- Fri Apr 28, 2017 10:26 am
Thank you for inviting comment on this matter. I'm here to take you up on that invitation.
I was learning how to fly airplanes in 1976, having been an avid aeronautical enthusiast since I was the proverbial knee-high. I was troubled by the fact that I was having to drag myself to the airport to take more lessons or practice the ones I'd been taught, after all, I had been in love with the whole idea of flying for a long time, so where had my enthusiasm gone?
Instead of practicing the cross-country work I would instead spend my flying time going to the "Practice Area" to do spins and loops and rolls, or spend the whole hour shooting touch and goes while using the "abbreviated pattern" that, while somewhat less safe, allowed a lot more landings and take-offs per hour.
I was slowly beginning to realize that airplane flying wasn't where it was at for me. I wanted to maneuver, to fly like the birds; droning along in a straight line to another airport just didn't do it for me.
Salvation appeared in the form of a T-shirt a fellow aircraft mechanic was wearing. It had a photo of a standard Rogallo/Dickenson hang glider, and the words "Flint Hills Flyers" written around the illustration. This was at the Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas, where I was employed doing final assembly of the 404 Titan airplane.
The occupant of the shirt gave me directions to a 150 foot high hill located 150 miles from Wichita, and I loaded my RC gliders in the van and went to the Wilson Reservoir near Lucas.
That guy may have saved my life, or he may have contributed to it's lack of productivity, depending on your viewpoint. Whatever the case, I ended that Saturday of Memorial Day weekend with no model gliders, instead I was the proud new owner of an 18 foot Pliable Moose hang glider and harness.
I never went back to the airport. After a couple weeks had passed my flight instructor called to see if I was ready for my private pilot check ride, and I told him the whole deal was off, as I was now an aircraft owner. A hang glider pilot.
He said "Oh no" and hung up. Good riddance.
So that's how it all started. While I may not have accomplished much, I did survive 40 years of hang gliding, much of it practiced with wild and reckless abandon. I'm so lucky to have made it this far, I just can't find the words to describe my gratitude.
I write all this as a way of introducing myself and giving some credibility to the fact that some of my ideas just may have some merit.
I don't fly much anymore, but I'd like to do more. While it seems that about 99% of the current hang glider pilots are satisfied with the state of the art of hang glider technology, I am in the 1% that whole-heartedly believes we can do much better.
The problem we face here is in defining just what "better" means.
While "better" would normally be defined as a flatter glide angle at higher speeds, I personally have a different view.
I believe that "better" means a glider that has a lower stall speed, hopefully as slow as a paraglider. The stall speed should be so low that a pilot of average athletic ability will have no fear of making a zero-wind launch, and be confident of making a safe and easily controlled landing, each time and everytime, again in zero-wind conditions.
The glider should be able to make small radius circles at low angles of bank.
The glider should be controllable even when stalled. The pilot should be able to override the glider's wanting to nose down sharply when stalled, allowing "parachuting" landings in unfamiliar or rough terrain.
IMO, the best way to achieve the above is to have a whole bunch of wing area. While a high aspect ratio flexie or rigid can have a relatively low stall speed due to having an efficient airfoil and large span, It's almost a sure bet that it's sink rate, when stalled, will be high. My experience has me convinced that if I want a glider with mellow stall characteristics, low sink rate when stalled, and some semblance of control in the stall, then I want a gob of area, and only enough span to make it work.
That's right, a low aspect ratio. It's almost an unforgivable sin to suggest it, I know. But the degree of control that I want in a glider is doubly or triply hard to get with long skinny wings.
The idea then is to try to minimize the damage done by the low aspect ratio by obsessive-compulsive attention to detail when looking for places to reduce drag. The glider must be fully cantilever in construction, no bracing wires or structure exposed to airflow.
We have high aspect gliders now, but in many places the local distance records are held by paragliders. These aircraft have practically no pitch control and also the smallest speed range you can get. The distance record is a moot point for me anyway, I couldn't care less about flying 4 or 5 hundred miles in a hang glider. In fact, I'm so lazy and laid back that going 15 miles is a feat.
