Dockweiler Beach renews hang gliding memories.
Most KITPLANES readers probably don’t think of hang glider pilots as old folks. Indeed, it remains a younger man’s flying sport due to the athletic nature of the launch and landing. (At least that’s true if you don’t count the 30-40% of all launches that are done via aerotowing behind a specially built ultralight.)
Nonetheless, this event at a famed California beach site was dubbed the Geezer Fly-In by many who celebrated in good humor at the landmark where so many first got their feet off the ground under a hang glider. Many of those present qualify as fifty somethings.
“Nearly 400 pilots attended,” says Michael Riggs, himself a figurehead in the early days of hang gliding. Riggs started Seagull Aircraft, which became highly successful selling thousands of his distinctive hang gliders with the smoothly curved leading edges.
He also described the event this way: “There wasn’t a dry eye all day.” Of the hundreds who gathered, many had not seen each another in the last 20 years.
34th Anniversary Fly-in
Organized by longtime instructor Joe Greblo and his Windsports hang gliding business, the Dockweiler Beach fly-in proved to be such a draw that a 2003 follow-on event is planned to join the Wright powered flight centennial. Hang gliding, of course, is older than powered flight. Modern hang gliding originated in the late 1960s, but pioneers like Otto Lilienthal and Octave Chanute designed and flew their hang gliders well before 1900.
The Dockweiler Beach event takes us back to 1966 when several Los Angeles area hang gliding schools first began to use the site for primary training. The truth is that in those days, it was all primary training, but the site saw tens of thousands of young people getting their first taste of the joy of flying.
The fly-in, held all day on September 9 last year, brought back many hang glider enthusiasts from those early years of this aerial sport. It also drew the children of these pioneers. Baby Boomers and Echo Boomers enjoyed the day as did newcomers who enjoyed meeting the fabled names that began the sport of hang gliding in America.
Antiques: The Hang Gliders
Many of the old veterans of hang gliding’s early times were present, and so were their gliders.
In the earliest days, when the participants were at their lowest income level, building hang gliders out of bamboo and plastic was common. This wasn’t as crazy as it sounds because pilots rarely flew higher than they could survive in a fall. One of these Bamboo Butterfly models was actually scratch built from raw materials at the site on the day of the event. How’s that for quick build time?
Even more amazing: These flimsy looking contraptions were flown extensively by reunion attendees.
In addition to Windsports, the event was cosponsored by the country’s largest manufacturer, Wills Wing, formerly a family operation that also brought many members to the fly-in.
Now a medical doctor, family member Chris Wills enjoyed reliving the founding days of hang gliding. Though older and wiser, “Chris enjoyed flying barefoot in shorts and no shirt in an old seated harness,” Greblo said. Does Dr. Wills need his head examined? Probably not. This was a merely chance to revel in the good old days of hang gliding. Today, Wills flies both a modern ultralight and his GlaStar homebuilt.
Greblo helped set up a glide-angle contest. In this delightful memory of days gone by, pilots lined up to see if they could stretch the glide of early hang gliders all the way to the bottom of the hill. Modern hang gliders also present easily flew out to the ocean; glide angles today are better than 12:1. The oldsters barely achieved a 3:1 ratio.
Support of the City
Dockweiler Beach is now an official hang gliding center designated by the City of Los Angeles. After a dozen years of grappling with the bureaucracy of a major city, Greblo reopened the beach site to hang glider flight training. Cooperating with the spirit of the project, the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department relocated a bicycling path (part of a long route from Santa Monica to Long Beach) to the top of the 35-foot-high bluffs so that six hang glider launch sites have free access to the slope and the flat beach below.
A permanent sign commemorates the site. It signifies that a city, county, and state cooperative effort led to daily hang gliding activity just off the west departure end of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). A large bronze plaque notes that the Dockweiler coastal bluffs are considered by many to be the birthplace of modern hang gliding. Another sign, the familiar yellow diamond warning signs used on highways throughout America, advises bike path users that this area is a designated as a “Hang Glider Xing.”
On any flyable day-which is most of them-Joe Greblo’s Windsports staff might be seen giving primary hang gliding instruction at Dockweiler, just like 34 years ago. If you’d like to see for yourself, head west and look for the colorful wings that still carry enthusiastic flyers into the friendly Pacific skies.
Dockweiler Beach renews hang gliding memories.
What’s in a name? A Texas-based event, last summer’s World Record Encampment, predicted accurately its own success; two top hang glider pilots set world records for distance flying and broke another record that stood for nearly a decade.
On July 19, Dave Sharp flew his A.I.R. ATOS rigid wing hang glider for an astounding 311 miles (501 kilometers), narrowly beating the long-held record of 308 miles set by another leading competitor, Larry Tudor.
Tudor first broke the magical 300-mile barrier by flying 303 miles in July, 1990. He repeated this achievement, flying 308 miles several years later, but nearly a decade passed with no other pilots exceeding 300 miles. That unique status was shattered thanks to participants at the World Record Encampment 2000.
