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By magentabluesky
Heroes in Hang Gliding: Bob Wills

I never really formally met Bob Wills. My friends and I were on a bike ride and came across the Wills brothers giving hang gliding lessons on La Paz Road in Laguna Niguel sometime around 1973. We watched from a distance and a seed was planted.

Excerpts from :
Bob Wills An Eagle Among Men By Chris Price August 1977 Hang Gliding

I have known Bob Wills for over twenty years. In today’s mobile society it is rare for a person to have the same friend through childhood and on into adult life. A long friendship gives life more meaning. It also . . .

Bob was a forgiving, optimistic person who never held a grudge. He would always look for the best in people and refuse to accept the worst. Once a dealer who was already copying of Bob’s gliders showed up from out of state on the pretense of learning as much as possible about Bob’s newest model so that he could sell them better. I knew the guy was just going to copy the glider I wanted to physically throw him out of the shop. Bob believed him when he told Bob that he would not copy it. Bob even let him stay at his house. Bob felt that if we threw him out, it would make it that much easier for him to justify copying it. Bob also pointed out that he could always just order one and copy it anyway, but he would never be able to copy the attitude that went behind the glider. I was right. The glider was copied. Bob was right. The copy was missing some things that made Bob’s glider easier to fly . . . and the attitude.

Bob and I were arguing about some employees at Wills Wing that had screwed up for the umpteenth time. I wanted to fire them. Bob said, “Price, we are not dealing with computers; we are dealing with people. Point out their mistakes to them and they will do better”. . .

Bob Wills and I spent a great deal of time arguing. He argued with most of the people close to him. He and I had a different way of looking at life, and if, from our different viewpoints we agreed, we were always right. If either one of us could prove the other one wrong and the other one would concede, we knew we were right. This interchange of ideas and thoughts I had with Bob Will is what I will personally miss the most.

One evening I wanted to make some changes on my glider. Bob told me he wanted to make some changes on the sail floor and asked if I could come back first thing in the morning. When I left the shop he was sitting in a chair looking at the different patterns he had laid on the floor. When I came back the next morning, he was still sitting in the same chair. I asked if he had been sitting in that chair all night. He said yes. I asked what for. He said he was considering all the possibilities.

Bob Wills chose to lead a life that put him in precarious situations. He did what he wanted, and had few regrets. He left his mark in the world of hang gliding and in the minds of the people who knew him.
Other articles in the August 1977 Hang Gliding Issue: Jerry Katz Breaks 100 Mile Barrier.

Jerry Katz was at the 2018 Otto Lilienthal meet at Dockweiller on May 27.

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The first time I met Bob was in '76. I'd wrecked my Thunderchicken and had bought a used SST 100c in So Cal. I went down there with a friend to pick it up and we went to the WW factory to meet up with Bob to go flying. They were going to Cucamonga (sp) so we followed them there. Everybody loaded into Bobs '56 ford truck and up the hill we went. Everybody put their helmets on for the ride up, I didn't understand why until halfway up, ROUGH RIDE, hauling a** all the way. When we got to the last little knob about 100' from the launch Bob stopped and everybody got out. I didn't understand why, it was really steep and I didn't like to hike so I stayed in the truck, YEE HAA! then I figured it out again. Everybody got to the top and started setting up. I'd never even set up the SST so went to work figuring it out. Bob and my friend Dennis were working to set up Bob's prototype XC. it took Bob and Dennis both to get the crossbar /leading edge bolt in. One pulling on the leading edge and the other holding the xbar. There was NO billow in the sail. Can you say flat plate?
Everybody got setup and launched I was still figuring how the SST went together , finely got it together and launched with the swing seat I was flying with. Rock and roll all the way down just clearing the power lines you had to cross to get to the LZ. After everybody landed Bob and Dennis came over and Bob wanted to know how I liked the glider? I said it was squirrely I was out of control all the way down and I wanted my Thunderchicken back. Bob was pretty bummed but I heard him tell Dennis that it was pretty rough air. The next day we went to Pine Flats and I got used to the SST.
Five yrs later Bob was gone and I started work at WW. Went back to Cucamonga on the weekend and took Jeanine Whitehill tandem on a 177 Harrier, lost 500' before finding a thermal then climbed to 12,500' and flew to Chrestline and on past it following the convergance/ smog line at 7,500' until we were over Norton AFB. headed to Palmsprings. Then I made the mistake of joking about getting shot down by a surface to air missile, she freaked out an we had to turn around and go back and land at Andys place, (the original one). I was ready to cut her loose and let her parachute down while I kept going :x . Rodger McCracken was ahead of us and made to Palmsprings and I wanted to go too. George and Rob stayed at cucamonga everybody else went xc some went to Lancaster and Rodger made Palmsprings. I was bummed.

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