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.

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.

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.


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

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. 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.

Birdman of Wiltshire 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 a Birdman Cherokee hang glider at Kimmeridge in Dorset, England

Roly launching from Kimmeridge in a Birdman Cherokee

The photo of Roly launching from Kimmeridge is scanned from a faded print, but 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!


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. Solar Wings had by then started in direct competition with Birdman. I photographed this one at the BHGA annual general meeting held at Warwick University in about March of 1979.

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 ‘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. 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 (Rogallo) hang glider with a double-surface sail (not unusual) 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

Art based on a hang gliding photo by Leroy Grannis

Art based on a hang gliding photo by Leroy Grannis

Internal links

Hang gliding early 1980s

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