Hang gliding 1996 to 2003
Equipped with a second-hand Ultralight Products TRX 160 hang glider and a new Solar Wings Edge II harness, I flew in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, in December 1995. I carried on flying and taking photographs, which I had always looked forward to taking in to the nursing home to show my old mum, but she died in early December. Maybe she can see them here somehow.
At Malvern in 1996, my glider exhibited a constant left turn, the result of incorrectly assembling it after I packed it short for a flying expedition overseas.
The first step in analyzing such an event is to fill out a BHPA (or USHPA) incident report form. Completing its different parts helps the pilot (or witness) record the pertinent facts without jumping to unwarranted conclusions. Safety officers at national level analyse these reports and results are published in hang gliding/paragliding magazines. Also, incident reports can result in equipment design changes and sometimes they give rise to new or altered pilot training schemes such as the club coaching system (in Britain) and the pilot mentoring system (USA).
This was at a BHPA ‘fly-in’. Launch was by ground-based winch; an exciting ride! (This photo was digitized by using my digital camera to photograph a print.)
Kitty Hawk Kites, based in North Carolina near where the Wrights first flew their powered aircraft, is almost certainly the world’s longest established hang gliding school.
One day in 1997, I found myself lying face-down on the ground under a friend’s Airwave K-5 in the old bottom landing field (with the single power line that runs parallel to final approach). I was under the power line, or, at least one half of the wing was under the line. The owner of the wing I had crashed had just landed my UP TRX farther along the field and he unclipped and made his way towards me.
In those days I flew with a large spherical compass clipped to the centre of the control frame base tube. (Not so much for navigation, but as a crude artificial horizon if you are unfortunate enough to be whited out in cloud suck.) It was not broken, as such, but it was in pieces and needed to be reassembled. Alas, the K-5 had a broken keel tube and other damage.
After unclipping, I said something along the lines of “How would you like to borrow a TRX for a few weeks?” (Or however long it took to get his K-5 repaired.) I had no memory of the crash and could not provide an answer to his question “What happened?”
To do at least something useful, I figured I would start by collecting up the bits of my compass and I turned round to start off towards the crashed glider, but I stopped, amazed. The compass was whole and attached to the base tube. I turned back to my friend and said that I could have sworn it was in pieces.
“It was,” he replied. “You just spent the past five minutes putting it back together.” He then asked me where we were.
A good question. The hill resembled the Devil’s Dyke, a popular site on the South Downs that I used to fly in the early 1980s. However, the Dyke has buildings on the top, but this hill did not. A very good question! (It was in fact Bell Hill, the site I most frequently flew then, as now.)
I resolved never to fly another K-5 or K-2 because they feel so unstable to me. (Especially the K-2ic, which terrified me when I flew another friend’s example.)
Having flown in this part of England since 1974, you might think I would be familiar with all the hang gliding sites. However, I have no idea where this is. (Maybe I crashed and knocked myself unconscious there as well!)
I had just launched and was not yet fully ‘proned out’, hence the slightly odd position. I added the fin to stop it yawing around.
The stiff carbon fiber airframe of the Ultralight Products TRX made it the premier glider for aerobatics in its time, but its handling was too stiff for my liking and I disliked its adverse yawing tendencies. It was designed by top US competition pilot Terry Reynolds, who received a medal for evading a MiG-21 while flying a C-130 (Hercules) in the Vietnam War.
On the subject of the C-130 in Nam, this quote is from Gunship: Spectre of Death by Henry Zeybel (1987). It is told from the viewpoint of a C-130 navigator (as Zeybel was). Tan Son Nhut airbase is under attack during the 1968 Tet offensive:
Major Jerry Prager, Sergeant Stu Upton, and I had walked out of Ops a moment before the 130 took the direct hit. The explosion and fire were eye-catching. We watched for maybe ten seconds while mortars whumped and rockets cracked up and down the flight line. When a rocket hit two buildings away, I decided I had seen enough. Prager, a pilot, held me by the elbow, however, and said, “That plane—that fire’s going to spread to the planes on both sides. It could spread down the whole line.”
“It sure could,” I said while looking for a low spot on the concrete. Two fundamental rules for survival in Southeast Asia were, one, don’t walk under the coconut trees and, two, don’t stand up during a rocket attack.
In the actual event, a mortar round entered through the overhead escape hatch. See List of C-130 Hercules crashes from Wikipedia.
Monk’s Down again.
I found the Airwave 166 Magic IV easier to rig and fly than the UP TRX 160, so I went back to flying that.
This photo of me flying the Magic IV was taken by Justin Parsons.
Philosopher’s hang glider
(Discus reads like discuss, geddit?)
The Aeros Discus outperformed even contemporary ‘topless’ competition gliders in 2003 and up to about 2007, when the newer crop of rigid wings started to appear. Although some pilots disagree with my assessment (not all) I found the Discus somewhat stiff in roll and it seemed to have an odd feel that I call ‘power steering’. It always responded, but, whenever I wanted to increase my roll rate and shifted my weight farther over to effect that need, the glider’s roll rate stayed the same. The Discus has a narrow control frame, as if in recognition of that characteristic.
However, its main drawback in my estimation was its excessive tendency to ‘wind in’ to turns (spiral instability). I largely cured it, initially by using a wider control frame base tube, then by refitting the original tube and adding longer side flying wires. With that minor change, its handling overall was good. And its performance was simply amazing.
Warning: If your glider relies on reflex bridles for emergency dive recovery, increasing dihedral in that way (or decreasing anhedral) is likely to reduce the bridles’ effect. The Discus relies partly on inboard reflex bridles, but the more important outboard struts are unaffected.