Who invented the flex wing hang glider?


Translated to spanish from the article written by Mark Woodhams

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Who invented the flex wing hang glider?

The birth of hang gliding as a sport is popularlly seen as a Californian phenomenon. Few have questioned the notion that Richard Miller, Bill Moyes and Bill Bennett brought the Rogalto hang glider to the attention of a receptive American public in the late sixties. But where did they get their ideas from? Miller's attitude to hang gliding was not as a sport but as an exercise in freedom. In the days of flower power his visions of personal motorless flight and 'transcendental aerodynamics' attracted popular interest. His bamboo and polythene contraptions were a perfect expression of alternative aviation. Miller's source was directly from the NASA research documentation. Moyes and Bennett however, were much more in the mould of the early barnstormers. Both Australians, they came to Europe and the States to sell 'kites' as a business. But who taught them to fly and where did they get their designs from? All paths lead back to the little-known John Dickensons and this is his story.

Flexible wings

The starting point for the whole saga is the work done by Francis and Gertrude Rogalto in the late forties. Their aim was to construct a flying machine with no rigid element or element designed to produce rigidity: a completely new concept, never seen before, with no model in nature"- Their early work is evidenced by their 1948 Patent, and the photograph of a flexible test vehicle, typical of the period seen in the Langley wind tunnel (see photo).

The Rogalto's invention found moderate success when it was privately marketed as a toy, but it was the space race which began to btossom in the mid-fifties that caught the imagination of NASA. Francis Rogalto started in 1936 as an engineer at the then NACA controlled Langley Research Center, later to take charge of wind-tunnel experiments.

There is a clear line of devetopment from the original flexible wing ideas directly into paragliding. The Pioneer Parachute Co and Irvin Industries manufactures versions of the type as the Delta 11 Parawing. Domina Jalbert also took up the flexible wing principle and is now credited by some as the father of paragliding - but all of these pioneers owe a huge debt to the original research work of the Rogaltos.

As the pace of competitive States/USSR rocket devetopment quickened, Francis Rogalto adapted and extended the totally flexible principle into semi-rigid variants. This mainly involved stabilizing the leading edges with compressed air beam or rigid structures like aluminum tube There was a great state of creative ideas in this period which culminated in the set of patents all dated around the mid to late sixties.

It was the custom in U.S. Government establishments that once the basic studies of a devetopment were completed, private companies were invited to take the ball and run with a series of lucrative contracts. The Ryan company and North American Aviation were awarded most of these, and very soon flex-wings of man shapes, sizes and power plant were devetoped. Apart from flexible re-entry gliders, helicopter towed flex-wings, radio controlled self-steering cargo delivery gliders, rocket powered escape rogalto modules, Fleeps and Parasevs abounded. Millions were spent en research. During this time most of the devetopments were made available for public consumption, and photographs and articles were not uncommon in the popular press. Among many others, in 1962 Ryan published a photo of a Gemini capsule suspended beneath a primitive rogalto wing with pneumatic leading edges (see photo).

But then suddenly the bubble burst and devetopment el flexible wing craft stowed dramatically. No further contracts were awarded to Ryan or North American. Capsule re-entry was to be effected by parachute only, into the oceans. The Shuttle principle devetoped so fast it made all the flexible wing deptoyment, re-entry vehicles redundant. Finally the military and space agencies tost interest completely, and the programmed end which millions of dollars had been lavished, ceased to exist. And that is where it would have stopped had not severas enthusiasts, spread throughout the world, seen the possibilities of the Rogalto wing as cheap personal aviation.

In 1963 John Dickensons was working in electronics, not aviation, and had just moved to Grafton, New South Wales, Australia with his wife Amy. As a child John was obsessed with things that fly, But as he grew up circumstances forced him to train for a more down-to-earth profession. However, the urge to fly cannot lightly be put aside, and it was on Woolgoolga beach that John was spotted flying a modified Benson gyro-plane by officials of the Grafton Water Ski Club. The Annual Jacaranda Festival was approaching and John, by now a club member, was drafted in it build and a water ski kite as part of the show. If he could build and fly a gyro-plane, a ski kite should give him no trouble, The Club expected John to make a conventional flat-kite, the sort that doesn't really fly but goes upwards in drag reaction just due to the tow boat speed. This idea was abandoned when John discovered that every previous kite flyer at the Jacaranda Festival had been injured, and that was what everybody turned up for! it was at this time that the Gemini photo was released, and this seemed to be much more suited to the aquatic environment. John saw it in a magazine and was inspired.

