Computers tend to be synonymous with flight simulation, but hang gliding instructors created flight simulators before the advent of computers capable enough and inexpensive enough to use in that role. In addition, the popularity of computer-based training in the late 1980s spurred the creation of theory training programs for pilots, the first such in the world (as far as I know) being specific to hang gliding.
This kind of rig was not as useless as it might appear to modern eyes. We had one where I (the original author of this web site) instructed in 1976. One rapidly advancing young fellow, who had flown only in seat harnesses, used the simulator to try a stirrup prone harness. After clipping in, he hung in it in the semi-crouching forward lean that its geometry imposes when the wing pulls you off the ground and that is the attitude you maintain until you are well clear of the ground. Assuming that he was well clear of the ground, he then transferred both hands, one at a time, from the down-tubes to the base tube. So far so good. I then gave him the cue to ‘go prone.’ After a few random kicks to locate the metal stirrup by feel and failing, he looked down and back to find it and I said “Freeze!” He stopped and looked up in surprise. I pointed out that he had unconsciously pushed the control bar out to full arm stretch. Had he been flying for real, the glider would be rapidly approaching a full stall.
A hang glider sliding down a wire, which limits the pilot’s ability to get into difficulties, is an old idea that apparently works well. In addition to training, or rather pre-training in that you put the new pilot on the simulator before he or she starts flight school proper, it can be used for practicing emergency parachute deployment.
According to Tom Phillips writing in Hang Gliding, December 1984, the Crystal launch ramp was 125 feet above the sawdust landing zone, the distance traveled was about 700 feet, and flights lasted from 20 to 30 seconds.
The Crystal Air Sports simulator featured in the July 1984 edition of Popular Mechanics, with a 5 million readership, as well as other publications. (2)
For more of Crystal Air Sports, Tennessee, see From our house to bunkhaus in Hang gliding early 1980s part 2.
Francis Rogallo, the NASA engineer after whom the weight-shift controlled flex-wing hang glider is named, lived near the outer banks in North Carolina. A pilot himself, he often visited the hang gliding school there. See the Kitty Hawk Kites page.
In 1993, one of my old experimental hang gliders — the airframe at least — found a new purpose: I used it as the basis of my own full simulator rig.
I used the Microsoft Flight Simulator program in glider mode. A joystick mounted atop the hang glider frame was connected by elastic chords to the poles from which the airframe hung, so the stick deflected according to the pilot’s weight shift, which tilted the rig. Amazingly, it worked perfectly! The only special part I had to order was a joystick extension lead, which is visible in the photo, taped to a pole.
In the photo, the elastic chords that connect the top of the joystick to the outer poles are missing. I do not recall the reason, but I assume it is because I set up the rig just to photograph it. So my expression of concentrating on the screen is fake! (My right hand holds the infra red remote shutter release for the camera.)
Eventually I donated the rig to a hang gliding and paragliding school.
The use of even this partial airframe is excessive in terms of the space it takes up. A later version developed in Australia replaces the airframe with a simple and compact wooden trestle that supports the tilt sensor.
See under External links later on this page for Thomas Lowe’s simulator in beta test during 2021.
So-called virtual reality is just flight simulation using a helmet-mounted display for a more immersive experience than can be attained with a computer monitor or even a stack of monitors.
My final year degree project in the department of computing at Bournemouth University (England) in 1998 (I had returned to college in my late thirties) was titled CATS for Collision Avoidance Training Simulator. It was a feasibility study of using flight simulation to teach collision avoidance to hang glider and paraglider pilots. Its basis was a ‘virtual reality’ helmet-mounted display and the program would generate other hang gliders with which that the trainee needed to avoid colliding. The latter would be either ‘flown’ by real people or would act independently via ‘artificial intelligence’.) The study — and it was only that — drew on a document detailing a symposium of flight simulator technology held the previous year, chaired by hang glider pilot Seth B. Anderson.
Willi Muller said thermalling was so competitive that next year he planned to wear an eye patch and fly with one hand on his parachute. “Then they’ll give me some room,” said Willi.
— W.A. Roeker quoting Canadian hang gliding pioneer Willi Muller in Hang Gliding, October 1980
If you want more details, contact the author via this web site.
Incidentally, Anderson’s NASA Ames Flight Research Center colleague, hang glider aerial photographer Bob Ormiston, initiated a landmark discussion in Hang Gliding magazine concerning pitch stability. It was prompted by several incidents of gliders pitching nose-down, inverting, and breaking, either in severe turbulence or when attempting aerobatics. See Testing for stability and structural strength.
That the “low pressure” idea has crept into every textbook is an example of a mental virus. Bernoulli is not an explanation at all, just a statement of the relationship of pressure with relative airspeed.
— Jack Lambie(1)
The popularity of computer-based training in the late 1980s spurred the creation of theory training programs for pilots, the first such in the world (as far as I know) being specific to hang gliding.
In 1991 I created a computer-based training program titled Hang Gliding Ground School. It ran under the contemporary ‘personal computer’ operating system Microsoft DOS 3.3 and it used the 16-color VGA at a resolution of 640 x 350 pixels. I used that rather than the otherwise preferable 640 x 480 resolution because the former allows for the simple ‘page swapping’ method of animation (and simulation). The image is constructed off-screen (so you do not see lines being drawn and colored shapes appearing) and instantly swapped with the on-screen ‘page’. To do that with 640 x 480 pixels would have required either extra memory added to the computer (I wanted it to run on a standard low cost PC) or the extra clever programming skills of Flight Simulator originator Bruce Artwick and the programmers at Microsoft who took over the development of Flight Simulator.
Induced drag—an inevitable by-product of creating lift—is widely misunderstood.
Computing in hang gliding related topics menu
Memoirs of an Aeronautical Engineer, Flight Tests at Ames Research Center: 1940 to 1970 by Seth B. Anderson, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Acrobat PDF document with plenty of photos, published after Anderson’s death in 2001)
Thomas Lowe’s simulator in beta test during 2021: Thomas Low videos on YouTube
1. Jack Lambie, Look Out Eagle! Move Over Duck!–Hang Gliding Beginnings in Sky Adventures, Legends and stories About the Early Days of Hang Gliding and Paragliding edited by Jim (Sky Dog) Palmieri and Maggie Palmieri, 1998
2. Dan Johnson, Product Lines in Whole Air August 1984