Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 1


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Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 1

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 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 taught creative writing and English at the universities of Oregon and Arizona and was 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


Art based on a photo by Randy Bergum of Chuck Rhodes flying a Mitchell Wing at Marshall Peak, San Bernardino, California

Art based on a photo by Randy Bergum of Chuck Rhodes flying a Mitchell Wing at Marshall Peak, San Bernardino, California

The Mitchell Wing was, like Volmer Jensen’s VJ-23 and VJ-24, a rigid hang glider that required a trailer to transport it. Unlike the VJ-23 and VJ-24, it was a tail-less glider in which aerodynamic stability is built into the wing, as is the case with most flex-wing (Rogallo) hang gliders. Roll and yaw control was provided by tip rudders (much as with the ‘semi rigid’ Fledgling) while pitch control was by pilot weight shift.

George Worthington, a former US Navy pilot, became a world distance record-holding hang glider pilot in his fifties and sixties flying a Mitchell Wing as well as flying flex-wing hang gliders in the Owens valley.


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


Art based on a photo by Seedwings of one of their Sensor series of refined flex wing hang gliders

Art based on a photo by Seedwings of one of their Sensor series of refined flex wing hang gliders

Bob Trampenau founded Seedwings of Santa Barbara, California, in the 1970s. It is a separate entity from the manufacturer of the same name in Europe.

A manufacturer in the USA discovered by accident that their novice level glider without deflexor wires bracing the leading edges outperformed their more advanced wings. (I am not sure whether Electra Flyer of New Mexico or Wills Wing of California was first with that discovery.) Realizing that deflexors caused too much drag, hang glider manufacturers then changed to stronger leading edge tubes instead. Wills Wing, just one of the several hang glider manufacturers based in California, replaced their three production hang glider types, the Omega, Omni, and Alpha, by a single defelexorless design; the Raven.

Art based on a photo by instructor Greg DeWolf of fellow instructor Erik Fair flaring a Wills Wing Raven

Art based on a photo by instructor Greg DeWolf of fellow instructor Erik Fair flaring a Wills Wing Raven

Erik Fair, shown here demonstrating correct landing flare technique in a Wills Wing Raven, wrote an entertaining and instructive book titled Right Stuff for Hang Glider Pilots.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of hang glider designer Dick Boone rigging at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of hang glider designer Dick Boone rigging at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Cmdr Levy flying an Eipper Antares at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Cmdr Levy flying an Eipper Antares at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Jon Lindberg flying an Electra Flyer Olympus at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Jon Lindberg flying an Electra Flyer Olympus at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of hang glider pilots at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of hang glider pilots at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

If you were going to stay on the cutting edge, if you were going to be competitive, if you were going to venture into those unflown spaces, you took those risks. A lot of good pilots and nice people paid for that with their lives. And that is probably the greatest sorrow that I carry.

— W.A. Roeker speaking in the documentary Big Blue Sky, 2008, by Bill Liscomb. Here is that part of the film on YouTube.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of hang glider pilot, poet, teacher of English, and author W.A. Roecker at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of hang glider pilot, poet, teacher of English, and author W.A. Roecker at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of retired U.S. Navy pilot George Worthington landing at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of retired U.S. Navy pilot George Worthington landing at Torrey Pines, San Diego, in 1979

Art based on a photo by Gene Emory from Stockton, California, of ground to air refuelling at Salt Creek, California

Art based on a photo by Gene Emory from Stockton, California, of ground to air refuelling at Salt Creek, California

Internal links

Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2

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

2 Responses to Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 1

  1. Thanks for this well organized collection of hang gliding history.

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