Hang gliding 1977 to 1979

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Hang gliding 1977 to 1979

This page follows Hang gliding 1976.

'Dorset Countryside' cover photo of a hang glider launching at Ringstead

Electra Flyer Cirrus 3 launching at Ringstead

The Cirrus 3 of 1976 was manufactured by Scotkites under licence from Electra Flyer of New Mexico.

We no longer launch from the cliff top at Ringstead. Instead, we take off from a hill a little way inland and fly out to the cliff. I am told that this part of the slope crumbled away at some point.

Photo of a 1970s hang glider pilot wearing 'flap chaps'

Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

‘Flap chaps’ (see the translucent triangle of fabric stretched between the pilot’s legs) helped you obtain a steeper glide on your final approach to landing. However, they did nothing to correct the cowboy image of hang gliding in the 1970s. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Photo of a broken hang glider descending uder parachute

A broken hang glider descends under parachute. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

The cover photo by Glider Rider picture editor H. Krause (not to be confused with publisher Tracy H. Knauss) is of Dave Ledford after his wing tumbled seven times following a failed wingover attempt (at Lookout Mountain I think). He was unhurt and his glider, a Moyes Mega II (with crosstube fairings, by the look of it) was largely undamaged. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Ballistically deployed versions of the emergency parachute were developed subsequently and that technology was applied to the emerging phenomenon of powered ultralight aircraft (microlights in UK terminology) and, later, to more conventional light aircraft.

See Dangers of hang gliding for more about hang glider emergency parachutes.

Skyhook Sunspot

Me about to launch in a Skyhook Sunspot

In this photo by Gary Phillips, I am about to launch a Skyhook Sunspot from the Merthyr ridge in February 1979. 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…

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, February 2008 (link farther down)

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). I have forged a link farther down to the magazine containing his article.

Photo of a 1970s hang glider in flight

An Electra Flyer Olympus in 1978. Photo by Mike Adkins.

A popular hang glider first produced in 1977 was the Electra Flyer Olympus.


You might be able to discern the short struts projecting from the leading edges. They supported cables, above, in front of, and below the wing, to keep those lanky leading edge tubes in shape. Together with the exposed crosstubes (and the exposed pilot) they created a large amount of drag, which the next steps in hang glider evolution set out to reduce.


Mike Adkins took this photo in July 1978 at Plaskett Creek, Los Padres National Forest, on the Pacific Highway south of San Francisco. Mike later took up paragliding and was active both as a pilot and site administrator right up to his death after a short illness in November 2009.

Photo of a late 1970s hang glider

Ultralight Products Condor. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

The Ultralight Products Condor. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Photo of astronaut Wally Schirra with hang glider pilots at Torrey Pines

Astronaut Wally Schirra (in tie) with hang glider pilots at Torrey Pines. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Project Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronaut Wally Schirra with hang glider pilots Burke Ewing (left) and W.A. ‘Pork’ Roecker at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in the late 1970s. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Photo of a 1970s hang glider in flight

Bob Dear flies the Gryphon

Bob Dear, flying the Miles Wings Gryphon in the photo, says that you had to actively fly the it all the time—you could not relax. It was, however, immensely precise and controllable as well as having unbeatable performance (in its time). Production of the Gryphon was taken over by Waspair in 1978, inventor Miles Handley being unable to keep up with demand.


Note the bowsprit and cables instead of crosstubes bracing the leading edges. Unfortunately, all those cables still created a great deal of aerodynamic drag.

Bob Dear

Bob Dear

Bob Dear, winner of the Gray Prize for Journalism (named for hang gliding photographer Bettina Gray) led the documentation of hang gliding in this region of Britain for many years.

Hang glider launching from a hill

Roly launching from Monk’s Down in a Birdman Cherokee

Roly made the sails for my experimental hang gliders in 1975 and ’76. He then became a full time sail-maker for a succession of leading hang glider manufacturers, including Birdman, based in Wiltshire, UK, who made the Cherokee.

A manufacturer in the USA (Electra Flyer of New Mexico, I think) discovered by accident that their novice level glider without deflexor wires bracing the leading edges outperformed their more advanced wings. Realizing that deflexors caused too much drag, hang glider manufacturers then changed to stronger leading edge tubes instead. In Britain, the Hiway Superscorpion (said to be based on the Australian Moyes Maxi) was the most popular of that generation of deflexorless wings.

Birdman of Wiltshire took a different approach with their Cherokee in that it retained a single deflexor wire in line with the airflow. Its drag was reckoned to be minimal and it facilitated tuning the wing as a whole (tensioning or de-tensioning both sides together using turnbuckles) and you could tune out a turn if one developed by tensioning or de-tensioning just one side.

Roly launching a Birdman Cherokee hang glider at Kimmeridge in Dorset, England

Roly launching from Kimmeridge in a Birdman Cherokee

The photo of Roly launching from Kimmeridge is scanned from a faded print, but the view angle shows the deflexor post in line with the angle at which the sail meets the leading edge tube. Therefore, the cable was in the largely ‘dead air’ pushed along by the leading edges. (In this photo, the deflexor post obscures the forward leading edge.)

Incidentally, although it might look as though he used the flat-rigged hang glider as a launch trampoline, I am sure that is an optical illusion!

Birdman Comanche at the 1979 BHGA AGM

Birdman Comanche at the 1979 BHGA AGM

The Comanche was, as far as I know, the last Birdman hang glider. Solar Wings had by then started in direct competition with Birdman. I photographed this one at the BHGA annual general meeting held at Warwick University in about March of 1979.

Manta Fledge 2 at BHGA AGM Warwick Uni about March 1979

Manta Fledge 2

The Manta Fledge 2, here at the 1979 BHGA AGM, was an update of an early 1970s ‘semi rigid’; a rigid hang glider made of the same materials as flexwings: Sailcloth, alloy tubing, and steel cable.

The next nearest wing in the photo is a Waspair Gryphon. The wing behind that (not the one almost entirely hidden) looks to me like a Waspair Falcon IV, a development of the Wills Wing Superswallowtail, but with a hefty camber permanently formed into the keel tube. (The SST and its clones had a slight camber produced — as far as I know — with the aid of a tensioning cable under the front part of the keel tube.)

Internal links

Hang gliding early 1980s

Mid-day lightning in Vermont, my review of the documentary film 1978 Pico Peak International Hang Gliding Meet by Francis Freedland

External links

Hang Gliding & Paragliding Vol38/Iss02 Feb 2008 containing the article by Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky from which I quoted some words about pilot-induced oscillation

Hang Gliding & Paragliding Vol39/Iss02 Feb 2009 including Mark ‘Forger’ Stucky’s account of how he determined that a high-performance hang glider of 1989 exhibited Dutch roll, rather than being merely susceptible to pilot-induced oscillation

Ultralight Flying! magazine, by whose permission I use some photos on this page (currently a broken link, sorry)

Responses to a different page

The following responses are to Hang gliding 1980s (which was originally part of this page) but I cannot figure out how to move them:

5 Responses to Hang gliding 1977 to 1979

  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.

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