It is precisely at this point that history was made. Armed with only the photograph. No dimensions. No back up information. John started to make models based on the flex-wing principle and they flew - really well. By May 1963 he had a half-size model in which he could be towed. The full size version was devetoped and the maiden flight was in September 1963. The photo shows it's second flight with Rod Fuller as pitot. The Daily Examiner of October 1963 records the event for posterity. Note the weight shift single hang point, the 'A' frame. All the major innovations that lead directly to hang gliding as we know it today were devetoped in the space of about 6 months On the 11 th October 1963 John filed for a patent and Provisional Protection was awarded for the application numbered 36189/63.

The first gliders had wood leading edges, aluminum cross-booms, iron 'A' frames and the sails were made from blue plastic sheeting- Total cost $24! By 1964.

Flight and construction problems had been sorted. John's Ski Wing, for that is what it was called, was now made entirely out of aluminum, except for the mild steel 'A' frame, part-battened sails out of nyton and the rigging was wire cable. He had designed the nose plate so that the leading edges swung into the keel, and the cross-boom pivoted, fore and aft, for quick knock down and car-top transport. And most importantly, although launch was still being towed behind a boat, the landings were often made off the tow line in true free-flight. lt is interesting to note that work on personal Rogaltos in the states was still a year or so off, and when it did start it would go the bamboo, plastic and parallel bars route.

Franc’s Rogalto and Dickensons

In 1964 a Brisbane newspaper had published a picture of John Dickenson's creation and a man called Robin Bishop had seen it and wrote to his friend Francis Rogallo in Virginia, USA, explaining that an Australian had independently developed the Rogallo principle into a perfectly viable man-carrying aeroplano for so little money it was laughable. Understandably interested, Rogallo wrote to John in September 1964 requesting information. On the 24th November the entire plans and general specification of the Ski Wing were sent back to him at the Langley Research Center in Virginia. In just about every detail the craft described in the drawings is identical to what became known throughout the world as the 'Standard Rogallo' and latterly 'Bog Rog'. We had to wait for another ten years before this type of hang glider started to become obsolete.

In Francis Rogallo's reply to John dated 29th January 1965, he says, and 1 quote directly: "To get back to your glider design, I hope to make some copies of your drawings and perhaps have some individual or groups build a glider like yours locally ... Your design looks better than other ski kites that I have seen and I wish you great success with it." This is praise indeed from the master-

The first manufactures

By 1964 the publicity surrounding the Ski Wing was beginning to create a demand and John started making and selling the glider to water ski enthusiasts. Rod Fuller now drove the boats, John did the demo flights and people like Ruy Leighton bought the early examples. However for one reason or another the business of marketing the hang glider as a tow launched craft was making slow progress.

They were flying a lot of exhibitions and everyone was very enthusiastic, but converting interest into sales was an uphill struggle. John thinks that it was the dare-devil publicity that made people wary. After all the work, they had a complete system to sell and John wasn't making any money out of it. He was beginning to wonder if it was all worth while.

In 1966 a move to Sydney and a meeting with Mike Burns seemed to open up new commercial possibilities. Mike was a graduate aeronautical engineer who had independently developed a Rogallo type tow glider called the Ski Plane. His company Aerostructures now started to build the Dickensons Ski Wing whilst John demo'd it and taught people to fly-

About this time John set an Australian 2 hour endurance record and people like Bill Moyes, Bill Bennett and Gelignite Jack Murray began to sit up and take notice.

In March 1967 Moyes and Bennett signed up for trial flights. John duly taught them both to fly and Bill Moyes bought a kite from Aerostructured. Shortly afterwards the company went broke owing John all the commission from the wings that had been sold.

Bill Moyes and John became good friends. John willingly donated the design and constructional information of the Ski Wing to Bill, and in the years between 1967 and 1969 a great deal of collaborative work was carried out in the search for bigger performance. lt seems that Bill was a fearless flyer and his chase for records aild hang gliding publicity created an enormous press following. Bill Bennett was similarly motivated and altitude records sec-sawcd between the two barnstormers. In 1969-70 Bennett moved to the States with some gliders based en John Dickensons designs and set up a manufacturing business in California. Moyes was already set up in Australia and beginning to make it pay. lt is ironic that at a time when hang gliding started to fire the public's imagination world-wide, John Dickensons should begin to retreat from involvement with it's future. Pressures at work, the financial implications of the move to Sydney and trying to salvage a Diploma in Management at the job all contributed to his withdrawal. By late 1969 John had stopped flying and building, and by 1973 the collaboration with Bill Moyes was over, though they are still good friends.

