Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2


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Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2

This page follows Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 1.

Liz Sharp flying her UP Condor in 1979. Photo by By John Coyne.

Liz Sharp flying her UP Condor in 1979. Photo by John Coyne.

The monochrome photo of Liz in her 1970s comms helmet is at the bottom of the preceding page.

Photo of a broken hang glider descending uder parachute

A broken hang glider descends under parachute. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

The cover photo by Glider Rider picture editor H. Krause (not to be confused with publisher Tracy H. Knauss) is of Dave Ledford after his wing tumbled seven times following a failed wingover attempt (at Chattanooga, Tennessee). He was unhurt and his glider, a Moyes Mega II (with crosstube fairings, by the look of it) was largely undamaged.

See Dangers of hang gliding for more about hang glider emergency parachutes including a link to a video of Dave Ledford’s chute deployment.

Ballistically deployed versions of the emergency parachute were developed subsequently and that technology was applied to the emerging phenomenon of powered ultralight aircraft (microlights in UK terminology) and, later, to more conventional light aircraft.


Photo of a 1970s hang glider in flight

An Electra Flyer Olympus in 1978. Photo by Mike Adkins.

A popular hang glider first produced in 1977 was the Electra Flyer Olympus.

You might be able to discern the short struts projecting from the leading edges. They supported cables, above, in front of, and below the wing, to keep those lanky leading edge tubes in shape. Together with the exposed crosstubes (and the exposed pilot) they created a large amount of drag, which the next steps in hang glider evolution set out to reduce.

Mike Adkins took this photo in July 1978 at Plaskett Creek, Los Padres National Forest, on the Pacific Highway south of San Francisco. Mike later took up paragliding and was active both as a pilot and site administrator right up to his death after a short illness in November 2009.


Photo of a 1970s hang glider in flight

Bob Dear flies the Gryphon

Bob Dear, flying the Miles Wings Gryphon in the photo, says that you had to actively fly the it all the time—you could not relax. It was, however, immensely precise and controllable as well as having unbeatable performance (in its time). Production of the Gryphon was taken over by Waspair in 1978, inventor Miles Handley being unable to keep up with demand.

Note the bowsprit and cables instead of crosstubes bracing the leading edges. Unfortunately, all those cables created much aerodynamic drag. See More developments in Britain in Hang gliding 1976 for an image of an early Gryphon and notice the several differences.

Bob Dear

Bob Dear

Bob Dear, winner of the Gray Prize for Journalism (named for hang gliding photographer Bettina Gray) led the documentation of hang gliding in this region of Britain for many years.


Art based on a hang gliding photo by Leroy Grannis

Art based on a hang gliding photo by Leroy Grannis

This image illustrates a classic hang glider design of the time, with drag-inducing, costly, time-consuming, and fault-prone deflexor systems on the leading edges. A minor design revolution (a back to the future scenario, arguably) shortly did away with them.


In Britain, the Hiway Superscorpion (said to be based on the Australian Moyes Maxi) was the most popular of the late 1970s deflexorless wings.

Hang glider flying towards the sun

Heading into the sun

Here, Gary D flies a Hiway Superscorpion at Monk’s Down in 2018, 40 years after the design was intitially manufactured. (However, this example is a Superscorpion 2 made in about 1981.)

Hang glider in flight

Eking out the lift

Birdman and Solar Wings

Hang glider launching from a hill

Roly launching from Monk’s Down in a Birdman Cherokee

Roly made the sails for my experimental hang gliders in 1975 and ’76. (See Simple versus complex and Hang gliding 1976.) He then became a full time sail-maker for a succession of leading hang glider manufacturers, including Birdman, based in Wiltshire, UK, who made the Cherokee.

Roly finishing a Cherokee sail in the Birdman loft in about August, 1979

Roly finishing a Cherokee sail in the Birdman loft in about August, 1979

Birdman took a different approach with their Cherokee in that it retained a single deflexor wire in line with the airflow. The aerodynamic drag of that cable was reckoned to be minimal and it facilitated tuning the wing as a whole (tensioning or de-tensioning both sides together using turnbuckles) and you could tune out a turn if one developed by tensioning or de-tensioning just one side.

Roly launching from Kimmeridge in a Birdman Cherokee in 1979

Roly launching from Kimmeridge in a Birdman Cherokee in 1979

In the photo of Roly launching from Kimmeridge, the view angle shows the deflexor post in line with the angle at which the sail meets the leading edge tube. Therefore, the cable was in the largely ‘dead air’ pushed along by the leading edges. (In this photo, the deflexor post obscures the forward leading edge.)

Incidentally, although it might look as though he used the flat-rigged hang glider as a launch trampoline, I am sure that is an optical illusion!

Wills Wing Alpha of about 1978

My painting of a Wills Wing Alpha of about 1978 (no larger image available)

Roly Lewis-Evans before setting out for the USA in October 1979

Roly before setting out for the USA, October 1979


While I completed a Higher National Diploma in computing in 1979 and started work as a programmer for a defence electronics company in Surrey, Roly the sailmaker traveled to California where he visited Wills Wing in Orange County. He says he wished he had worked for them, but he was offered a job at the rival manufacturer Delta Wing (founded by Australian pioneer Bill Bennett). Incidentally, while there he visited Roger Platt, formerly of Kestrel Kites, Poole, Dorset, for whom he worked as sailmaker in the mid 1970s. (Possibly because Britain did not provide opportunities for such go-ahead individuals as Roger, he emigrated to the USA.)

