Hang gliding 1976

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Hang gliding 1976

This page follows Hang gliding 1975.

Kimmeridge is a south-west facing ridge a little way inland from the sea shore in the Purbeck region of Dorset in England. Nowadays we fly the nearby south-west facing hill and sea cliffs at Ringstead, but in 1975 Kimmeridge was the principal south-west site in this part of England. It is still flown (2010) but mainly by paragliders.

Photo of a 1970s rigid wing hang glider

Rob Stokes flies the Icarus V rigid hang glider in 1976. Photo by Dave Lewis.

In these photos by Dave Lewis, Rob Stokes flies the Icarus V rigid hang glider in 1976. Twist grips on the hang cage armrests operated the tip rudders.

Photo of a 1970s rigid hang glider in flight

Rob Stokes flies the Icarus V rigid hang glider in 1976. Photo by Dave Lewis.

For more photos taken at this once popular site, most taken in 2010 (and of poor quality) see Kimmeridge Khmer Rouge (a sub-page of Hang gliding 2010). See also Devils Dyke Brighton Hang Glider Icarus 5 for a flickr slide show of Don Liddard’s photos taken in 1978.

Rigid hang gliders provided more performance than flex-wings, but at the cost of greater complexity.

Developments in Britain

Painting of an early hang glider

The Wasp Nova of 1976 (painting)

The 1976 Wasp Nova was another attempt at attaining more performance without too much extra complexity. It featured an S-curved keel tube and tip fins braced by tubes, brackets, fasteners, and cables. I saw the prototype before it flew when it was on display at a meeting in late 1975.

Photo of a standard Rogallo hang glider in flight

The prone harness imparted a dramatic increase in performance and pitch control. Photo by Dave Lewis.

The prone harness imparted a dramatic increase in performance and pitch control. That combined advantage greatly improved our ability to soar.

Because your angle of bank in a coordinated turn is limited by the positive (nose-up) pitch rate you can achieve, and the seated flying position conferred very little pitch range, we could only fly shallow turns without the turn degenerating into an inefficient spiral descent. The prone flying position enables the pilot to ‘push out’ and thereby coordinate a steeper banked and tighter turn. That was important for flying in thermals, which we began to do (unwittingly at first) in the long dry summer of 1976 in southern England.

As far as I know, Hiway Hang Gliders of Brighton in Sussex were the first in Britain to manufacture prone harnesses. The glider in the preceding photo by Dave Lewis is a Hiway standard Rogallo.

Photo of a hang glider in 1975

Mean Machine 1. Photo by Dave Lewis.

Mean Machine 1 was the first of three swallowtails built by Martin Orr. It is flown here by Chris Scoble. (Chris invented the ScoboJet paraglider power unit of the early 1990s.) Note the scallop and reduced billow compared to a standard Rogallo.

As well as stretching the Swallowtail concept, the Firebird, made by Birdman of Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, was said to be so quick to rig it opened like an umbrella. At that time Birdman contracted out their sail-making and, according to one expert insider, the Firebird suffered from a ‘rattly’ sail. (The one I saw flying at Monk’s Down looked impressive, but the sail certainly fluttered more than did that of the Swallowtail, for instance.)

Art based on a photo of the Birdman Firebird

Art based on a photo of the Birdman Firebird

During the long hot summer of 1975, Birdman made Roly the sail-maker an offer he could not refuse, so he left Kestrel Kites of Poole, Dorset, to join Birdman inland. Their premises, former chicken sheds, had no sail loft initially. As well as leading the creation of the Birdman sail loft, Roly added a second batten each side to the Firebird, in the style of late Swallowtail types such as the Hiway Cloudbase, and the resulting two battens each side largely eliminated the ‘rattle.’

Art based on a photo of a Hiway experimental wing at Firle Beacon on the Sussex Downs, England, in 1976

Art based on a photo of a Hiway experimental wing at Firle Beacon on the Sussex Downs, England, in 1976

The photograph (possibly by Adie Turner) on which this art is based depicts a Hiway experimental wing that evolved into the Scorpion, which sported a fin protruding downwards from the aft keel tube. I saw Chris Johnson flying one in Wales when I was instructing there late in 1976.

