Painted history of hang glider design part 1

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Painted history of hang glider design part 1

In 1983 and ’84 I took up painting again. (I had started in the late 1970s, mainly painting Spitfires and the like.) This time, I created large paintings of hang gliders mainly based on small photos, often black and white, in hang gliding magazines. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Feel free to create prints of these paintings for your own non-commercial use.

Painting of a standard Rogallo hang glider

Ground skimmer

Ground Skimmer (the title of this painting) was an early incarnation of the USHGA magazine. I painted it in 1984 or 1985. It measures 19.25 by 15.75 inches (49 x 40 cm).

In 2020, I took up painting again. This is my fourth painting in the 21st century:

Painting depicting early 1970s hang gliders at Val d’Orcia Tuscany, Italy

Radiation fog

This one is not all my work. The backdrop is a painting I bought at a charity shop for £2 in about 2015. I do not know whether it is a print or an original. It is on textured material stretched on a wooden frame, like canvas, but it is shiny like vinyl. The paint or ink is soluble — as I discovered when I tried to clean several years of dust off it with a damp cloth before I started work on it…

The location is Val d’Orcia Tuscany, Italy. Plenty of photos taken at that exact spot are available online. I do not know if hang gliders ever flew there.

The main glider is a standard Rogallo made by Manta of Oakland, California, and the farther one is a Brock 82 standard Rogallo made by Ultralight Products of El Segundo, Los Angeles, California. Both gliders are of 1973. I lightened the sky and changed the backdrop in other minor ways. The paint or ink of the backdrop is shinier than the acrylic paint I used. To nullify the resulting disparity in reflectivity, I coated it all with acrylic matt varnish.

The painting is 47 x 16 inches (120 x 40 cm).

Triptych painting of hang gliders at the Elberta dune in July 1974

Day at the beach

These three paintings, acrylic on canvas, portray a hang gliding competition held on June 29th to July 6th, 1974 at the Elberta dune on the shore of Lake Michigan, near Frankfort. I completed them in February 2022.

See Day at the beach for more.

Painting by Everard Cunion of Mike Markowski launching the Eagle III hang glider

Mike Markowski launches the Eagle III at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1974

Michael A. Markowski’s Eagle III, perhaps better known in the wider world as the Scientific American hang glider and known also as the Princeton sailwing, flew in 1974 and 1975. See Painting the Eagle III.

Waspair CB240

Waspair CB240 of 1975

The Seagull III (and the British equivalent, the Waspair CB240) had parabolically curved leading edges, which improved the efficiency of the wing.

The painting is of a glider that Tony Beresford flew at the British Championship competition in Wiltshire in August of 1975. It had unusually thick sailcloth (for the time). I recall that it did not ripple (visibly and audibly) as many sails did, but the trailing edge had a distinct wobbling motion.

Hiway Boomerang experimental hang glider

Hiway Boomerang of 1975

This Boomerang was one of a series of prototypes similar to the Ultralight Products Dragonfly.

Wasp Nova

The Wasp Nova of 1975

Although the Wasp Nova first flew in 1975, I first saw it in November 1974 at the annual general meeting of the British hang gliding association. It still had some top rigging wires waiting to be swaged. It had an S-curved keel tube and tip fins braced by tubes, brackets, fasteners, and cables.

Hang glider over Berkshire, 1975

Hang glider over Berkshire, 1975

I painted this in March 2022. See Hang glider over Berkshire, 1975.


Painting of a Wills Wing Swallowtail hang glider in flight

Wills Wing Swallowtail

The Sport Kites Inc. Wills Wing Swallowtail of 1974-5 had a 90 degree nose angle as well as less billow than the standard Rogallo. It also had a large amount of sailcloth removed from the trailing edge, which took on a helical curve. Later, a small ‘roach’ was added near each tip, supported by a radial batten (and later a double roach with two radial battens).

