Hang gliding early 1980s part 1

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Hang gliding early 1980s part 1

This page follows Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2.

Photo of a 1980 hang glider

The Gannet, flown here by its designer Bob England in 1980

The Gannet was successor of the Gryphon. See my threads page Miles Wings Gulp and Gryphon.

Bob England went on to create the Hiway Demon, after which he moved to the USA and created the Bennett Streak. I read that he was killed about the turn of the century flying a paraglider at Torrey Pines.

Art based on a photo by Seaphot of Bob England flying the Gannet

Art based on a photo by Seaphot of Bob England flying the Gannet

Bob England photo by John Zurlinden in 1982 or 83

Bob England photo by John Zurlinden in 1982 or 83

I worked with him at Hiway in their South Wales factory for a short time. We made an extra large Demon as I remember, for a heavy customer. Bob drew out the sail and I did all the machining. They then got me to test fly it on a trike. Think someone flew it before my flight, but remember it was getting late. They had a short strip outside their Tredegar factory. Anyway got pretty high and remember cruising around for ages.
Happy days.

— Roly the sailmaker in e-mail correspondence, May 2019

Hiway of Tredegar, south Wales, was by this time the largest hang glider manufacturer in Europe. (Their move from Brighton in Sussex in the 1970s was funded by government grants.) After Hiway co-founder Steve Hunt started his own powered ultralight manufacturing business, co-founder John Ievers brought in Miles Handley, Bob England, Bill Pain, and Keith Cockroft to drive further developments. They came up with the the Alien, a flex-wing, and the Explorer, a collapsible rigid. Both of them failed to reach production and Hiway Hang Gliders ceased trading in March 1983, at least in the form of a company with large premises and consequent ‘overhead’ costs.

Upon Hiway’s closure, La Mouette of France, led by Gerard Thevenot, immediately became Europe’s largest hang glider manufacturer. (Sources: Stan Abbot article about Miles Handley in Wings magazine, December 1982 and report on Hiway’s demise in Wings, March 1983.)

See my threads page Hiway of Sussex, England, and Abergavenny, Wales.


Birdman Cherokee hang glider

Flying the Birdman Cherokee

The crosstube fairings (made by a different manufacturer as an add-on) were intended to reduce drag and possibly even provide a small amount of extra lift. However, I suspect their main effect was aesthetic.

Technical: Birdman’s idea of opening like an umbrella was a bridge too far, in my view. Rigging mine at Beachy Head, the wind caught it before I secured the crosstube centre box to the keel with wingnuts. The wind lifted the wing from the crosstube centre and broke the crosstubes (or crushed the ends maybe). I guess I was trying to ‘buy in’ to the umbrella idea, leaving the nose wires attached so the thing stood up on the control frame when I pushed the centre box back, spreading the wings at the same time. (It was a while ago and I don’t recall exactly.) What I do remember was the more than 40 GBP repair bill, but I upgraded to newly devised plug-in crosstube ends.

Technical (continued): After the repair and modification, each crosstube was ‘cut through’ about 18 inches short of the leading edge. (Each crosstube was made in two parts is what I mean.) A sliding sleeve joined the two parts with a spring-button thing, so it was completely secure. You left the centre box fully attached at all times, the wing nuts (butterfly nuts) being replaced by self locking nuts.

See my threads page Birdman of Wiltshire, England.

Roly with a Solar Wings Storm in his back garden, 1980

Roly with a Solar Wings Storm in his back garden, 1980

By this time, Roly had returned from the USA and was working for Solar Wings, based in Wiltshire.

Technical: The fixed exposed strut in the photo is an anti-dive strut. It plugs into the leading edge tube. (The two tubes are connected with a bungee and cable inside.) With the glider at rest on the ground, as here, the slack sail rests against the end of the tube. In contrast, in normal flight, during which the sail is inflated by the airflow, the wing tip rides clear of the strut. However, in an extreme nose-down pitch rotation, which could happen in severe turbulence where the airflow is parallel to the wing or even blowing down on it, the dive struts hold the wing tips up, where they act as up-elevators (they are behind the centre of mass) providing a countering nose-up pitch force.

Roly launching in a Solar Wings Storm hang glider from Weymouth White Horse

Roly launching in a Storm from Weymouth White Horse

See my threads page Solar Wings of Wiltshire, England.

South downs

Photo of a 1980 prototype hang glider

The Pelican of 1980 was designed and built by Bill Pain.

Bill Pain continued with hang glider design after the Pelican. (Indeed, in 2010 he was in Australia flight testing another prototype.)

The bowsprit configuration looked set to become the norm, at least for high performance hang gliders, foremost among which in late 1979 and early 1980 was the Southdown Sailwings Sigma, built near Brighton on the Sussex coast of England. However, in the USA, a refinement of an older innovation had been developed, which was to reverse that trend.

