Hang gliding 1975
This page continues from Hang gliding 1974.
From some time in early 1975, instead of carrying the de-rigged glider on my shoulders the whole way (about a half hour) to the slope, I added some padding to my bike and wheeled it there.
I did not have a car, but I met two men at my local hill taking it in turns to fly a hang glider made by Kestrel Kites of Poole, of whom I had never heard. They introduced me to the local hang gliding club and they gave me lifts to new flying sites. I no longer always flew alone.
Although no scenery is in view, this was taken at Monk’s Down in 1975, which I still fly 40 years later (2015).
The counter-culture rejected ties with traditional society, and felt that suburban living in tract houses was the epitome of everything it despised. This was, of course, because most of the pilots had grown up in the suburbs.
— Quoted from an article by Richard Seymour in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, July, 2004, about the Sylmar/Kagel Mountain flying site in California
The best pilots were starting to fly in prone harnesses, which created less drag and allowed much greater range of pitch control, enabling steeper coordinated turns. This is my a cobbled together modification of my Skyhook seat harness worn the wrong way round! Although it might look as though the rope goes around my neck, those lines went all the way to the thick plywood seat (worn on the front, however).
I flew it at Monk’s Down and I was shocked at the way the glider just climbed. How was I ever going to land in that tiny field at the bottom!
Incidentally, the piece of fabric stitched between the rear rigging wires by the keel was my half-hearted attempt at a device known as a sail feather. Standard Rogallos were known to become unstable in pitch in a steep dive because, with the air flowing parallel to the airframe, the sail deflated and ceased to provide lift, which is essential for control in a weight-shift controlled aircraft. The idea was that the fixed sailfeather, small though it was, would act as an up-elevator, preventing such an extreme situation developing.
Appliance of Science
After a bleak day’s flying at Melbury hill, near Shaftsbury in Dorset, in February 1975 I sat in a car with other hang glider pilots. Darkness fell while we waited for others to finish de-rigging, and the December 1974 edition of Scientific American was passed around. On the cover was a Ted Lodigensky painting of Mike Markowski’s Eagle III, the ‘Princeton sailwing’. Inside, pages of aerodynamic explanation, photos, and diagrams were to be read and ‘inwardly digested’ by all young men not wanting to be left behind.
Mike talks about his life on the Michael A. Markowski page of video interviews on the Harrisburg living legacy web site (linked farther down).
Kestrel Kites was based in Poole, on Dorset’s coast, in a building subsequently demolished during construction of, ironically, a highway flyover.
Which was more dangerous; flying it or carrying it back up like this?
I was one of about 300 competitors flying for the crowds and television cameras at the British championships at Mere, Wiltshire, in August 1975.
Pilot was (and is) Britain’s main light aviation magazine. The March 1976 edition featured hang gliding and it included this photo of me taken by Len Gabriels, the brains behind Skyhook hang gliders, at the British championships in August the previous year. (Coincidentally, long time Pilot editor James Gilbert watched me and my comrades hang gliding on the Spanish island of Lanzarote in the early 1990s.)
Brian Wood, the first British hang gliding champion, did not do as well as expected in this competition, but he demonstrated the Miles Wings Gulp 130 monoplane flex-wing one calm evening. Having launched from the ridge top, instead of gliding down to land at the bottom like every other hang glider, he flew straight out, losing barely any height until he touched down in a field far out from launch.
…the late, great low-speed aerodynamicist, Dr. Paul MacCready, once told me that he felt the hang gliding design evolution had progressed further through a semi-educated trial-and-error process than what would have been achieved in the same time span by classically educated aerodynamicists.
— Lt. Col. Mark Stucky USMC (call sign Forger) in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, January 2008
The original Gulp, designed by Miles Handley (who had no formal education in aerodynamics) had no battens, but — extraordinarily — the thick sailcloth maintained an airfoil section, as if by magic, even when the wing was rigged flat on the ground. It had just enough dihedral (and the sail was cut precisely) that span-wise tension together with the curved join of the two semi-spans at the root ensured its 3-D form.
Brian Wood, incidentally, was the first and only British hang gliding superstar, often appearing on radio, television, and press. Previously, like his American counterpart Bob Wills, he rode moto cross.
The highest scoring pilot at the 1975 British Championships was American Bob Wills flying an all-black Sport Kites Inc. Wills Wing Swallowtail. Examining the glider from under its vast expanse of sailcloth I noticed that the sun highlighted brownish streaks criss-crossing the fabric. Wills explained that the sails of these gliders were originally white (or multicolored in some cases) and they were painted black for an upcoming movie which they had just filmed in Greece. The film was Sky Riders, starring James Coburn, Susannah York, Robert Culp, and Charles Aznavour. It was in cinemas/movie theaters the following year.
These drawings depict my first experimental hang glider. I designed it with pencil and paper and I built it in the back yard and garden, occasionally carrying out strength testing on some parts by hanging a heavy weight (me!) from a tube with the required degree of leverage.
The huge control frame was to accommodate the pilot in a prone position.
The modified harness was OK but, unfortunately, in this configuration the new glider barely rose off the ground before dumping me back to earth.
While I had (and I believe I still have) an intuitive grasp of basic physics, my lack of full understanding of induced drag was evident in this project. Having said that, aerodynamic effects are not as hard to understand as many aerodynamicists would have you believe. Don’t take my word for it:
If anybody ever tells you anything about an aeroplane which is so bloody complicated you can’t understand it, take it from me: it’s all balls.
— R.J. Mitchell, designer of the Supermarine Spitfire (World War 2 fighter aircraft)
I redesigned my black V-tail mono-wing while wearing many layers of clothing in an unheated upstairs room over the winter of 1975-6. It flew better after Roly the sail-maker and I modified it accordingly. (See Hang gliding 1976.)
Duck à l’orange — my Airfix 1/76th (OO) scale DUKW with scratch built hang gliders
Paint it black—my overview of the 1976 movie Sky Riders
Michael A. Markowski page of video interviews on the Harrisburg living legacy web site