Hang gliding early 1980s


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Hang gliding early 1980s

Hang gliders: Birdman Cherokee 170, Cunion Crossbow (experimental) and modified Birdman Moonraker 78
Harness: 1970s stirrup harness
Camera: 110-format compact film

This page follows Hang gliding 1978 and 1979 part 2.

In 1980, having obtained an HND in computing and started work as a computer programmer for a large defence electronics company, I saved up enough money to buy my first car. Previously, my flying was restricted to (in the mid 1970s) my local hill (within walking distance) and by obtaining lifts from other hang glider pilots.

Cherokee

Aerial photo of hang gliding at the Devil's Dyke in 1980

The Devil’s Dyke is a few miles north of Brighton, Sussex, England.

I took this photo with a 110-format camera taped to a downtube of my Birdman Cherokee in 1980. I digitized it by using a digital camera to photograph the print.


Photo of a 1980 hang glider

The Gannett, flown here by its designer Bob England in 1980, was successor of the 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 very heavy Irish customer. He 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


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.

Those sailcloth crosstube fairings contained short battens, one each side, to eliminate flutter. However, the little battens were not well secured and on one occasion at 3000 ft above the Devil’s Dyke (a few miles north of Brighton, England) a sound like ripping fabric caught my attention. (As you might imagine. Incidentally, the red container you might discern on the harness at chest level contains an emergency parachute.) As the sound continued and the glider continued to fly normally, I realised one of the crosstube fairing battens had come loose.


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.) His most successful hang glider was the Offpiste Discovery, which in 1995 pioneered a reversal of the trend towards greater weight, complexity, and cost in hang gliding. The Discovery is almost as quick to rig as a paraglider.

Ian Grayland flying the Southdown Sailwings 12 metre Sigma in 1980

Ian Grayland flying the Southdown Sailwings 12 metre Sigma in 1980

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.

Bill Pain flying the Pelican in 1980

Bill Pain’s Pelican in colour


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

See Don Liddard’s photos on flickr.


Experimental hang glider launching

Launching in one of my experimental hang gliders

During the winter of 1979 to 1980 I returned to designing and building experimental hang gliders, with this canard wing. However, as with my earlier creations, I found it was not as good as the state of the art. I believe that Skyhook had a similar experience with their earlier canard hang glider.

1977 Skyhook Canard. Copyright © 2001 Len Gabriels.

1977 Skyhook Canard. Copyright © 2001 Len Gabriels.

The canard configuration (which places the tailplane ahead of the main wing) prevents the main wing from stalling. Unfortunately, its disadvantages outweigh that safety feature, at least in hang gliding.


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 did 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 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.


Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of Chuck Yeager and Dave Stanfield at Telluride, Colorado, in 1980

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of Chuck Yeager and Dave Stanfield at Telluride, Colorado, in 1980

World War 2 fighter ace Chuck Yeager was first to break the sound barrier. He did so in the Bell X-1 rocket plane in 1947. In 1980 he flew dual in a hang glider with Jack Carey from Gold Hill, Telluride.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of a hang glider dropping ballast (sand) at the Southern California regionals in 1980

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of an Ultralight Products Comet dropping ballast (sand) at the Southern California regionals in 1980


Art based on a photo by A.J. Kulhavy of John Duffy and Ian Huss after a mid-air collision in 1984

Art based on a photo by A.J. Kulhavy of John Duffy and Ian Huss after a mid-air collision in 1984 (no larger image available)

Ian Huss was soon to become a member of a team that completed an extraordinary hang gliding adventure that gained positive publicity and resulted in a some historic and/or spectacular photographs.


See Dangers of hang gliding.

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Chris Arai's wing after hitting a fence short of Janie's Ranch in the Owens valley

Art based on a photo by Bettina Gray of Chris Arai’s wing after hitting a fence short of Janie’s Ranch in the Owens valley


Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of north Vancouver from Sean Dever's Wills Wing Raven

Art based on a photo by Leroy Grannis of north Vancouver from Sean Dever’s Wills Wing Raven flying from Grouse Mountain

Art based of a photo of Leroy Grannis and Herb Fenner at Torrey Pines, San Diego

Art based of a photo of Leroy Grannis and Herb Fenner at Torrey Pines, San Diego

As well as taking photos from the ground, Leroy Grannis took to the air with his camera on occasion.

Torrey Pines is a hang gliding site inside San Diego city limits. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography pier is visible in the image.


Fly Navy

From my desk diary, Tuesday, March 30th, 1982:

R.N. Air Medical School.
07:50 a.m.

Seafield Park,
Hillhead,
Fareham,
Hants

The event was a disorientation and decompression course organized by the BHGA and run by the Royal Navy School of Aviation Medicine at a mansion requisitioned during World War 2. A large and very old multi arch bridge signified entering the Portsmouth area, but I was so disoriented navigating and driving, that I arrived late. As a result, I missed the disorientation exercise, at which (I heard later) Judy L excelled.

My most clear memory of the place is of beautiful Wrens in uniform (with high heels) standing and walking around the veranda carrying clipboards. (Wrens — WRNS — Women’s Royal Naval Service.) I could scarcely imagine that, ten years later, the nearest thing I ever had to a proper girl friend was a Wren. (She might even have been one of those there that day! It did not occur to me to ask.) I digress…

Arrial view of Royal Navy School of Aviation Medicine at Seafield Park

Seafield Park at an earlier time (no larger image available)

In the decompression chamber, one guy had to be let out through the air lock because of ear pain. A common problem where the ear is blocked with wax (as far as I recall). With the trainees in pairs sat next to each other, at an air pressure equivalent to (I think) 20000 ft, one of each pair removed his (or her) oxygen mask and carried out a simple repetitive exercise, while his buddy watched for signs of distress in case putting the other’s oxygen mask on for him was called for.