Sharp flew more than 9 hours to earn his world record. The one that people will remember is the 311-mile flight of straight distance, but along the way he also set a record for a flight to a declared goal of 203 miles.
One interesting aspect of Sharp’s spectacular journey is that, according to fellow pilot Davis Straub, “The day was almost completely blue.” This means the sky was clear, lacking cumulus clouds that mark thermals where there is enough moisture.
Not One, But Two New Records
Instead of holding up for a decade like Tudor’s 1990 flight, Sharp’s achievement on July 19 lasted days. Less than one month later, Davis Straub flew his similar ATOS glider for a new world record of 347 miles.
Straub’s flight last August 9 smashed through all previous barriers in what he describes as a fairly easy flight. “It didn’t seem that hard, and in fact, I enjoyed the whole flight,” he wrote.
Faster than Tudor and Sharp, Straub averaged 35 mph. But between thermals he reported speeds of 55-60 mph and even hit 70 mph.
To pilots accustomed to sitting comfortably in their cockpit seats, flying prone for 10 hours may not seem pleasant. But pilots who log long flights in hang gliders reach a point of conditioning that allows them to complete these flights that must be considered athletic achievements.
Davis has been particularly persistent in search of the long flight, having earlier set the East Coast distance record with a 211-mile flight from Orlando’s Wallaby Ranch hang gliding park. Doing so, he picked up a $1000 check that Wallaby owner Malcolm Jones had offered for the first flight into Georgia. That prize had also remained unclaimed for many years.
Straub is a writer who posts an almost daily account of hang gliding activity in contests and long flying efforts. He supports his record attempts by writing computer books such as Windows 98, and More Windows 98, published by IDG Books.
Straub’s amazing passage took him north from Zapata, Texas, past Laredo, where he crossed Interstate 35. Miles of little civilization and endless mesquite trees eventually took him across Interstate 10 toward Sterling City, northwest of San Angelo.
Getting to Know Zapata
Zapata County Airport probably isn’t the first guess you’d make if you were trying to determine the best starting point for hang glider world records.
South of Laredo, Texas, only an hour north of the Mexican border, Zapata may become a haven for these kinds of record flights. The reason relates to high pressure systems that form over the Gulf of Mexico. The west side of the high creates south winds that can carry hang gliders north for hundreds of miles.
Of course, weather guessing is an art form well known to pilots, and estimating the right weather in Zapata may be no easier than in any other location in the U.S. However, thanks to one man, Zapata was chosen ahead of time as the right place to base the World Record Encampment.
Weather garu and soaring technowizard Gary Osaba gets the credit for picking Zapata, according to Sharp and Straub.
Osaba got started many years ago as a hang glider manufacturer (for a company with the unlikely name of Pliable Moose). Since then, he added light sailplanes to the mix of aircraft he flies, and he developed a well regarded soaring technique called microlift. He works at staying aloft in lift too light for conventional sailplanes and at altitudes many soaring pilots find unlikely; one substantial flight never saw him much above 300 feet.
From his computer in Kansas, Osaba calculated that Zapata was the place from which to start a world record flight. He looked over the entire country and settled on south Texas due to the Gulf weather systems that appear regularly.
Though Straub was careful to thank many who assisted his attempt (including his wife, Belinda, who drove many miles to retrieve him), he felt so indebted to Osaba that he declared, “Gary is the person most responsible for making it possible to set this record.”
World Record with a “Beater” Glider
An irony of Sharp’s first record is that the entire flight was done with a glider that was “never meant to leave the shop,” according to ATOS importer Peter Radman of Altair Hang Gliders.
Badly damaged in shipping, the glider was pieced together solely as a means of testing repairs to the composite D-cell that gives the wing its main structure. Yet Sharp accepted the glider and, as they say, the rest is history.
The ATOS glider both men used comes from Germany and was designed by Felix Rhule and his A.I.R. company. Also the designer of the prior rigid-wing success story, the Exxtacy, Rhule is held in high regard by Sharp, Straub and many others who pilot the flying wing.
Straub is presently pondering a World Record Encampment 2001. Will the 400-mile record be broken? “It’s possible,” he says. We may not need to wait another decade for that barrier to fall.
Sport aviators host their own traveling event.
Boat and RV shows are in full swing during the winter months when use of these toys is low. It proves to be a popular time for sportsmen to look at gear for the upcoming season. Flying should be no different.
Yet most of the major aviation trade events are held in conjunction with airshows. Needing good weather, these gatherings are clustered throughout the late spring, summer and early fall. If successful, they get established in one location that requires everyone to travel to them.
If we are to attract new people into aviation, maybe we need to go to where they are rather than demanding that they come to us.
Attracting the general public is worthy, but such a traveling event can also motivate local pilots. The truth is, popular as airshows are, most pilots don’t get to them. Attending more than one or two airshows a year is time-consuming and expensive.
