Hang gliding 1977


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Hang gliding 1977

This page follows Hang gliding 1976.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Jim and Henry Braddock

Jim and Henry Braddock were second and first, respectively, at the U.S. national championships held at Heavener, Oklahoma, in July 1977. (Heavener rhymes with heathen, not heaven, apparently.)

Powered hang gliding was going through its early stages at this time. It brought problems additional to those inherent in hang gliding. The man standing and speaking in the following picture is hang gliding photographer and columnist Bill Allen.

Art based on photo by Rick Roelke of a meeting between the FAA and power pilots at Wilton, New Hampshire, on 2 April 1977

Art based on a photo by Jim Theis of Dan O’Neil dune-soaring an Electra Flyer Cirrus 3

The original photo by Jim Theis, on which this artistic rendering is based, is of Dan O’Neil dune-soaring an Electra Flyer Cirrus 3 in a gale on the dunes at at Boca Raton, Florida, during tropical depression Anita in August 1977.

Art based on a Leroy Grannis photo of an Ultralight Products Spyder at Grouse Mountain


Grouse Mountain, where the photo by Leroy Grannis on which the preceding image is based, overlooks the city of Vancouver, Canada.

Hang gliding was still regarded as a spectator sport in the late 1970s. Here is a snippet about pilots John Davis and Glenn Hockett and competition promoter Don Whitmore:

Davis and Hockett and Whitmore were interviewed for national TV, and the remaining pilots packed their gear in the warm late afternoon sunlight. The city of Vancouver was shining, the ships in the bay swinging into the seabreeze.

— Hang glider pilot and English teacher W.A. Roecker writing in Hang Gliding, September 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of a Skyhook Sunspot at the 1977 Scottish Open

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of a Skyhook Sunspot at the 1977 Scottish Open

Former movie actress Bettina Gray travelled the world to photograph hang gliders and her shot of the Skyhook Sunspot on which this artistic derivation is based is unique. My first glider, in 1974, was made by Skyhook, based in Oldham, Lancashire, northern England. In 1978 I temporarily abandoned my own hang glider developments in favour of more mundane pursuits, and I flew a Skyhook Sunspot.

The wing that Ash is flying in this picture is a Birdman Moonraker.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of British instructor Ashley Doubtfire at Mere, Wiltshire, in 1977

When British manufacturer Birdman of Marlborough, Wiltshire, developed the Moonraker with its low-billow sail and chord-wise battens, Roly the sail-maker took the opportunity to upgrade their ‘intermediate’ level glider, the Firebird. He replaced the radial battens (which stay in the sail when the glider is de-rigged) with five chord-wise battens each side, resulting in an appearance similar to the Electra Flyer Cirrus 3. They designated the new version Firebird S. It had much improved performance, but the umbrella-like quick rigging of the original Firebird was gone. (I will try to obtain an image of the Firebird S.)

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of Dennis Pagen at Grandfather Mountain in September 1977

Art based on a photo by Bill Bennett of Sean Dever flying a Bennett Phoenix 8 in September 1977


Art based on a photo by Stephen McCarroll of an Electra Flyer Olympus in flight

Art based on a photo by Stephen McCarroll of an Electra Flyer Olympus in flight

In 1977, Electra Flyer (the manufacturer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, founded by former Learjet pilot Larry Newman) added the state-of-the-art Olympus to their successful Cirrus series of wings.


Skyhook Sunspot

Me about to launch in a Skyhook Sunspot

In this photo by Gary P, I am about to launch a Skyhook Sunspot, which appeared first in 1977, from the Merthyr ridge in February 1979. (Paul G. is on my front wires.) The glider belonged to the students’ union at the Polytechnic of Wales, where I was studying computing at that time.

Hang glider launching in strong wind at Merthyr Tydfil, south Wales, in 1978

Vertical take off

Because computers were to be used in creating all things, I reasoned that programming was a skill that did not tie one too rigidly to any specific branch of science. After all, exactly that strategy paid off for astronaut David Bowman (who was a generalist, but not programming, as far as I recall) in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, a Space Odyssey (1968). So much for the career advice embedded in science fiction… Having said that, according to Apollo 11 command module pilot Mike Collins, Neil Armstrong was selected to be ‘First Man’ because of his breadth of knowledge. (Source: Why was Neil Armstrong chosen to be the first man on the Moon? on BBC World Service.)

Skyhook Sunspot hang glider at Merthyr Common in 1979

Flying a Skyhook Sunspot at Merthyr Common, Wales.

Immediately after launching on my first flight in the Sunspot, I entered a series of rolls, to the left, then to the right, then left, right, and so on, until after maybe 20 seconds my nervous system caught up with the new glider’s combination of roll inertia (more that I was used to) and damping (less) that caused a subtle delay in its roll and yaw response. This Sunspot swing was common on such first flights, I learned later. Indeed, such pilot-induced oscillation (PIO) affects many pilots regardless of ability. One of the most skilled pilots ever, the astronaut Mark Stucky, suffered from pilot-induced oscillation in 1977 when he returned to hang gliding after 15 months away:

I was heading home after another PIO-filled weekend, trying my best to visualize just what the glider was doing and what the proper response should be. I somehow figured it out and surprised everybody when the next flight went smoothly.

— Lt. Col. Mark Stucky USMC (call sign Forger) in Hang Gliding & Paragliding Vol38/Iss02 Feb 2008

PIO is bad enough, but some later hang gliders required no out-of-synch pilot input to enter the so-called Dutch roll. (If you ever saw the opening sequences of the 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man, you have seen a crash caused by Dutch roll.) Hang glider pilot and NASA test pilot Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky determined that a high-performance hang glider of 1989 exhibited Dutch roll rather than being merely susceptible to pilot-induced oscillation (like the Skyhook Sunspot). See his article in Hang Gliding & Paragliding Vol39/Iss02 Feb 2009.

Internal links

Forger (Mark Stucky’s call sign) in Space flight and hang gliding

Hang gliding 1978 and 1979

External link

Ashley Doubtfire, legendary hang gliding instructor, on British Hang Gliding History, which includes text I contributed in 2017

6 Responses to Hang gliding 1977

  1. Jan Johnson says:

    Does anyone have a copy of the driver article in the hang gliding magazine, it has a picture of a person in a jeep with a small article. Think it was in the 80’s am not for sure. It is about their drivers that go and pick them up. I would love for someone to email me a copy of it. Thanks a lot

  2. Susan Delora says:

    I’m looking for an old friend named Don Murray that was the editor of hang gliding magazine back in 1970s and was also the editor for Skateboard Magazine. Thank you

    • I do not recall a Don Murray, but I have not searched my Hang Gliding collection in detail for the early editors. Gil Dodgen took over from Rich Grigsby as editor from the January 1978 edition. It might be worth putting a request for info on the hang gliding forum HangGliding.org.

      • I just figured it out. Don Murray was editor of the independent Hang Glider magazine, not the USHGA magazine Hang Gliding. (At that time the USHGA mag was still titled Ground Skimmer.) Hang Glider mag was largely an outlet for Leroy Grannis’ amazing colour photos, while Ground Skimmer was just black and white (and printed on fairly rough paper).

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