His place in history

It is undoubtedly true that many people from many countries made very real contributions to the development of the hang glider; The phenomenon of parallel development has clearly operated to a great extent. Richard Miller in the States was blissfully unaware of the work of John Dickensons in Grafton as was Mike Burns in Sydney. lt appears that Tom Purcell Jr flew a Rogallo tow vehicle in 1961,and Jim NatlandandBar Palmer were also pioneers in the mid-sixties.

Despite all the efforts of these visionary engineers, the name of John Dickensons must stand alone as the man who created the first completely developed flexible wing hang glider, with all the features we now take for granted. He did it in 1963, way ahead of anything that was going on in the States. He did it in a small town in Australia away from the so-called centers of learning. He did it in a small town in a starting point, and he even had a provisional patent for it.

The whole process was complete in a ridiculously short time at hardly any cost. ironically he never made any money out of his invention.

Despite all this, his contribution is not generally recognized. Not even in Australia. Surely John Dickensons rightful place in history is alongside Dr. Francis Rogallo.


 Quien invento el ala delta?

El nacimiento del cometismo como un deporte es visto popularmente como un fenomeno Californiano. Pocos se han cuestionado la nocion de que Richard Miller, Bill Moyes and Bill Bennett trajeron el Rogallo a la atención del receptivo publico americano  de los sesentas. Pero de donde saaron ellos sus ideas? La actitud de Miller hacia el ala delta no fue como deporte, sino como un ejercicio de libertad. En los dias del “poder de la flor” sus visiones de un vuelo personal no motorizado atrajeron el interés del público. Sus alas de bamboo y polietileno fueron una expresion perfecta de aviación alternativa. La fuente de Miller vino directamente de la investigacion en la documentación de la NASA. Moyes y Bennett, ambos australianos vinieron a Europa y a los Estados unidos a vender “cometas”, como un negocio, pero quien les enseño a volar y de donde sacaron sus diseños? Del poco conocido john Dickenson y esta es su historia.

Alas flexibles

El punto de partida de todo esto es el trabajo hecho por Francis and Gertrude Rogallo, a finales de los cuarentas. Su proposito era construir una maquina voladora sin ningun elemento rigido; un concepto completamente nuevo, nunca visto antes, sin modelo en la naturaleza. Su trabajo es evidenciado por su patente de 1.948 y la fotografia de un vehiculo de prueba, tipico del periodo visto en el tunel de viento de Langley.

La invención de los Rogallos encontro un exito moderado y fue mercadeado privadamente como un juguete, pero fue la carrera espacial que empezo a florecer a mediados de los cincuentas que capturo la imaginacion de la NASA. Francis Rogallo empezo en 1.936 como un ingeniero de la en ese entonces Centro de Investigacion Langley NACA a cargo de los experimentos en el tunel de viento.

Hay una linea clara de desarrollo desde las ideas originales de las alas flexibles directamente en parapente.  Las pioneras Parachute co. and Irwin Industries fabrica versiones del tipo delta II parawing. Domina Jalbert tambien tomo los principios del ala flexible y es hoy acredito por algunos como el padre del parapentismo – pero todos estos pioneros le deben sus desarrollos a los trabajos de investigacion de los Rogallos.

Pero todos estas ideas de vehiculos de re-entrada, helicopter flex wings, vehiculos radio controlados, repentinamente perdieron todo su interés y su desarrollo se hizo muy lento y los militares y las agencias espaciales perdieron su interés completamente.

Sin embargo muchos entusiastas vieron la posibilidad en los rogallos de una forma de aviacion personal poco costosa.

The dreafn of personal aviation

En 1.963 John Dickenson que trabajaba en electronica y se encontraba viviendo en Australia y a quien se le habia visto en las playas volando un giro-plano fue invitado por los miembros de club de Ski acuatico de Grafton, para hacer unas demostraciones en cometas que eran haladas por lanchas (que en realidad no volaban sino que subian por el drag de acuerdo a la velocidad de los botes)  en el Festival Annual de Jacaranda, sin embargo John abandono la idea cuando descubrio que la mayoria de los pilotos que habian volado estas cometas, se habian accidentado. Fue en este momento en que la foto Gemini se habia publicado , que parecia muy apropiada para el medio acuatico. John la vio en una revista y se inspiro.

