Hang gliding 1994 and 1995
Hang gliders: Airwave 166 Magic 4 and Ultralight Products TRX 160
Harness: Modified and strengthened 1970s stirrup harness
In-flight camera: Ricoh FF-9 compact 35mm film
This page follows Hang gliding 1990 to 1993 part 2.
In 1994 and 1995, I flew in France, Switzerland, Wales, and Spain.
Accroches-toi a ton reve
That subtitle is a line from Hold On Tight by the Electric Light Orchestra, 1981. It is ‘Hold on tight to your dream’ in French. It is similar to the signs on the larger launch ramps in the Annecy region warning you to check that you are clipped in to your wing.
The ramp at St. Hilaire is more of a platform on the edge of the world than a ramp. Launching there is the most frightening thing I have ever done.
Gordo and I emerged from the van near the rigging area at St. Hilaire in Apollo 11 fashion. Holding your nose to sound more attenuated: “I’m gonna step off the Lem now… That’s one small step for man [crackle, pause] one giant leap for mankind. [Crackle, hiss, crackle]” And I then bounded along in sort of slow motion, somehow contriving to lean backwards to slow down as though I had the massive PLSS on my back and kicking up a storm of dust in the process. The girl friend of one of the hang glider pilots there was in hysterics. Later, she was in tears as we readied to dive off the platform on the edge of the world: The famous St. Hilaire ramp.
This photo is from a flight starting in France, although much of the land below and the field in which I landed is across the border in Switzerland.
The 1988 Airwave Magic 4 was so good as an all-round performance hang glider that I continued to fly it until I bought an Aeros Discus in 2003.
Local pilots said that the summer of 1994 provided the worst flying conditions for years. However, for those of us used to flying in Britain, it was spectacular!
The Col de Forclaz includes an area near launch known as the washing machine. It often became crowded with hang gliders during sink cycles because, although it was turbulent, it provided good lift.
On one occasion when I crossed the lake to reach the camp-site landing field, I noticed a light airplane coming towards me, somewhat lower. It was a low-wing type with a big bubble-type canopy and, as it passed underneath me, maybe 50 feet below, I noticed that the pilot was looking dead ahead. I suspect he did not even see me.
Few know how difficult it is for one aircraft to see another aircraft in flight, despite Hollywood’s insistence that an eagle-eyed hero can spot his prey miles away. In real life, aircraft routinely pass within yards of one another with no one being the wiser.
— from A Lonely Kind of War by Marshall Harrison, 1989
On most flights, eventually I found myself flying with no other hang gliders in sight. Then, arriving overhead the landing field, half a dozen hang gliders appeared; all trying to land at the same time.
The blue wing to my left here is a Skyhook single surface glider flown by Paula E, whose husband John E. was also there flying an Airwave Calypso (PacAir Vision Mark 4) if I recall right.
I don’t have a photo of John E., but here is Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin arriving at Kennedy’s Flight Crew Training Building, on July 9, 1969. John and Buzz look alike. Image from My Other Ride Is a Spaceship in Air & Space magazine.
In early 1995 I bought a pre-owned Ultralight Products TRX 160. Its airframe is mostly carbon fiber tube. Only the keel tube, control frame base tube, and battens are metal. Even the king post and downtubes are airfoil carbon tubes.
Nevertheless, it is about as heavy as the Airwave Magic IV and much more difficult to rig.
My first outing with it was in the spring of 1995 on a group camping trip to Rhossili, a west-facing hill on the coast of south Wales.
I made my first prone launch here. The wind was strong and smooth. After the hang check, while I was still prone in the harness, the pilot on my front wires eased his downward pull, letting the wind lift both the glider and me. When all was stable and he was holding the wires with little or no pressure, I called for release, whereupon he ducked out of the way as I flew forward and upwards.
The Sandia Cassic was based at Sandia, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and flying was cleared to 23000 feet; well above the normal limit in the USA of 18000 feet. Supplemental oxygen is necessary at such altitudes, which is one of several extra items of clutter needed in this kind of competition. Larry Tudor kept breaking the distance world record by flying hundreds of miles, while Chris Arai introduced Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation to hang glider competition and cross country flying. (Maybe that accounts for his apparently being accompanied by his own private gravity field at an angle to the rest of us…) Kari Castle won the 1993 Sandia Classic, demonstrating that being female is no barrier to flying competition success.
At upper right of the preceding image, the air intake on the under-surface of a 1994 Wills Wing RamAir is visible. The following year, Solar Wings (UK) tried a series of small round holes in the outer layer of the leading edge of their new wing, the Scandal. (I will obtain a photo when I have the opportunity.) Neither development lasted long, although other aspects of these designs, such as vertical fabric ‘ribs’ inside the sail connecting the upper and lower surfaces became the norm to this day (2019).
