Hang gliding 1977
This page follows Hang gliding 1976.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
Ken Messenger of Birdman and competition organizer Brian Milton attempted to cross the channel in their Moonrakers by first being lifted to altitude beneath hot air balloons. Milton released at 14000 ft and ditched into the channel to be picked up by a Russian ‘trawler.’ (This was during the cold war.) Its crew took some persuading that Milton was a ‘sporting man.’ Messenger released at 20000 ft to land in the same field in France from which Louis Blériot had taken off for the first ever flight across the channel nearly 70 years before. Meanwhile aboard the balloon that had lifted Ken in his hang glider to altitude…
On the way up I got my oxygen equipment tangled up when I was changing cylinders, so I was without oxygen at about 15,000 feet for a while, which gave me a bit of a headache… I was on top of a cloud. It looked so solid… I felt I could get out and walk on it. I had a terrific urge to get out and walk on the cloud!
— Farmer, rally driver, balloonist, and airship pilot David Liddiard interviewed for Barley & Balloons, David Liddiard remembers, by Jennifer d’Alton, 1998
See also Birdman and Solar Wings in Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Ashley Doubtfire, legendary hang gliding instructor, on British Hang Gliding History, which includes text I contributed in 2017