Hang glider names

Home (contents) Miscellaneous Hang glider names

Hang glider names

It seemed there was a new glider out every six months, with eager pilots begging to buy the first ones. Each glider had a name coming from some aspect of flying. There were dragonflies, red tails, cumulus’, swifts, swallow tails, owls, phoenixes, fireflies, condors, wind lords, sea gulls, and even one called the pliable moose.

— from Downwind, a True Hang Gliding Story by Larry Fleming, 1992

He refers to the following (in order):

  • Ultralight Products (UP) Dragonfly, 1974
  • UP Red Tail, 1975
  • Eipper Cumulus, 1976. (The manufacturer’s full name, after its chief Dick Eipper, was Eipper Formance Inc. Say it out loud to appreciate the wordplay.)
  • Sun Sail Swift, 1976. (Here in Britain there was an Avon Kites Swift, 1976. The two were quite different.)
  • Wills Wing Swallowtail, 1975
  • Peregrine Aviation (San Diego) Owl, 1977
  • Bennett Delta Wing Kites and Gliders Phoenix, 1975
  • UP Firefly, 1976
  • UP Condor, 1977
  • Wind Lord, 1974
  • Seagull (manufacturer led by Mike Riggs, if memory serves)
  • Pliable Moose (manufacturer led by Gary Osoba)

Fantasy island

In contrast to the Americans, British hang glider manufacturers often choose appalling names for their wings. The rot started with Airwave, a British manufacturer based on the Isle of Wight that manufactured the Ultralight Products Comet under licence in 1980. (See Airwave in Hang gliding early 1980s part 2.) When they implemented some improvements, they called it the Magic Comet. They eventually parted company with UP in the USA and it then became just the Magic.

Airwave Magic 4 hang glider in France, in 1994
Airwave Magic 4 in France, in 1994

Despite the name, the Magic IV was arguably unmatched for all-round performance, handling, and ease of rigging for more than ten years, possibly 20 years.

Airwave named their next design the Magic Kiss!

Aeros (Ukraine) named their copy of the Wills Wing HP (early 1990s) the Stalker.

Then there was the Avian Amour (the lurve machine) and the Airborne (Australia) Climax

And a manufacturer in Austria in about 2000 went a step farther… We won’t go there! Suffice to say that you would almost certainly never have received any e-mail messages about it because they would be rejected by standard spam filters.

Don’t imagine that the new high-performance rigid gliders of the turn of the century are untouched by this disease. One was called the Ghostbuster. (Who ya gonna call?) And when Aeros, Ukraine manufacturer of the Stalker flexwing, brought out their first rigid design, a radical and innovative wing so different from their copy-cat past, they named that Stalker as well.

I mean, if you’re going to do it, at least make it funny, as my local paragliding school, Flight Culture UK, did in their advertising of winter flying trips to sunny Lanzarote, Canary Islands, with their slogan FCUK winter flying.

Wills Powers

Wills Powers? I am making a connection between Wills Wing and Gary Powers, who was shot down in a Lockheed U-2 over the Soviet Union in 1960. Read on if you dare…

There have been several exceptions to the sorry story of hang glider names. Birdman, an early UK hang glider manufacturer based in Wiltshire, created the Cherokee and then the Comanche. Red Indian (native American) tribes bring to mind (my mind at least) brave men and beautiful women living lives of high adventure amid red deserts and vast green plains bounded by snow-capped mountains. That is also likely why the US Army names their helicopters after them.

Another exception is Wills Wing, almost certainly the second longest established hang glider manufacturer in the world. (Moyes Delta Gliders, Australia, seems to have started a couple of years earlier and, as of this writing, it is still going strong.)

Hang gliding in 'Sky Riders,' 1976
Wills Wing Swallowtail in the 1976 movie ‘Sky Riders’
Wills Wing 145 U-2 hang glider made in 2014
Wills Wing 145 U-2 made in 2014

While the Wills Wing hang gliders Talon, Falcon, and Eagle have appropriately bird-based names, another correlation is with conventional aviation. The correlation does not of course necessarily imply intention. Almost any name you can think of for an aircraft has been used before. Could it be that other hang glider manufacturers try to avoid such name re-use by dreaming up non-flying names? If so, I contend that, unless you have the glider naming talent of Birdman (with the exception of the company name!) this policy risks backfiring.

Here is the Wills Wing line-up as of this writing (early 2015) and the classic conventional American airplanes whose names they share:

  • Wills Wing T2 (short for Talon 2): Northrop T-38 Talon
  • Wills Wing U2 (not short for anything): Lockheed U-2
  • Wills Wing Sport 2: The exception; no airplane I know of is named Sport Gere Sport (correction provided by Jon Howes and Jenny Ganderton)
  • Wills Wing Falcon 4: General Dynamics F-16 Falcon
  • Wills Wing Alpha: Northrop Alpha

In addition, the the following Wills Wing gliders no longer made strike me as having rather good names:

  • Swallowtail (1974): Swallowtail butterfly
  • Raven (1979): Raven bird
  • Harrier (1980): Harrier bird and AV-8 STOVL jet fighter of the Falklands war and first Gulf war
  • Skyhawk (1984): Douglas A-4 Skyhawk attack fighter of the Vietnam war and the Falklands war
  • Eagle (1999): McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle ‘air superiority’ fighter
  • Condor (2000): Condor bird

Harriers, ducks, and supersonic transports

Such name correlations might be interesting, but Wills Wing provided the following history of their hang glider names:

  • Although the T2 is the successor to the Talon, the Talon name was dropped because it has negative connotations in certain languages.
  • While the U2 succeeded the UltraSport, again the ‘word’ part of the name was dropped because the U2 is quite different in character from the UltraSport and they didn’t want people thinking that the U2 is just a tweaked UltraSport.
  • The Falcon was named purely after the bird.
  • The Eagle name was chosen to indicate that it was more than a Falcon.
  • The original Wills Wing Alpha was the first glider Steven Pearson designed, so that name just meant “first” (of many). The current Alpha is so named to refer to that glider and to indicate it is a good first glider for pilots.

The first edition of this page did not mention the Super Swallowtail’s abbreviation SST. It seemed to me too tenuous a connection. However, according to Wills Wing, it was known as the SST with a nod to the super-sonic airliner that was still flying back then…


Sport Kites/Wills Wing of California (related topics menu)

Wills Wing glider production history

5 thoughts on “Hang glider names

  1. The story told me was that the “new” Wills Wing glider was named over beer in the sail loft after a long day at work.
    After a lengthy complaint that all the cool bird names had been used, Hawk, Eagle, even Vulture, were all taken. Not wanting to break company tradition, they went back to first principals. “What is it for?” The glider was designed for cross country flying. Long range. What flies long range? Migratory birds. What birds Migrate? Ducks. Duck was silly enough, and accurate enough, that they had a new name. The glider logo on the keel pocket was a duck’s silhouette, with webbed feet sticking down for landing.
    The second version of the Duck was not named the Duck 2, but instead, The Attack Duck, as a part of the running gag and to reflect it’s might for competition flying. Some, but not all Attack Ducks got sidewinder missile silhouettes added to the Duck logo on the keel pocket.


Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s