The prone launch (pictured) is used in strong wind. The wire person holds on to the front wires for the pre-launch hang check, but because the wind is strong enough to provide sufficient airspeed for the rig to fly, when he (or she) reports that he is applying little or no pressure to the wires, the pilot says “Release” (in the UK) whereupon the wire person lets go.

Notice the abundance of leading edge deflexor cables with adjustment turnbuckles. While useful in flight test, they provided the non-test pilot an opportunity to over-tension the trailing edge of the sail, which caused instability that could, in the extreme, prove dangerous. Even test pilots flew without emergency parachutes in 1976. We wondered how you would detach yourself from the glider and whether you would have time anyway…

Art based on a photo of a Chargus Midas

Art based on a photo of a Chargus Midas

The Midas, designed by Martin Farnham, was manufactured by Chargus of Buckinghamshire, a few miles north-west of London, England. I first saw one in late 1976 when its pilot, together with his extraordinarily attractive girl friend with long brown hair (I remember her clearly to this day!) visited the hang gliding school in south Wales where I was instructing. (How was I to obtain a girl friend like that? I had no idea, but I soon concluded that hang gliding instructing was not the way.) Compared with the primitive Rogallos I flew at the time, the Midas appeared almost extra-terrestrial.

Chargus was run by motor racing engineer Murray Rose, who started out by building a standard Rogallo in 1972 and rebuilding it several times after crashing it. Hang gliders made by Chargus, culminating in the Cyclone of 1979, all featured innovations in either airframe design or sail aerodynamics; often both. I encountered Murray in 1980 testing a flex-wing powered ultralight with an experimental 3-blade carbon fiber propeller, in which he climbed out from the airfield despite a down-draft and turbulence caused by wind curling over from the forested edge of the runway. By the early 1990s, he was at Solar Wings in Wiltshire, using finite element analysis to compute stresses and strains through the compound curves of flexible wings and airframes.

As of this writing in 2019, Murray Rose is a successful thriller writer using the name Walter Gunn. See http://www.gunncomms.co.uk/. (Info source: SkyWings, August 2018.)

David Parsons flying a Chargus Vortex hang glider

David Parsons flying a Chargus Vortex

The Chargus Vortex of 1976 looked no different from most contemporary hang gliders, but it incorporated several innovations, some new — which would be used again — and some that had been tried before. Notice the cable from the centre to the near wing tip. (The one the other side is hidden by the right down-tube.) These ‘bow strings’ limited the flex of the leading edges in the opposite way of the earlier deflexor systems — cables on struts along the leading edges. The hang strap has a pitch limiter, similar to that used on the Skyhook Cloud 9, but the Chargus version seems to be made of cable rather than webbing. (Webbing provides better resilience to shock loading.) What this photo does not show are rows of circular holes in the sail near the leading edges at the tips. The idea was that, at a nose-high angle of attack, higher pressure air would go up from those holes and energize the air flowing over the top, preventing the tips from stalling.

The pilot in the photo is David Parsons, Justin’s father, who died in 2019.

In 1977 I flight tested a Vortex that was reported to exhibit a turn. I flew it from a low hill and discovered that it did indeed tend to turn one way when flown ‘hands off’ (that is, by relaxing my grip on the control bar). However, when I flared to land it, it dropped the opposite wing. It seemed likely to me that the bow strings needed adjusting. However, as was often the case in those days, I heard nothing more about it.

Developments Stateside

Art based on a photo of the Pliable Moose Diffusion Tip hang glider of 1974

Art based on a photo of the Pliable Moose Diffusion Tip hang glider of 1976

Pliable Moose, of Kansas, was founded by Gary Osoba, who still flies (in 2019). However, the highest flying of the 1970s Pliable Moose pilots is Mark Stucky, who flew the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo to more than 50 miles altitude in December 2018, thus qualifying as an astronaut.

Pioneering hang glider photographer Bettina Gray

Pioneering hang glider photographer Bettina Gray

Former movie actress Bettina Gray was one of the most prolific photographers of early hang gliding.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of her son Bill Lscomb flying an ASG-21 at Telluride, Colorado, in August 1976

The ASG-21, shown in this picture being flown by Bettina’s son Bill Liscomb, was an advanced hang glider — by the standards of 1976.

