Hang gliding 1976 part 1


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Hang gliding 1976 part 1

This page follows Hang gliding 1975 part 2.

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, see Kimmeridge Khmer Rouge.

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

Developments in Britain

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 — removal of sailcloth from the trailing edge in a curve — 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 in about July 1976 he left Kestrel Kites of Poole, Dorset, to join Birdman in Wiltshire. 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. The two battens each side largely eliminated the ‘rattle.’


Roly waits to launch while Ron Smith passes in front at Monk's Down in 1976

Roly waits to launch while Ron Smith passes in front at Monk’s Down in 1976

Ron’s green glider (in the photo) also seems to be a Firebird with the extra battens. Roly informs me that several Firebird owners brought their gliders back to the factory to have the sail modified with the new batten layout.

For another photo of Ron Smith flying, see Hang gliding 2000 to 2003 and for a photo of him standing on the hillside with two other pilots, see under Celebrate monks in Hang gliding 2004 and 2005.


Roly flying above a Swallowtail copy he made for its pilot in 1976

Roly flying above a Swallowtail copy he made for its pilot in 1976

So what if it’s freezing cold in the north wind on a bare hillside in the middle of nowhere with a swamp for a landing field — or is that slush and snow? We’re going flying anyway!

Roly in the Firebird with batten conversion at Monk's Down in 1976

Roly in the Firebird with batten conversion at Monk’s Down in 1976


The Birdman story continues under Birdman and Solar Wings in Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2.


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.

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.

Art based on a photo of a Hiway Scorpion flaring high above a beach

Art based on a photo of a Hiway Scorpion flaring high above a beach

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…

The Hiway Scorpion sported a fin protruding downwards from the aft keel tube. I saw British champion Chris Johnson flying a prototype or pre-production Scorpion in Wales when I was instructing there late in 1976.


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 former Royal Navy marksman and 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. (By then the Solar Wings factory was part of Pegasus Aviation, which made powered ultralights.)

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.

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 1976 part 2

Three-sixty degree appraisal — my own hang glider design efforts during 1976

External links

Devils Dyke Brighton Hang Glider Icarus 5: Flickr slide show of Don Liddard’s photos of an Icarus 5 taking off from the Devil’s Dyke, near Brighton, England

Photo by the Westmorland Gazette of Roger Middleton flying a Ridge Rider standard Rogallo at Latrig, Keswick, in 1976. Keswick bypass was under construction and they used the part-finished road surface as a landing field.