With my oxygen mask off, my task was to write out my name over and over. My signature definitely became scrawly near the bottom of the page. An older pilot, whose task was patting his knees and clapping hands alternately, started missing in the latter. It was like something in a film. One guy had to fit plastic shapes inside a hollow plastic sphere with matching shaped holes, which he did until he started struggling to fit a rectangular block through the circular hole.

Sea Harriers shortly before war broke out in the south Atlantic

Sea Harriers shortly before war broke out in the south Atlantic

The exercises over, we watched a US Air Force film about disorientation, featuring F-100s flown by pilots in silver flying suits. It is a serious danger in hang gliding in the event of being ‘whited out’ by cloud suck. Unlike F-100s and most other conventional aircraft, hang gliders are not equipped with ‘blind flying’ instruments.

Johnny C mentioned the recent television series Fighter Pilots, about selection and training of RAF aircrew. (Rhod S, best man at the wedding of two of my hang gliding friends, was thrown off the course in about the second episode, although he passed subsequently.) Johnny asked the instructor how us hangies might fare in such a process. I think his words were “If there was another war, god forbid, and we were called up…” The navy flight surgeon and his comrades all agreed emphatically that we could not possibly be any worse than those guys! (Did Johnny know something the rest of us did not?)

Then a British film, narrated by a well-known television news reader, about how easy it was to convert from conventional aircraft to the vertical take off Harrier. (Most Harrier pilots impart the opposite impression!)

Three days later, Argentine forces invaded UK-owned islands in the south Atlantic and Britain was at war.

I was given a quick brief on deck operations and pointed at XZ 450, the Sea Eagle missile trials aircraft that had been hurriedly retrieved from British Aerospace at Dunsfold. It had no radar warning receiver and had been fitted with the Sea Eagle launch panel… Along the coast from Lee [on Solent] was Seafield Park, a minor country house on the beach appropriated by the navy during the war, which still housed the School of Naval Aviation Medicine.

— from Hostile Skies by David Morgan, who flew by Seafield Park on his way to the Falklands War just a few days afterwards. That lack of a radar warning receiver was at least partly responsible for it being shot down early on in the war. See South Atlantic Star, my review of Hostile Skies.


Art for art’s sake

Art based on a photo by Susan C. Andrews of California of a hang glider flying over surf

Art based on a photo by Susan C. Andrews of California


Photo of a dual hang glider launching about 1980

Dual hang glider launch about 1980. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

I based one of my hang glider paintings on this photo. Reprinted courtesy of Ultralight Flying! magazine.

Everard Cunion with modified Birdman Moonraker 78 in 1983

My modified Moonraker 78 in 1983

I had sold the Cherokee to finance my experimental canard hang glider, but I bought a Moonraker 78, an earlier design, to fly in the meantime. (I modified it.) In 1983, I was still short of money, so I continued to fly the modified Moonraker 78, in which I had sustained a crushed vertebra a few years before.

Adam Jefferson flying in April 1983

Adam Jefferson flying in April 1983

I took the photo of Adam Jefferson flying at Monk’s Down in April 1983. He was killed at Ringstead later in the year.

Art based on a photo by Hugh Morton of Australian Steve Moyes above the 'mile high swinging bridge' at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

Art based on a photo by Hugh Morton of Australian Steve Moyes above the ‘mile high swinging bridge’ at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

Aquila drawings by Bob Rouse

Aquila drawings by Bob Rouse

In an extraordinary contribution to the hang gliding world, Bob Rouse combined sculpture with serious research into low-speed flight. The accompanying images are based on some in his book Selected Works 1982 to 1998.

Art based on a photo by Bob Rouse of his early Aquila

Art based on a photo by Bob Rouse of his early Aquila

Art based on a photo of Bob Rouse launching in his Aquila in 1982

Art based on a photo of Bob Rouse launching in his Aquila in 1982

The photo on which this image is based was the December 1983 hang gliding calendar photo. Hang gliding’s principal technical author Dennis Pagen devoted one of his series titled Hang Gliding Design considerations to bob Rouse’s Aquila. Aquila is Latin for eagle, apparently.

“Selected Works of Bob Rouse,1982-1997.” Not sure what I had in my hands at first, I became more and more amazed at the scope of what I was viewing. This 90-page book is literally a work of 15 years that starts with Bob’s early store-bought gliders, a Leaf Talon and a Phoenix Mariah. That’s when he began his own tinkering, joining parts of a Seagull IV with the Talon and the Phoenix to make an original glider.

— Dan Johnson, November 1998 (see link farther down)

While these are not even remotely intended to be marketable aircraft, Bob does actually build AND FLY! these gliders. Though I’m no designer and have no ambitions of replicating any of Rouse’s work, I nonetheless found his new volume to be of intense interest… although this is quite clearly art, and not everyone agrees that a given type of art is appealing.

— Dan Johnson, February 2000 (see link farther down)

Internal links

Hang gliding mid 1980s

Skyhook Sailwings, a short history of the early hang glider and powered ultralight manufacturer based in the north of England

External links

Product Lines – November 1998 by Dan Johnson, including an overview of “Selected Works of Bob Rouse, 1982-1997

Product Lines – February 00 by Dan Johnson, including an overview of Bob’s 119-page, 8.5 x 11 book (with many fold-out pages of larger dimension)

Bill Pain’s response to Hang gliding early 1980s

[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).

Cheers,
Everard

2 Responses to Hang gliding early 1980s

  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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