Art based on a photo by Roger Schoener of Chris Wills flying a Wills Wing Superswallowtail

Art based on a photo by Roger Schoener of Chris Wills flying a Wills Wing Superswallowtail

Bob Wills and his team followed the Swallowtail with the Superswallowtail.

Art based on photo by Stephen McCarroll of Jim Debauch flying a Wills Wing Superswallowtail at Telluride, Colorado, in August 1976

Art based on a photo by Stephen McCarroll of Paul Courtney past vertical in a Sky Sports Merlin

Art based on a photo by Stephen McCarroll of Paul Courtney past vertical in a Sky Sports Merlin

The Sky Sports Merlin featured chord-wise battens and a large amount of double surface. However, the cross-tubes were still outside and exposed to the air flow, creating drag. For a short history of the east coast U.S. hang glider manufacturer Sky Sports, see my page Flying squad.

Three-sixty degree appraisal

Most of the Cobra pilots seemed to be about eighteen years old, with all the fearlessness and the belief in their own immortality of that age group. Most of them had the judgement of a load of bricks.

— from A Lonely Kind of War by Marshall Harrison, 1989. (The Cobra he refers to is the helicopter gunship of the Vietnam War, not the McBroom Cobra hang glider of 1975.)

Established hang glider manufacturers were not the only ones who encountered problems…

Photo of an experimental hang glider of 1976

One of my experimental hang gliders

This design suffered from an unfortunate pitch characteristic that aerodynamicists term phugoid motion. The camber curve of the sail changed shape as the angle of attack changed, which amplified my pitch control inputs—after a brief delay. On one test flight, that positive feedback mechanism* sent me into a series of pitch oscillations. Fortunately, it happened to be leveling out from a dive when I touched down in the dusty bottom field at Monk’s Down and I got away with a sprained ankle.

* Positive feedback mechanism?

“You engineering types are so confusing. Positive feedback is good! We want more positive feedback! It tells use we are doing things right! And why don’t you smile?”

In engineering terms, as distinct from corporate HR arts graduate terms, positive feedback is a runaway response that causes instability; an out-of-control situation. Negative feedback is where the mechanism tends to damp out excursions from the required control setting. The Watt governor of the first successful steam engines is an example I learned in CSE engineering at secondary school.

“The what governor?”

Oh, never mind…

Hang glider flying low in 1975

Experimental flight test in 1976

I contracted out the construction of my sails to a local hang glider sailmaker (who, at age 17, had built his own Skyhook IIIA from plans) but I built the airframes myself. My hang gliders all flew — eventually. However, I was always at least two steps behind the state of the art.

Photo of an early hang glider ground skimming

One of my home-made hang gliders

Notice the absence of an emergency parachute at this time.

On a later version of this glider, I created the deflexor cables as a single wire running through a pulley (or equivalent device) at the nose so that the tension on each side would always be the same. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. On a flight test, the glider seemed to fly normally and I was about to land it, avoiding wet ground, when the horizon whipped round and, still in the prone position, I was dumped onto the ground — actually into a couple of inches of water — with the glider and me facing the opposite direction of my approach.

Some time later, when I was away from home, my mother took a call from Steve Hunt of Hiway Hang Gliders (then based in Brighton on the Sussex coast) who heard about the incident. When I next saw Steve, a year or so later, I had forgotten all about it. I will never know what insights he might have provided.

Winklebury Hill, June, 2013

Winklebury Hill, June, 2013

I took this photo of Winklebury hill from the car park at Berwick St John village fête in June, 2013. The aspect reminds me of a trivial event in early 1976, when this was our only north-west site. (Bell Hill had not yet been discovered.) I was at the farm at the bottom, watching one of two flying brothers on approach to the landing field (nearer the hill than where this photo was taken). Flying seated in a Waspair Falcon IV, framed by the hill and some low trees (out of view in the photo) he went right round in a 360-degree turn with little loss in height. He then levelled out and landed normally. That was the first 360-degree turn in a hang glider I had seen.