The lanky leading edges were braced by short wingposts projecting outwards from the junction of the crosstubes and the leading edge tubes, which supported deflexor wires from the nose to the tips. Even with that added hardware, the Swallowtail was generally regarded as providing good performance and handling (by the standards of the time) with reasonable simplicity.

Here is a snippet of conversation between Wills brothers Bob and Chris, their mother Maralys, and Chris ‘Ramsey’ Price when they were designing and building the prototype that would become the Swallowtail:

After the others had left one night, I said to Ram, “You and Bobby and Chris sure argue a lot.”
He gave me one of his impish grins. “Yeah, we do. But we’ve got this theory about ourselves: If any one of us can convince another he’s right about something, then those two have the answer and the third has to go along. It works every time.” He laughed. “Together we’re a genius.”

— from Higher than Eagles, the Tragedy and Triumph of an American Family by Maralys Wills and Chris Wills, 1992

Painting of Bob Wills flying a Swallowtail in 1974

Bob Wills flying a Swallowtail in 1974

I painted this in 2020. It is my first painting (excluding digital paintings) since 1984 or 85. It is based on the photo that Leroy Grannis took at the 1974 U.S. nationals, held at Escape Country, California, in December I think. It is my first ever painting using acrylics (although I switched to acrylics for my plastic modelling a year or two ago) and my first painting on proper canvas.

The Swallowtail featured in the 1976 movie Sky Riders starring James Coburn, Susannah York, Robert Culp, and Charles Aznavour. Its main feature was the removal of sail area that added much to aerodynamic drag and little lift. The designer needs to be careful with that approach, however. If you keep on removing the least efficient parts of the wing, you would eventually end up without any wing!

The movie Sky Riders contains a dramatic a demonstration by Chris Wills of the Swallowtail’s resistance to luffing in a steep dive.

Painting of a 1975 hang glider

The 1975 Hiway Cloudbase

The purple near the tips in this 1984 painting has faded over the years. The glider, a Hiway Cloudbase of 1975, was based on the Wills Wing Swallowtail.

1975 Hiway Cloudbase

The 1975 Hiway Cloudbase

In February 2022, I retouched the tip colors with acrylic paint. I also attempted to cover some colours that had gotten onto the sky, but the camera shows up a slight mismatch, unfortunately. You win some, you lose some.


This topic continues in Painted history of hang glider design part 2.

Airplane art

Charcoal drawings, Holloway College, about 1937 (by my mother)

Hang gliding drawings

Miracle over Wisconsin, my painting of the 2013 skydiving collision

My 1970s bike designs

External link

Chronology on my other web site History of hang gliding

6 Responses to Painted history of hang glider design part 1

  1. Joe Faust says:

    The four-boom stiffened Rogallo wing hang glider was in public domain, Yes, even the A-frame cable-stayed, hung pilot, weight-shift control, foot-launching, single-point hang, etc. all before 1963. The “inventor” hoax has been being promoted by a raw any-means-goes campaigner to the injury of hang glider history. The fuller history is available; hope you find the great full long story! The hoax was so bully-pushed that some orgs rubber-stamped the hoax.

  2. Fantastic paintings!!

    Also, a nice review of “Higher Than Eagles” on your site.
    You might enjoy this:

    Fly safe!!

    • Thanks Bob. I recently read Maralys’ latest book, “It’s a Duck. And it’s Dead,” which tells the story of six generations of her family. She is such a great writer. Chris, her son, first US hang gliding champion and co-author of ‘Eagles’, is also a great writer. In my opinion he imparts the excitement and adventure of the early days of hang gliding better than any other author I have read.

      Eagles among men–my review of Higher than Eagles, the Tragedy and Triumph of an American Family by Maralys Wills and Chris Wills, 1992

  3. Patrick says:

    Awesome pieces of art !
    I’m a long time HG pilot and an Artist so, your work is much appreciated. Thanks.
    Patrick Barszcz ( Sport2Flyer)

  4. Javad says:

    These are beautiful!!!!!
    Thanks a lot for sharing! I have not seen lots of art about hang gliding , this is great

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