One suggestion is to take a traveling show to 20 top U.S. metropolitan areas over a period of years. You could reach a large percentage of the American population and give them an easier chance to check out sport aviation. Many regional pilots could attend.
According to a news release from the Central Indiana Soaring Society, “The Air Sports Expo and Soaring Convention is the annual international exposition and convention for the Soaring Society of America, the U.S. Hang Gliding Association, U.S. Ultralight Association, Balloon Federation of America, Academy of Model Aeronautics, and International Aerobatics Club.”
Through next year as in the past, the Air Sports Expo will hosted by the Soaring Society of America’s (SSA) or one of its local sailplane clubs. But for the last few years, this has been the annual convention to which the other aviation groups have been invited. The Expo resulted from a meeting in 1992 of a group called the Air Sports Council. They formed the idea of joining ranks to promote air sports, and SSA graciously offered its venue. Now, after a few years of the combined effort, the 2001 edition is the next to last to be hosted by SSA or one of its clubs.
Recent leadership changes at two of the major participating organizations-the U.S. Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) and the U.S. Ultralight Association (USUA)-come as Air Sports Expo restructuring is being considered.
USHGA’s executive director, Phil Bachman, has stepped down. He lined up effective local media support two years ago at the Knoxville, Tennessee, Air Sport Expo. And USUA founder John Ballantyne is moving into the position of analyst to be relieved as USUA president by Scott Severen, a longtime board member and former CEO of TEAM Aircraft.
Rotating local sponsors for a national event such as Air Sports Expo is always a challenge. Moving management responsibility from a single sponsor (SSA) to a council formed by several organizations should be even more interesting to watch in the coming years.
For 2003 and beyond, the Air Sports Council will take the lead. The Air Sports Council is made up of each participating group including SSA, which may continue to offer counsel, especially at first. Over time each group may rise to fill various needs. New leaders like Severen and those from other associations will have a chance to shine.
Air Sports Expo offers a chance to see it all. The types of aircraft types includes:
-Sailplanes and motorgliders.
-Hang gliders and powered hang gliders.
-Ultralights and powered parachutes.
-Hot air balloons.
-Model Aircraft (R/C and more).
You might see all of these at major airshows, but they tend to be lost in the swarm of other activities. The main attractions are other aircraft types including jets, warbirds, fast glass, vintage restorations and even corporate aircraft. Among the vast displays of events like EAA’s Sun *’n Fun and AirVenture, it is work to find the groups listed above.
By contrast, at Indianapolis this year, visitors were able to examine beautiful sailplanes with 85-foot wingspans. They could sit in ultralights and hang from harnesses and experience a virtual flight in a hang glider. Kids could build, fly and take home model aircraft. Gleaming aerobatic aircraft were available for close inspection.
While non-pilots strolled around dozens of displays featuring all manner of aircraft, accessories, and training, current pilots attended seminars of many descriptions.
Some of the organizations (SSA, USHGA and USUA) held meetings of their directors during the Air Sports Expo. Regional members of these organizations met and discussed the upcoming flying season while checking out the latest in flying gear.
The future seems bright for the country’s only traveling airshow for sport aviators. If the new leadership coming to these clubs rises to the occasion, the Air Sports Expo may become an important way to promote aviation on a national level. Expo may never rival the drawing power of the major outdoor, one-location airshows, but the time has come for sport aviators to work toward hosting their own event. If taking it to the people succeeds, new pilots may enter these air sports and fuel the growth of aviation.
TEAM Aircraft – Air Bike
“Wow! …what a great little machine,” is how many airshow attendees regarded the unique plane TEAM introduced at Sun ‘n Fun 1994. When the company unloaded the Airbike at the Florida event, it was immediately surrounded with admirers who didn’t leave it alone for the entire week.
The mystique encompassing the Airbike is more than looks. A delightfully simple and light machine, it meets the weight requirements of Part 103 with 30 pounds to spare! An airplane you get on not in, TEAM’s Airbike is aimed at newcomers, or anyone looking for a good time in the air. Derived from their early (never released) EZE-MAX, an all wood design with an equally narrow fuselage, the Airbike represents a departure for TEAM. She’s made up of a welded steel main structure, wood wings, fiberglass upper cowl, aluminum support structure… making the Airbike a genuine “composite.”
Flying an Airbike confirms one thing. Handling of the TEAM model line is a very crisp. Plus, takeoffs and landings can be done at such slow speeds that things happen at a comfortable pace. The Airbike is intended to be a mellow flyer, cruising in the mid-40s. Novice and experienced pilots will find something to like in the Airbike.
Then, you have the TEAM team. Many customers say the TEAM mates are the main reason they keep coming back. A talented bunch, they’re also widely regarded as genuinely caring about their customer’s satisfaction. Company requests for their builders to bring their planes to the airshows regularly brings a crowd no other manufacturer has matched. Airbike, MAX-103, or any other of the TEAM planes will put a smile on your face while giving relief to your wallet.
TEAM was featured in the October 1993 and November 1992 issues.