Doesn’t sound like much, but it was most impressive for those times. However, the pace of advancement was so rapid that, by the end of that summer, 360 degree turns were considered almost routine.

Swift Recovery

In 1976 I was a hang gliding instructor, first teaching beginners informally at my local site, then working for a hang gliding school in south Wales. One day teaching beginners on a low slope, we found that those who flew one particular glider (the sole example of the type that we used) kept nosing in hard shortly after launching. We determined the correlation with the incidents and the specific glider only gradually. Why did Fred Bloggs nose in just now when he was OK two minutes ago. And why has Joe Soap just nosed in? Eventually one young fellow, a student at the nearby Polytechnic of Wales, was winded so badly in a hard impact he was unable to breathe. He just lay on the ground curled in a ball for a minute. I thought we were witnessing a fatality. However, in a few minutes he was up and about and able to describe his experience. My relief was short lived.

“Everard, take that glider up and find out what’s wrong with it.” Mike, the chief instructor, was a former RAF pilot, glider pilot, and scuba diver.

I launched with plenty of speed (for safety) and was settling into the short period of level flight afforded by the low grass-covered slope when the glider slowly, but unstoppably, pitched nose-down and gathered speed, in much the same way as in stall recovery, but I was nowhere near the stall. I ‘pushed out’ on the control bar for maximum rearward weight shift (equivalent to hauling back on the control stick in a conventional glider or airplane) and it levelled out and flew normally from then on until I landed (for a total flight time of no more than thirty seconds).

“That glider is grounded,” said Mike. No explanation from me was needed; everyone saw what I did and what the glider did.

I do not know why it behaved like that or why the fault had not been discovered earlier, or whether the problem was inherent or the result of incorrect adjustment. (The type had been in use for about a year by then.)

We kept the gliders in a disused cinema at the back of rambling premises in Merthyr Tydfil. ‘Rambling’ isn’t strong enough. It was like another dimension. Looking out one window onto a vertical hole between structures, there was a river flowing underneath… Late in the year, we instructors were all issued with identical red and white winter jackets and I recall us striding up the Merthyr main street, about 10 feet tall. I half expected to bump into a local girl whose song Lost in France was climbing the pop charts. In retrospect, the people in that street likely thought were were a bunch of English fools and I never did get to meet Bonnie Tyler. (One pop star I did meet through hang gliding is Elkie Brooks, but that was in the early 1990s.)

Mike had immigrated from Russia with his mother — who barely spoke English and lived in rooms in the back of the sprawling building (which included a disused cinema/movie theater). Fronting onto the High Street, was a junk shop.

Mike sometimes had friends round and I overheard them discussing how much money they had made the day before. Then, barely pausing, switching to the subject of hang gliding, one of them described how turbulence had rolled him (in a Birdman Firebird) upside-down a few days earlier. (This was before we adapted emergency parachutes for hang gliding.) He was lucky to be alive. These were kick-ass people with a kinda strange background. Mike had flown for the RAF in his younger days.

'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 Albuquerque, New Mexico, founded by Learjet captain Larry Newman. The Cirrus series originated with the Windlord development of the standard Rogallo by US Navy F-4 Phantom pilot Rich Finley in 1974. His short keel, low billow, spiky looking Windlord 4 was manufactured by Electra Flyer as the Cirrus. It soon acquired a full set of chord-wise battens, taking on the basic appearance that culminated in the popular Cirrus 3.

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.

Ultralight Products Dragonfly Mark 2 ScreenshotBigBlueSkyByBillLiscomb

Ultralight Products Dragonfly Mark 2

The Mark 2 version of the Ultralight Products Dragonfly also incorporated chord-wise battens, but this type of fixed wing-tip design was becoming less popular. This is a screenshot from Big Blue Sky by Bill Liscomb, available on YouTube here.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Dave Cronk and Bill Liscomb

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of hang glider designer Dave Cronk and pioneering pilot Bill Liscomb

Internal links

A painted history of hang glider design

Defying Newton, powered ultralight operations at Newton Peveril in Dorset, England. It includes photos of Chris S more than 40 years later than the photo of him on this page

Hang gliding 1977

External link

The Fight to Preserve South Wales’ Jewish History in the Jerusalem Post