Also in the USA in 1980, Bill Lemen flew a hang glider at Torrey Pines, San Diego, for 12 hours and 12 minutes. Such stunts were no longer regarded as official records.

Art based on a photo by Don Liddard of Bill Pain flying a Vulturelite Emu in January 1981

See my threads page Southdown Sailwings, Vulturelite, and Aerial Arts of Sussex, England.


UP Arrow by Bettina Gray

UP Arrow photo by Bettina Gray reprinted courtesy Glider Rider magazine

Eric Raymond developed the Arrow, a conventional glider with three-axis controls, but made out of hang glider materials and fittings, for Ultralight Products. (See my threads page Ultralight Products of California and Utah.)

Lightnings, Comet clones and pod people

The double-surface revolution came with the Comet in 1980, and all the new gliders started looking alike as wild innovation gave way to steady improvement.

— Mark Sawyer *

Hang glider painting detail

Detail of one of my paintings of an Ultralight Products Comet

The Ultralight Products Comet of 1980, designed by Roy Haggard, was the first really successful double-surface flex-wing hang glider, where a battened undersurface (not visible from this aspect) encloses the crosstubes. Prior to the Comet, no flex-wing could compete with the popular Fledgling 2 rigid wing. Modern flexwing hang gliders fly better than the Comet, but they look similar.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Comet designer Roy Haggard and Ultralight Products boss Pete Brock in the Owens Valley

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Comet designer Roy Haggard and Ultralight Products boss Pete Brock in the Owens Valley

Roy Haggard, Pete Brock, Mike Quinn, and Gene Blythe were principal contributors to this minor revolution. (Source: Roy Haggard letter in Hang Gliding July 1993.) “The Comet was the first glider in which the cross spar was restrained aft with a cable that allowed the sail force to position the cross spar vertically.” That accomplished two things:

  • It nested the cross spar neatly between the upper and lower surfaces to provide an uncompromised airfoil section.
  • It greatly improved the pitch stability by allowing the entire root section airfoil to reflex at low angles of attack. (The center of the cross spar would move down nearly a foot and rest on the keel.)
Art based on a photo of Pete Brock's VW van fitted with a big engine and welded roof bars

Art based on a photo of Pete Brock’s VW van

Pete Brock was an automotive designer before (and after) he ran Ultralight Products. He fitted his Volkswagen van with a big engine and welded aerodynamic roof bars, all integrated into the structure for adequate strength. In a documentary video by Jay Leno’s Garage (linked in my UP threads page) he says that the success of his team in competitions in the Owens Valley partly resulted from this vehicle, which could carry pilots, hang gliders, and their gear up the steep and rugged fire tracks without overheating.

See my threads page Ultralight Products of California and Utah.

Ironically, the first successful British double-surface flexwing hang glider, the Southdown Sailwaings Lightning, while possibly inspired by the UP Comet, was not a Comet clone, as the following photos illustrate.

Roly the sailmaker readying to launch in a Southdown Sailwings Lightning from a mountain-side just outside Valls in Catalonia, Spain

Roly the sailmaker readying to launch in a Southdown Sailwings Lightning from a mountain-side just outside Valls in Catalonia, Spain

Note the rearward raked king post and integral fin. The sail planform is also markedly different from that of the Comet. In addition, the Lightning had no stand-up keel pocket. When its designer Ian Grayland brought the prototype to Mill Hill, near Shoreham in Sussex, I was so astonished at its retrograde appearance (narrow nose angle, short span, broad chord and crosstubes instead of a bowsprit — although those crosstubes were hidden inside the double surface sail) I said, “What’s the idea behind this then?”

“Less drag.” :/

On a Sunday in December 1980, soaring conditions prevailed at the Devil’s Dyke, a north-facing ridge north of Brighton on the Sussex coast, and a race was held. Johnny Carr won it flying a Fledge 2 rigid wing, but the Lightning was close behind. Results:

  1. Manta Fledge 2 — rigid wing
  2. Southdown Sailwings Lightning — double-surface flex-wing
  3. Solar Wings Typhoon — double-surface flex-wing
  4. Another Lightning
  5. Hiway Demon — double-surface flex-wing
  6. Moyes Mega 2 — high performing single surface flex-wing
  7. Waspair Gryphon — high performing single surface flex-wing

Only the Ultralight Products Comet itself was missing from the race, but other flying days had proven it to be about equal to the Lightning, Typhoon, and Demon. (Source: The Great Clone Race by Tony Fuell, Wings magazine, January 1981.)

