Hang glider names

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Hang glider manufacturers often choose appalling names for their wings.

Fantasy island

The rot started with Airwave, a British manufacturer based on the Isle of Wight that manufactured the Ultralight Products Comet under licence in 1980. When they implemented some improvements, they called it the Magic Comet. They eventually parted company with UP in the USA and it then became just the Magic.

Hang glider in-flight photo

Flying my Airwave Magic 4 in France, in 1994

Despite the name, the Magic IV was arguably unmatched for all-round performance, handling, and ease of rigging for more than ten years, possibly 20 years.

Airwave named their next design the Magic Kiss!

Aeros (Ukraine) named their copy of the Wills Wing HP (early 1990s) the Stalker.

Then there was the Avian Amour (the lurve machine) and the Airborne (Australia) Climax

And a manufacturer in Austria in about 2000 went a step farther… We won’t go there!

Wills Powers *

There have been several exceptions to this sorry story. Birdman, an early UK hang glider manufacturer based in Wiltshire (sadly no longer trading) created the Cherokee and then the Comanche. Red Indian (native American) tribes bring to mind (my mind at least) brave men and beautiful women living lives of high adventure amid red deserts and vast green plains bounded by snow-capped mountains. That is also likely why the US Army name their helicopters after them!

Another exception is Wills Wing, almost certainly the longest established hang glider manufacturer in the world.

Hang gliding in 'Sky Riders,' 1976

Wills Wing Swallowtail in the 1976 movie ‘Sky Riders’

* Wills Powers? I am making a connection between Wills Wing and Gary Powers, who was shot down in a Lockheed U-2 over the Soviet Union in 1960. Read on if you dare…

Photo of a hang glider

My new (2014) Wills Wing 145 U-2

While the Wills Wing hang gliders Talon, Falcon, and Eagle have appropriately bird-based names, a stronger correlation is with conventional aviation. The correlation does not of course necessarily imply intention. Almost any name you can think of for an aircraft has been used before. Could it be that other hang glider manufacturers try to avoid such name re-use by dreaming up non-flying names? If so, I contend that, unless you have the glider naming talent of Birdman, this policy risks backfiring.

Photo of a 1/72nd scale Lockheed U-2

My Airfix 1:72 scale Lockheed U-2

Here is the Wills Wing line-up as of this writing (early 2015) and the classic conventional American airplanes whose names they share:

In-flight hang glider photo

Catching a thermal in my Wills Wing U-2 in 2014

In addition, the Wills Wing Eagle (predecessor of the Sport 2): McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle.

Harriers, ducks, and supersonic transports

Such name correlations might be interesting, but Wills Wing provided the following history of their hang glider names:

  • Although the T2 is the successor to the Talon, the Talon name was dropped because it has negative connotations in certain languages.
  • While the U2 succeeded the UltraSport, again the ‘word’ part of the name was dropped because the U2 is quite different in character from the UltraSport and they didn’t want people thinking that the U2 is just a tweaked UltraSport.
  • The Falcon was named purely after the bird.
  • The Eagle name was chosen to indicate that it was more than a Falcon.
  • The original Wills Wing Alpha was the first glider Steven Pearson designed, so that name just meant “first” (of many). The current Alpha is so named to refer to that glider and to indicate it is a good first glider for pilots.

The first edition of this page did not mention the Super Swallowtail’s abbreviation SST. It seemed to me too tenuous a connection. However, according to Wills Wing, it was known as the SST with a nod to the super-sonic airliner that was still flying back then…

Neither did I mention the Wills Wing Harrier (about 1979)–see the AV-8B–or the Wills Wing Duck (about 1981)–see the Grumman Duck!


Paint it black–my overview of the 20th Century Fox movie Sky Riders (1976)

5 Responses to Hang glider names

  1. Jon Howes says:

    Hi Everard,
    You wrote: “Wills Wing Sport 2: The exception; no airplane I know of is named Sport”. This raised a smile as I built a flying scale model of one a few years ago. Here is the full size:




  2. Jenny Ganderton says:

    And here is a picture of one flying at Cowra http://www.rotecradialengines.com/0DavidShaw/76AllDoneT.jpg

  3. Patrick Maher says:

    The story told me was that the “new” Wills Wing glider was named over beer in the sail loft after a long day at work.
    After a lengthy complaint that all the cool bird names had been used, Hawk, Eagle, even Vulture, were all taken. Not wanting to break company tradition, they went back to first principals. “What is it for?” The glider was designed for cross country flying. Long range. What flies long range? Migratory birds. What birds Migrate? Ducks. Duck was silly enough, and accurate enough, that they had a new name. The glider logo on the keel pocket was a duck’s silhouette, with webbed feet sticking down for landing.
    The second version of the Duck was not named the Duck 2, but instead, The Attack Duck, as a part of the running gag and to reflect it’s might for competition flying. Some, but not all Attack Ducks got sidewinder missile silhouettes added to the Duck logo on the keel pocket.

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