Blue Sky by Bill Liscomb originated as another still photo by Leroy Grannis. The hillside in the distance is the north side of the Palos Verdes peninsula. The photo appears during the Grannis interview in the video immediately after the earlier panoramic view looking north. The position of the fence at left and the lifeguard shack in both photos are further evidence that Grannis took them on the same day; his first ever hang glider shoot in February 1974. See the photo by Steven Mansouri taken nearly a half century later in 2020 (linked later on this page) for comparison.
Here, the lifeguard shack is clearer, although not as obvious as in the screenshot of Francis Rogallo passing near it (farther on). Those things are light blue. I have noticed over the years that objects of that bright color, when in shadow, can disappear into a grey background, as here.
See Photographers of early hang gliding for more of Leroy Grannis.
The following images are screenshots from a low resolution digitization of Playground in the Sky by Carl Boenish (linked later on this page). Carl was brother of Carol Boenish-Price, editor of the USHGA magazine Ground Skimmer for a term. The photos are of Francis Rogallo, one of the contributors to the development of the flex-wing that bears his name, under instruction from Pete Brock of Ultralight Products in about 1973. I include them here to assist with identifying the exact location.
Starting with ground handling:
Compare this view with the preceding composite image. I think they are views of the same place, but from slightly different elevations and at different ranges. (Beware the foreshortening effect of Leroy Grannis’ telephoto lens, even in his wide angle shots!)
That’s the ground handling training done. Time to fly:
Given a half century of erosion, I believe it reasonable to conclude that the preceding photos are of the same place.
It looks as though building work behind the fences was underway by 1974. The telephone pole here is just visible at upper left in the next (color) photo.
The pilot here (possibly Laverne DeJan?) was known as ‘Spoon’ and the guy watching from in front of his glider is Dave Meyers.
The green Torrance County Beach label — the one about two-thirds up, containing an umbrella — is where I think the bluffs began.
Cronk works, David Cronk’s hang gliders
Domes, Palos Verdes related topics menu — the flying site on the south side of Palos Verdes
Space flight and hang gliding for more of NASA engineer Francis Rogallo
Ultralight Products of California and Utah for more of Peter Brock
History of Torrance by Bruce and Maureen Megowan
History of the Palos Verdes Beach & Athletic Club by Maureen Megowan
Palos Verdes Secrets and Little Known Facts on the Maureen Megowan (realtor) web site, that page containing an outstandingly clear image of Torrance and Redondo beaches looking north from high on Palos Verdes, with Los Angeles center in the distance, taken in 2019
Panoramic photo of Torrance beach by Leroy Grannis, from which I obtained the composite screenshot: Big Blue Sky, 2008, by Bill Liscomb on YouTube starting at 46 minutes 25 seconds
Pete Brock teaches Francis Rogallo to fly the invention that bears his name, at Torrance beach in the early 1970s: Playground in the Sky, 1977, by Carl Boenish digitized film on YouTube (low resolution) starting at 40 minutes 29 seconds
Torrance Beach, Torrance, CA 90277, USA, photo in Google Maps by Steven Mansouri taken in February 2020, looking south towards Palos Verdes
2. Interview with Hang Gliding Photography Legend LeRoy Grannis by John Heiney on Upshots, John’s web site