The incoming wind was strong and quartering the rather gradual ridge face, creating a minimum of rather trashy and turbulent lift. Here, Haddon’s Comet displayed a clear-cut advantage. Its turn radius was tighter, and the Virginia pilot was able to scratch and pass the Fledge…

— James Hall, Comet Vs Fledge — a Shoot-Out, describing world champions Rex Miller and Tom Haddon flying a one-on-one race at Ellenville, in Glider Rider, November 1980

Roly flying a Southdown Sailwings Lightning with a trike power unit

Roly flying a Southdown Sailwings Lightning with a trike power unit

Roly tells me that he still (in 2019) has this Lightning stored in his shed.

See my threads page Southdown Sailwings, Vulturelite, and Aerial Arts of Sussex, England.

Several pilots on the South Downs (Sussex) in 1980 used the speed of the Southdown Sailwings Sigma in a dive to pull up and over in a loop. It scared the bejeezus out of me watching these stunts. Then, one day, Joe 90 (as we called most pilots who wore spectacles, although this guy always flew with a tape player and earphones for music as well — the Battle of Britain movie theme tune for all I know) flying a Lightning at the Devil’s Dyke stabilized upside-down and rode it all the way down. (No idea why he did not deploy his parachute.) Amazingly, he was unhurt. The cause, he said (as I recall) was the different roll handling of the Lightning compared to the Sigma, which prevented him from turning the loop into a wang when he realized that he did not have adequate speed.

Here is a quote from the anonymous Ann Landings column in Hang Gliding, June 1980. (It immediately precedes Lauren Emerson’s Birds Eye View in the mag.) I hope its author does not mind me reproducing it here:

How about them glider loopers,
Ain’t they a sight?
Looping them gliders
Mornin’ and night.
Loopin’ them high ones,
Loopin’ them low,
Goin’ in fast
And comin’ out slow.
Loopin’ in the blue sky,
Pink smoke tralinin’,
Hopin’ them wing tubes
Won’t be failin.’
Wanna be a glider looper?
Ain’t nothin’ to it;
Just grab hold of your brain
And unscrew it.

Mega and Harrier

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Joe Greblo flying a Moyes Mega at Ellenville

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Joe Greblo flying a Moyes Mega at Ellenville

The Moyes Mega was one of the last single surface flex-wings (with exposed cross-tubes) to be competitive after the release of the Ultralight Products Comet.

Art based on a photo of a Wills Wing Harrier

Art based on a photo of a Wills Wing Harrier

Wills Wing did not, at first, jump on the double surface (enclosed cross-tubes) bandwagon. Instead, they refined the single surface hang glider, which resulted in the Harrier of 1980. It reputedly handled better than the Comet while having almost as flat a glide when flown fast (to get from one thermal to the next). Nevertheless, in November 1980 Wills Wing started development on an enclosed cross-tube design, which they did not release until more than a year later.

See my threads page Sport Kites/Wills Wing of California.

This topic continues in Hang gliding early 1980s part 2.

External link

Don Liddard’s photos on flickr


Mark Sawyer, The History of Hang Gliding; a Personal View of a Collective Experience in Sky Adventures, Legends and stories About the Early Days of Hang Gliding and Paragliding edited by Jim (Sky Dog) Palmieri and Maggie Palmieri, 1998

Bill Pain’s feedback to Hang gliding early 1980s part 1

[I copied this from the actual feedback, which, because I split the original page, ended up on the wrong page.]

Bill Pain says:
July 5, 2010 at 10:16 am

Hi Everard. Stumbled accross your web site. Thoroughly enjoyed. Could not help noticing the pic of me flying the Pelican. I have nothing from that era and would love a copy. It was a lovely glider to fly incidently.
I am still working on hang glider designs as well as flying sail planes. Living in Australia now. All the best Bill.

everardcunion says:
July 5, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Hi Bill,

The Pelican sure was a good-looking wing. Glad to hear that you are still designing the things.

I will send you a bigger copy of the photo (without my copyright mark on it).


2 Responses to Hang gliding early 1980s part 1

  1. Scott Whittet 214 223 1859 says:

    In the early 1980s, I purchased an Electra Flyer Spirit glider that had been tree landed, repaired it and we had some excellent flights on it at Buffalo Mtn., Okalahoma and early test flights with center of mass vehicle static tow launches in Dallas , Texas. The Spirit was easy to coordinate turns, launch and land compared to our truncated tip Albatross Sailwings and pointed tip Wills and Sunbird kites. I think the Spirit was a design project of both Kieth Nichols of Albatross and Larry Newman of Electra Flyer. Also I read somewhere that Australian Bill Pain manufactured under license the Spirit. Does anyone have some history on the design evolution and characteristics of flight? The performance and launch and landing seemed to represent a combination that could have been good enough for most typical hang glider pilots!
    Scott Whittet USHGA # 7473

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