The majority of the pilots I know fly little or no cross-country flights, they're mostly "fishbowl" or "site" pilots. I think the general attitude is that hang gliding is dangerous enough even when the LZ is a well known factor. Why tempt fate by landing in "LZ's" you've never seen before, or at least have never walked, and, oh yeah, you haven't prior permission to use anyway. We have an old saying, "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission", so we'll land there anyways.
In days of old pilots loved flying in the pre-frontal strong ridge lift. The sky would be crowded even though there's an overcast, and thermals were rare and weak.
If we had a fully aerobatic glider those strong ridge lift days would be back in fashion.
Forty years ago I "just knew" that it wouldn't be long before we'd get real gliders to fly, none of this 60 degrees of bank and 30 degrees of pitch bullshit. Gliders that could do what my RC gliders could do, including whip-stalls.
It never happened. Somehow we all decided that only pure weight-shift would be used, and we would stay with the sailboat construction scheme.
The builders of our gliders claim that competition results drive the sales of new equipment. And since the rules don't allow for a system that augments our roll control, they have little incentive to try new ways of doing things.
I wonder, how many T2's or Litespeeds actually end up being used in a comp. 10%? 15? You get the idea. Most purchasers of these gliders never compete with them, and because a few do then all the rest of us have to put up with the truly insane idea that we get to pull on a rope to make a choice between getting a good glide angle, or being able to turn the thing. In 2017, no less.
About 50 some years ago an aeronautical engineer built himself a swept-aft with tip devices flying wing glider that he flew in airshows. He didn't have even so much as a calculator, let alone a computer capable of computational fluid dynamics. And he would routinely tumble the glider, and nonchalantly just fly out of it, with no damage to himself or the glider. He would also place the glider in a very deep stall, and demonstrate a survivable rate of descent while also having complete control of the glider.
Nowadays, you can buy a $12,000 hang glider and a $5,000 harness, and while heading out to play in the sky, you get rolled over to inverted, and fall on the glider which promptly snaps half in two. The HGMA wants to see the kite withstand a negative load, and they certify the glider as airworthy if it passes the test on a truck tearing down the runway. But there's no test of it's ability to withstand having the pilot fall on it from five feet away, which happens practically every time a glider gets inverted,a good possibility whenever the atmosphere is such that cross-country is a good bet.
People say we're crazy, but what do they know? I do believe we're wearing collective blinders though. Hang glider pilots will criticize paraglider pilots for sacrificing safety to get convenience, but that's just another case of the pot calling the kettle black. We don't want the inconvenience of a pilot restraint system that would prevent him from ending up on top of the sail, or reduce the risk of severe injury in those bad landings or blown launches. We don't want a better way to control our bank angle, which in turn necessitates that four different sizes of the same glider be produced. At the airport, I was never faced with having to choose a different sized Cessna 150. One size fits all.
We now have a lot of high powered tools at our fingertips. But in 2017 we don't have half of what Witold Kasper had in I guess about 1960. Gliders are expensive and last only a few years. I'm just hoping for the day when the gliders being built today will be considered obsolete, and we'll have gliders that, while somewhat less convenient, will be safer and capable of aerobatic flight. And their technology won't be just in the hands of an experienced sailmaker, it will be such that almost anyone can build it in a garage over the winter months, for far less money. No tricky luff curves, just good old fashioned aeronautical engineering like that which built the DC-3 or a Long-Eze.
When the sport shrinks to the level that won't support glider factories anymore, then it will fall back to the homebuilder to make his own glider, and true innovation will return to the scene. Truck testing will reduce the risk to test pilots. These fancy new materials and techniques will allow us to make gliders that we can barely imagine today.
It's a Brave New World, so I'm calling it the Brave New Glider. And it's on it's way, though I don't want to predict when it gets here.
P.S. No, I don't want an Alpha. I want some speed range. Performance roughly equivalent to a Sport 2 or U2 would suffice. I just don't want to sacrifice the low-end to get a little more high-end performance. Safety starts with a low stall speed. I know this because I have crashed, and I'm now a Stand Up Aeronautical Philosopher. Fire at will, I'm ready for ya.
I am looking forward, with great enthusiasm, to the fully aerobatic part. Imagine joining your buddy in a thermal--while flying inverted. Slow rolls, snap rolls and outside loops might be fun in the glass-off.