Hang gliding 1973 and before
Modern hang gliding has its roots in the 1960s American space program and the efforts of pioneers such as Barry Palmer, John Dickenson, Richard Miller, and Jack Lambie.
I started hang gliding in late 1974, so this page pertains to before my time. Most of the images on this page are my artistic derivations of contemporary photos by a small number of photographers, principally George Uveges.
Hang gliding in the 1960s and up to 1972
Barry Palmer made this glider using clear polythene taped to aluminium tubing. This image is a screenshot from Bill Liscomb’s 2008 documentary Big Blue Sky (link farther down).
The following black-and-white art images are based on photos by George Uveges:
In March 1967 Emil Riesel of Saratoga, California, began a newsletter, Low and Slow and Out of Control. Mentioned in the first issue is Richard Miller flying his ‘Bamboo Butterfly’ Rogallo from the dunes at Dockweiler State Park on January 16, 1966. (Source: Vic Powell in Hang Gliding, September 1991.)
Donnita was the first female to pilot a hang glider, one of the first humans to foot-launch a hang glider (towing up behind a boat was more usual initially) and one of the pioneers who showed the rest of the world how to follow their dreams. (Source: Dennis Pagen in Hang Gliding & Paragliding, Jan-Feb 2018, to which I have placed a link farther down.)
…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
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 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 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.
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.
Bob Wills features in subsequent pages of this history of hang gliding. This image is a screenshot from a segment in Bill Liscomb’s 2008 documentary Big Blue Sky where Bob flies in front of crowds at the Coyote Hills near San Francisco (link farther down).
Big Blue Sky – The history of modern hang gliding – the first extreme sport!, 2008, documentary by Bill Liscomb on YouTube
Big Blue Sky starting at 33 minutes in, where Bob Wills flies at Coyote Hills in 1973, narrated by Donnita Holland (Donnita Hall).
Hang Gliding & Paragliding Vol48-Iss1 Jan-Feb 2018 including an article about Donnita Hall by former Hang Gliding & Paragliding editor C.J. Sturtevant