Hang gliding 1973 part 1
I moved my hang gliding history pages to a new web site: History of hang gliding. This page will be deleted eventually.
This page continues from Hang gliding before 1973.
Can you imagine that our first years were spent speeding up and down the mountain roads, making as many 10-minute flights as we could in a day? We got really good at takeoffs and landings!
— Donnita Holland quoted by David Jebb in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, October 2007
I started hang gliding in late 1974, so this page pertains to before my time. The images here are my artistic derivations of contemporary photos. See Copyright of early hang gliding photos.
To set the context of world events in 1973, at least from a western ‘first world’ perspective, the last of the moon landings had taken place the previous year and, while the Americans had largely withdrawn from Vietnam, Saigon was yet to fall to the Communists. Britain was beset by energy crises and the ‘population problem,’ the definition of which was vague.
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 describing hang gliding in the early 1970s in the USHGA magazine Hang Gliding, September 1983
William Le Mer, then in his fifties while most hang glider pilots were in their twenties (how times change!) was a glider pilot 30 years before; 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…
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!”
For the kind of aircraft he likely flew in the war, see my 1/72nd scale Waco CG-4A under Glider riders in World War 2 plastic models part 2.
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. According to the July 1973 edition of Ground Skimmer and the retrospective account in the September 1977 edition of Hang Gliding, the Annie Green Springs event was held on Tuesday October 23rd to Thursday 25th.
Then we’d talk and laugh about it all around a campfire, drinking hot-spiced wine and roasting hot dogs while John Denver wailed “Rocky Mountain High” on the radio of an old VW bus… That was hang gliding in 1973.
— Mark Sawyer (1)
Chris Price, who is checking the security of the gliders on his Volkswagen in the image, designed the first popular prone harness for hang gliding (that is, lying down Superman style).
In 1973, you stood and walked with your left arm angled out a ways and thumb hooked through a belt loop. Notice also the photographer in the middle…
The parking lot was jammed with cars and RVs, and as we reached the flying site, colored pennants formed into long lines and cheerfully waved at the crowd. Cameras were everywhere: carried by hand, slung around necks, and the oversized variety, bearing the letters NBC, CBS, and ABC, riding sidesaddle on human shoulders.
— Maralys Wills and Chris Wills in Higher than Eagles, 1992. See my review.
Doubtless it occurred to many radio control glider fliers that, if only they built one large enough to sit in, they could become airborne themselves. Mark Smith turned that dream into a reality. (Notice the absence of ailerons in this design.) What this image does not reveal is that the pilot was not strapped in! (Two video clips linked farther on demonstrate that alarming oversight, fortunately without injury.)
Anthony Matthews was killed flying an Icarus 5 a short time after this photo was taken. Some of his music is used in Bill Liscomb’s 2008 documentary Big Blue Sky.
The original photos of the VJ-24 on which I based these artistic derived works were taken by John Underwood.
The VJ-24 Sunfun, like its predecessor the VJ-23 Swingwing (see Sticks and rudders in Hang gliding before 1973) was a rigid hang glider with conventional airplane controls. Unlike the VJ-23, the VJ-24 was built using aluminium alloy tube and hang glider fabric. Volmer Jensen, its designer, reckoned it took half as long to build as its predecessor.
Automotive designer Pete Brock (of the Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe and Corvette Sting Ray) turned his engineering talents to the manufacture of hang gliders at a workshop in El Segundo, California. Trading as Ultralight Products, he led the field in quality of hardware and purpose-designed machined fittings.
For more of Brock, see the related topics menu Ultralight Products of California and Utah.
A large Rogallo built by Robert Powers had some heavy duty nose plates made of surplus metal. Walking by, my eye was caught by some printing on it which read, “BRACKET, BOMB BAY RECEPTACLES, Boeing Airplane Company, 3-4-53.”
— W.A. Allen writing in Ground Skimmer, May 1973
The Whitney Portawing featured cable leading edges instead of leading edge tubes.
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. For more about the Cirrus series, see the related topics menu Electra Flyer of Albuquerque, New Mexico. (And to see how different the F-4 is from the Windlord, see F-4 in Vietnam war plastic models.)
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, after recovering from injuries sustained in a flying accident, he had Wills Wing build him a hang glider purpose-made for aerial photography.
See also the related topics menu Photographers of early hang gliding.
In the next photo, Curt Stahl has wriggled in front of the harness risers to provide more reach in the landing flare. Prone harnesses provided that reach, as well as incurring less aerodynamic drag, but flying prone was considered to be more dangerous than flying seated. A six page article by Carol Boenish-Price in Ground Skimmer quoted opinions by several pilots on the merits and drawbacks of both types of harness.
Curt Stahl (possibly related to SCHGA Flight Director Chuck Stahl?) flying either this or another Seagull hang glider, beat the legendary Bob Wills at a subsequent competition held at Escape Country, California. Sadly, he died of head injuries sustained in a crash in November 1973. Unlike here, he was wearing a crash helmet at the time. (2)
The Seagull had parabolic curved leading edges (the tubes were permanently formed into that shape) to reduce washout (span-wise wing twist). See the related topics menu Seagull Aircraft of Santa Monica, California.
This topic continues in Hang gliding 1973 part 2.
Chris Wills flying at the Annie Green Springs competition color photo by John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated on Getty Images. Text accompanying this and the other photos by John G. Zimmerman at this event give the date as 11/12/1973. Assuming the U.S. date convention (I wish they wouldn’t do that!) that is November 12th 1973. That might be when the film was developed. My information is that the event was held on 23 to 25 October.
Chris Wills (again) flying at the Annie Green Springs competition color photo by John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated on Getty Images — side view showing the low billow of the Sport Kites Inc. Wills Wing
Mark Smith flying his scaled up radio control glider: Big Blue Sky by Bill Liscomb, starting at 39 minutes 45 seconds with Donnita Holland narrating (not specific to this glider). See also the longer, but lower resolution equivalent in Wings of the Wind, linked farther on.
Standard Rogallo (unidentified pilot) at the Annie Green Springs competition color photo by John G. Zimmerman/Sports Illustrated on Getty Images
Wings of the Wind video external links
A mid-1970s documentary by Gib Jaffe on YouTube
- General flying and rigging: Wings of the Wind starting at 3 minutes 13 seconds, including Jack Schroder rigging his Quicksilver
- Jack Schroder and his Quicksilver again: Wings of the Wind starting at 16 minutes 41 seconds
- Mark Smith flying his scaled up radio control glider: Wings of the Wind starting at 29 minutes 15 seconds. It is of lower resolution than the clip in Big Blue Sky, but it includes more of the flight and is correspondingly more scary.
- Point Fermin cliff: Wings of the Wind starting at 19 minutes 28 seconds, for Jack Schroder in his Quicksilver and, later, Taras Kiceniuk narrating
- Point Fermin cliff: Wings of the Wind starting at 22 minutes 55 seconds to see an in-flight movie camera on the glider’s base tube
- Volmer Jensen interview: Wings of the Wind starting at 11 minutes 12 seconds
1. Mark Sawyer, The History of Hang Gliding; a Personal View of a Collective Experience in Sky Adventures, Legends and stories About the Early Days of Hang Gliding and Paragliding edited by Jim (Sky Dog) Palmieri and Maggie Palmieri, 1998
2. Curt Stahl is included in the list of fatalities in Ground Skimmer, January 1975 (number 41 on page 36). On page 29 of the June edition, R.V. Wills mentions briefly Stahl’s crash. I have found no other information about him.