Hang gliding 1978 and 1979


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Hang gliding 1978 and 1979

This page follows Hang gliding 1977.

Photo of a 1970s hang glider pilot wearing 'flap chaps'

Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

‘Flap chaps’ (see the translucent triangle of fabric stretched between the pilot’s legs) helped you obtain a steeper glide on your final approach to landing. However, they did nothing to correct the cowboy image of hang gliding in the 1970s. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Bill Armstrong of Edward's Canyon, 1978

Bill Armstrong of Edward’s Canyon

While southern England was brought to a standstill by record snowfalls in early 1978, in southern California, Bill Armstrong flew a hang glider for 11 hours at Elsinore. Armstrong, 29, gave up a job with the San Diego Police Department, sold up, and set about promoting hang gliding full time. On March 16th, 1978, he launched above Edward’s Canyon at 06:00 in a wing borrowed from the Ultralight Products factory and soared the ridge in company of up to 30 other hang gliders, landing at 17:02.

Art based on a photo by Aerial Techniques of Dennis Pagen on landing approach

Art based on a photo by Aerial Techniques of Dennis Pagen on landing approach

Dennis Pagen, a prolific author of hang gliding technical articles and books, was U.S. champion in 1978 flying a Sky Sports Sirocco II, which he partly designed.

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 Lookout Mountain I think). He was unhurt and his glider, a Moyes Mega II (with crosstube fairings, by the look of it) was largely undamaged. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

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.

See Dangers of hang gliding for more about hang glider emergency parachutes.


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 late 1970s hang glider

Ultralight Products Condor. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

The Ultralight Products Condor was a similar wing popular in the USA.


Photo of astronaut Wally Schirra with hang glider pilots at Torrey Pines

Astronaut Wally Schirra (in tie) with hang glider pilots at Torrey Pines. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Here, Burke Ewing, Wally Schirra, and W.A. ‘Pork’ Roecker are photographed at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in the late 1970s. Ewing was an early hang gliding film maker. (He was still flying hang gliders in 2018.) Schirra was an astronaut in projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Roecker was a professor of creative writing in southern California and a regular pilot at southern California hang gliding sites.

Art based omn a photo by Don Apodaca of Chuck Logan of Moran, Wyoming, at John Ballantyne’s hang glider store in El Segundo, California, in 1978

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of a sub-optimal final approach at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina


Art based on a photo by  LeeAnn Hawkins of three hang gliders flying above one another

Art based on a photo by LeeAnn Hawkins of three hang gliders flying above one another

The lowest of the three hang gliders here is flown by Lauren Emerson, who wrote a two-year column in Hang Gliding magazine titled Bird’s Eye View, which presented a female insider’s perspective. The middle glider is a Bennett Mariah with a retrofitted tailplane. When the Mariah’s battens were changed to a material with different flexing properties, the glider became pitch divergent.

Art based on a photo by Hugh Morton of a Moyes Maxi launching at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

Art based on a photo by Hugh Morton of a Moyes Maxi launching at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

Art based on a photo be Daniel Brown of Don Potter at Carson Hill, California in 1979

Art based on a photo by Daniel Brown of Don Potter at Carson Hill, California in 1979

In the preceding image, Don Potter, a forester by trade, rigs his Olympus on Carson Hill where, during the first half of the 1800s, a 195 pound gold nugget was found.

Art based on a photo by Michael Pringle of  Ken DeRussy launching an Ultralight Products Mosquito at Wilcox Beach, Santa Barbara

Art based on a photo by Michael Pringle of Ken De Russy launching an Ultralight Products Mosquito at Wilcox Beach, Santa Barbara

In 2012, long time instructor Ken De Russy sent me several American hang gliding magazines and books pre-dating my own collection. They provided much information I drew on for these pages.

The UP Mosquito was unique in its combination of forward-canted king post, triangular tip fins, and heavily bowed leading edges.


Art based on a photo by Jim Steil of hang gliding near Moscow in 1979

Art based on a photo by Jim Steil of hang gliding near Moscow in 1979

From the Krilatskoya hills one can look back into Moscow on a clear day and see some of the buildings not far from the Kremlin.

— Jim Steil writing in Hang Gliding, September 1979


Hang gliding associations in several countries created structural and pitch stability test rigs. They included the Hang Glider Manufacturers Association in the USA, the Gutesiegel in Germany, and the British Hang Gliding Association.

Art based on a photo by Tom Price of hang glider structural testing in 1979

Art based on a photo by Tom Price of hang glider structural testing in 1979


Art based on a photo via Michael Schonherr of the Gutesiegel structural test rig of 1980

Art based on a photo via Michael Schonherr of the Gutesiegel structural test rig of 1980

I don’t know of anyone, inside or outside of the hang gliding industry, who is capable of doing an accurate structural analysis of a flex wing hang glider; the loading situations are far too complex and varied.

— Mike Meier of Wills Wing writing in Hang Gliding, June 1983, to explain why rigorous testing is required


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.


A manufacturer in the USA (Electra Flyer of New Mexico, I think) discovered by accident that their novice level glider without deflexor wires bracing the leading edges outperformed their more advanced wings. Realizing that deflexors caused too much drag, hang glider manufacturers then changed to stronger leading edge tubes instead. In Britain, the Hiway Superscorpion (said to be based on the Australian Moyes Maxi) was the most popular of that generation of 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

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

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, former US Navy pilot who became a world record hang glider pilot in his fifties and sixties, writing in Hang Gliding, September 1979

Internal links

Hang gliding early 1980s

Mid-day lightning in Vermont, my review of the documentary film 1978 Pico Peak International Hang Gliding Meet by Francis Freedland

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