The Apex, unlike contemporary high performance rigid hang gliders such as the Brightstar Swift, had the pilot attached using a conventional harness and holding a conventional — or at least conventional looking — triangular control frame. Designed by McDonnell Douglas and Boeing engineer Danny Howell in the early 1990s and pushed further by Larry Witherspoon, the Apex featured D-spar leading edges to which trussed ribs attached. (The project also involved hang glider pioneer Floyd Fronius, innovative designer Mike Sandlin, cartoonist Harry Martin, and test pilot of the Klingberg wing Monte Bell.) Turn control was by twist-grips on the control bar actuating tip-mounted rudders.
As far as I know, the Apex never went into production, but rigid hang gliders built from about the turn of the century, also with triangular control frames but using roll control actuated by sideways movement of the control frame (thus mimicking weight-shift control in flex-wings) rule the sky.
On the subject of supplemental oxygen, British hang gliding instructor Judy Leden was hauled to more than 40000 feet altitude under a balloon piloted by Per Lindstrand over the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, then her hang glider was released from the balloon into air thinner and colder than a hang glider had ever flown in before. The documentary film of the adventure, titled Stratosfear, is available on YouTube:
Meanwhile, hang glider photography at lower altitudes continued to improve, using both ground-based and glider-mounted film cameras.
In the Gerry Charlebois image you might be able to make out another hang glider (another ‘Green Team’ member) in front of Gerry.
The Moyes (Australia) Xtralite, developed by world Champion Thomas Suchanek (Czechoslovakia) was reputed to have light handling. However, it was not light in weight, some pilots calling it the Xtraheavy.
The Sandia Classic is a formal competition held near Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Other competitions are less formal and based on a whole year’s flying. One such is the Region IX championship. (Region 9 is a USHPA chapter covering part of the east coast.) Pilots submit their three longest flights to the organiser, which for several years was aviation author and competition hang glider pilot Pete Lehmann, to determine the winner. Hang gliding is of course weather dependent. In 1994-5, distances in the Region 9 comp were significantly longer than ever before.
What accounted for the difference? Larry Huffman, my staff meteorologist, says that it is not so much that conditions were so much better (it was indeed a somewhat drier spring), but that the good northwest days occurred on weekends.
— Pete Lehmann writing in Hang Gliding, August 1995
The club I normally fly with in southern England runs a similar competition and our best hill for cross-country flights (to the coast; not far) also faces north-west. As a mostly weekend pilot, I also noticed the improvement in my amount of flying during years when good weather conditions happened on weekends.
In late summer 1995, I went again to Ager in northern Spain, where the world championships had been held in the summer. One aspect of industrial magic, the US military satellite-based navigation system, Global Positioning System (GPS), was then making inroads into hang gliding.
The first day of the meet, Chris [Arai] flew with two Tangents on his basetube, one with the new software, one with the old, as a precaution against bugs. By the middle of the competition the software was deemed safe, and Chris spent most of his free time on launch popping chips out of other pilots’ varios and swapping in new ones.
— Nelson Howe writing in Hang Gliding, November 1995
Evening light is great for photography.
In film of the event shown in Declan Doyle’s Speed Bar, a Brazilian pilot failed to lift off from the newly smoothed launch area and he skimmed the weeds and rocks down the slope. The map holder on his base bar rotated like it was powering him off. Maybe it was, because he got up and away! I ended up on the floor of the bar, incapacitated with laughter. Declan then re-ran that bit of film over and again.
Declan ran a hang glider dealership (first Airwave, then, from about 1993, Solar Wings) and he arranged accommodation for pilots too. In I think 1993, after he had a brief argument in Spanish with a guy across the street, I said I wish I could speak Spanish. Declan replied, “I wish I could too.” He went on, “Oi think he’s an idiot and he thinks oim a bastard. And we’re both right.”
Back in 1989 he drove us up the mountain in a vehicle with the gliders mounted overhead on a massive rig. After flying and landing in the valley, he routinely cycled back up that 3000 ft mountain to retrieve his vehicle. That year I encountered him at readying to launch an Airwave K1, which was then the latest and greatest flex-wing hang glider. Clad in the newest pod harness, helmet, and visor, he looked like an alien being. Cameras were attached to his wing. He was setting out to fly close to the ridge along its length (it is several miles long) to photograph the rocks from that unique perspective for geologists. (You could do the same in a helicopter, but at greater expense.)
Declan Doyle died on August 14th, 2019. See Phil Chettleburgh’s announcement on the British Hangies Facebook group on August 17th, 2019.
After returning to Britain and showing my photos from Spain to my mother in the nursing home (she was semi paralysed from a stroke in 1987) I started the autumn by returning to college life. I was upgrading my HND to an honours degree in software engineering management, for which I attended the local university.
Here is a snippet from my still unpublished novel:
Two nights later, the sky cleared and the temperature dropped to below freezing. While still dark, the sky clouded over once more and snow fell in the early morning. Before the start of a midday programming lecture, a university administrator handed him a message. After telephoning the nursing home, he cycled there as quickly as he could. When he arrived, the nurse in charge said that they thought his mother had suffered a further stroke at 0300 that morning. One side of her face was slack. Her half-closed eyes did not move and she did not blink, but her left hand constantly reached out to grasp something that was not there. Buzz arrived the next day and, in the evening, surrounded by her new clothes and her writing pads and pens, their mother died.