Art based on a photo of the Bennett Delta Wing factory at Van Nuys, California

Art based on a photo of the Bennett Delta Wing factory at Van Nuys, California, some years earlier

Meanwhile, Dave Raymond, Mark Southall, and Cliff Ingram left Birdman to set up Solar Wings, also in Wiltshire. Their first hang glider was the Storm; a deflexorless (naturally) wing with a slightly wider nose angle than the Cherokee, but otherwise it was a conventional single surface flexwing.

That left Ken Messenger, John Penry Evans, and Rita in the sail loft at Birdman. They came up with the Comanche. Like the Solar Wings Storm, the Birdman Comanche featured a wider nose angle (125°) with a flatter sail than the Cherokee. After some refinement of the flexible outer tips in the first two they made (the elliptical tip design of the example here was abandoned) the Comanche was found to have better performance than the Cherokee and the Storm. Main battens were pre-cambered aluminum at the front and flexible glass fiber at the back. Likely copying the example set by the Mouette Atlas, designed by Gerard Thevenot in France, the maximum camber point was farther forward than had been usual up to that time. There are two photos of another Comanche prototype in flight on this page of Delta Club 82. (Click the photo to display two photos in a new browser window.)

Birdman Comanche at the 1979 BHGA AGM

Birdman Comanche at the 1979 BHGA AGM

The Comanche was, as far as I know, the last Birdman hang glider. I photographed this one at the BHGA annual general meeting held at Warwick University in about March of 1979. Some months later Ken Messenger called it a day and closed down Birdman Sports.

For more about Birdman of Wiltshire, see the following:

  • Hang gliding 1974 part 1, which includes an image of Dave Raymond flying a Birdman standard Rogallo for the Ken Russell movie Tommy
  • New developments in Hang gliding 1975 part 2, which includes Birdman’s link with Ultralight Products of California
  • Developments in Britain in Hang gliding 1976, which includes several images of Firebirds in flight
  • Hang gliding 1977, which includes a note about the development of the Moonraker and the Firebird S
  • Kimmeridge Khmer Rouge, which includes Peter Robinson and Roly flying Cherokees at this once popular site in 1979
  • Cherokee in Hang gliding early 1980s part 1 for a photo of me flying one
  • Motocross in Off-road bikes, which includes a photo of Ken Messenger, 1962 South West (UK) motocross champion and founder of Birdman Sports, levitating on his bike
Roly the sailmaker during his Solar Wings days

Roly the sailmaker during his Solar Wings days

Roly’s time at Delta Wing did not work out. After three months, he returned home and joined Solar Wings, which became one of the world’s foremost hang glider manufacturers.

Notice the modified wording in the windscreen visor of Roly’s Morris 1000 and its increased wear and tear by this time, partly resulting from several trips delivering hang gliders from Britain to Spain.

For more of Solar Wings, see the following:

American revolution

Manta Fledge 2 at BHGA AGM Warwick Uni about March 1979

Manta Fledge 2

The Manta Fledge 2, here at the 1979 BHGA AGM, was an update of an early 1970s American ‘semi rigid’; a rigid hang glider made of the same materials as flexwings: Sailcloth, aluminium alloy tubing, and steel cable.

The next nearest wing in the photo is a Waspair Gryphon, designed by British genius Miles Handley. The wing behind that (not the one almost entirely hidden) looks to me like a Waspair Falcon IV, a development of the Wills Wing Superswallowtail, but with a hefty camber permanently formed into the keel tube. (The SST and its clones had a slight camber produced — as I recall — with the aid of a tensioning cable under the front part of the keel tube.)

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of a Fledge 2 at Telluraide, Colorado

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of a Fledge 2 at Telluraide, Colorado

The rigid wing Fledge 2, with its lightweight tube, cable, and fabric structure (similar to that of Rogallos) was so superior to flex-wings that it was moved into a separate category in competitions.

However, on April 1st 1979, Ultralight Products tested a new flex-wing hang glider with a double-surface sail (not unusual by then) and a carbon fiber airframe. The latter was eventually discarded in favour of conventional aluminium alloy tube, yet the combination of performance, handling, and — importantly — safety of this glider was to make it equal to the Fledge 2.

Hang glider painting detail

Detail of one of my paintings

The Owens valley, a desert created by siphoning off water for Los Angeles, is a corridor walled by barren mountains stretching from California to Nevada. By 1979, hang glider pilots from many countries went there to compete and to set records.

Butch [Peachy] had landed five miles north of the Peak where there are no roads, no trees, no lakes and no people.
Butch had a CB [citizen’s band] radio… Otherwise all-night searches and dawn helicopter rescues would have been necessary… The winds persisted and Butch spent the night on the the mountain top. Matches, and the skill to build a fire out of poor fire materials, saved him from the risk of freezing. He had brought food and water with him on his glider. At 7:00 a.m. the following morning, Butch had a beautiful serene flight to the valley.

— George Worthington writing in Hang Gliding, September 1979

Internal links

Flying squad, a short history of the east coast U.S. hang glider manufacturer Sky Sports

Hang gliding early 1980s

Skyhook Sailwings: History of the UK hang glider and powered ultralight manufacturer

External link

Ken Messenger, of early British hang glider manufacturer Birdman, in British Hang Gliding History. It includes Ken’s link with farmer, balloonist, and airship pilot David Liddiard (not to be confused with hang gliding photographer Don Liddard) of Newbury, Berkshire, whose autobiography I acquired when I worked in nearby Hungerford…

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