Modern hang gliding has its roots in the 1960s American space program and the efforts of pioneers such as Richard Miller and Jack Lambie. Importantly, those experiments were documented by a small number of photographers, principally George Uveges. However, I start this history, somewhat arbitrarily, in 1973.
Hang gliding 1973
…there is less margin for error in hang gliding than in almost anything else a person might attempt in life.
— Hang gliding instructor Ken de Russy interviewed by Carol Price in Hang Gliding, November 1980
I started hang gliding in late 1974, so this page pertains to before my time. All but one of the images are my artistic impressions based on contemporary photos.
This photo illustrates a technique used by some pilots of the early Rogallo wings: That of using your feet to spread the rear wires and bend the keel tube–and the root area of the sail–into a camber. That increased the lifting efficiency of the wing, but it also reduced its pitch stability. Likely not a problem when flying straight and level in calm air.
If you are over thirty and want to feel like a senior citizen, just join a crowd of hang glider pilots.
— William Le Mer writing in Hang Gliding, September 1983. Le Mer, then in his fifties while most hang glider pilots were in their twenties (how times change!) was a glider pilot in World War 2. He was the only one to make the landing zone in his first hang gliding competition, at Escape Country, California, which he ascribed to luck. However:
So, what made me pound on the steering wheel every few minutes, all the way home, and shout out the window of my ratty old pickup at amazed passersby: “I WON, I WON!”
The original photo of Chris Wills landing at Sylmar was taken by Bill Allen, who was one of a handful of the early photographers and columnists who documented hang gliding in the 1970s.
Chris Wills, younger brother of Bob, became the first ever U.S. hang gliding champion, in 1973. Annie Green Springs was a wine label of the commercial sponsor of the competition held at at Sylmar, California.
Chris Price designed the first popular prone harness for hang gliding (that is, lying down Superman style).
The Whitney Portawing featured cable leading edges instead of leading tubes. Unfortunately the wing was discovered to be unstable in pitch.
U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom pilot Rich Finley designed, built, and flew the Windlord series of Rogallo wings. The Windlord 4 eventually metamorphosed into the popular Cirrus 3 made by Electra Flyer of New Mexico.
Stephen McCarroll not only photographed hang gliders from the ground. He was one of the early hang glider pilots who experimented with cameras mounted on his glider. A few years later, he had Wills Wing build him a hang glider purpose-made for aerial photography.