Es precisamente en este momento que se hizo historia. Ayudado con solo la foto, sin dimensiones y sin informacion de respaldo, john empezo a hacer los modelos basados en el principio del ala flexible y volo realmente bien

Para Mayo de 1.963 el tuvo un modelo de la mitad del tamaño que podia ser halado. La version de tamañño completa fue desarrollada e hizo su primer vuelo en Septiembre de 1.963.

La foto muestra a Rod Fuller como piloto. El “Daily examiner  de Octubre de 1.963 registro el evento para la posteridad. Note el  punto unico de colgarse , el marco en “A” y todas la innovaciones que llevaron directamente al ala delta que hoy conocemos fueron desarrolladas en un espacio de 6 meses. El 11 de Octubre de 1,963 John aplico por la patente y se le dio protección provisional numerada 36189/63.

Las primeras alas tuvieron bordes de ataque de madera, cross bars de aluminio , laterales y barra de control de hierro y las velas hechas de plastico azul, a un costo de $24.

Para 1.964 los problemes de construcción y del vuelo se habian solucionado y el “ski wing” que era como se llamaba ya se hacia completamente de aluminio, a excepción de las laterales y la barra de control que eran hechas de acero, costillas hechas de nylon y cables de alambre en las alas. El habia diseñado el plato de la nariz de manera que los bordes de ataque se cerraran junto a la quilla y el cross-boom giraba sobre un eje hacia delante y hacia atrás para asegurar rapidamente y para transporte en el carro. Y lo mas importante, aunque el despegue

Todavia se hacia halado por un bote, los aterrizajes se hacian en pleno vuelo libre.

En 1.964 un periodico de Brisbane habia publicado una foto de la creación de John Dickenson y un hombre llamado Robin Bishop la vio y escribio a su amigo Francis Rogallo en Virginia, USA, explicandole que un australiano independientemente habia desarrollado el principio de Rogallo en un aeroplano para llevar una persona por muy poco dinero.

Muy interesado Rogallo le escribio a John en Septiembre de 1.964 pidiendole información. El 24 de Noviembre los planos completos  y las especificaciones generales del “ski wing” fueron enviados al Centro de Investigación Langley. En casi todos los detalles el aparato descrito en los dibujos es identico a lo que se conocio en todo el mundo como el “Rogallo standard”. Tuvimos que esperar unos 10 años para que este tipo de rogallo se volviera obsoleto

En la respuesta de Francis Rogallo a john de fecha Enero 29 de 1.965, el decia “Para volver a tu diseño del planeador, yo espero hacer unas copias de tus dibujos y tal vez hacer que unos individuos o grupos constryan un  planeador como el tuyo localmente …. Tus diseños se ven mejor que otros kits con skies que he visto y te deseo un gran éxito con el. 

Los primeros fabricantes

Para 1.964 la publicidad alrededor de el ala ski habia empezado a crear una demanda y john empezo a fabricarlos y a venderlos el ala a los entusiastas del ski nautico. Rod Fuller manejo los botes, john hacia los vuelos de demostracion y Ruy Leighton compro las primeras alas.  Sin embargo, por una u otra razon el negocio de mercadear las cometas como un ala jalado por una lancha progresaba lentamente.

Ellos volaron en muchas exhibiciones y todo el mundo estaba muy entusiasmado, pero convertir el interes en ventas fue dificil. John piensa que fue la publicidad de alto riesgo que hacia que la gente dudosa. Despues de todo el trabajo  ellos tenian el sistema completo para vender y john no estaba haciendo dinero de esto y comenzaba a preguntarse si todo valia la pena.

En 1966 un viaje a Sydney y una reunion con Mike Burns abrio nuevas posibilidades comerciales. Mike era un ingeniero aeronautico quien independientemente  desarrollo un tipo de rogallo llamado SkiPlane. Su compañía Aerostructures empezo a construir el ala ski de Dickenson mientras john hacia demos y enseñaba a volar.

En estos momentos John puso un record de un vuelo de 2 horas de duracion y gente como Bill Moyes, Bill Bennett y Gelignite Jack Murray empezaron a poner atención.

En Marzo de 1967 Moyes y Bennett se alistaron para vuelos de ensayo. John les enseño a los dos a volar y Bill Moyes compro un kit de Aerostructures. Poco despues la compañía quebro debiendole todavia a John las comisiones de las alas que habia vendido.

Bill Moyes and john se volvieron buenos amigos. John voluntariamentele dono el diseño y la informacion para construirlo  el ala ski a Bill y en los años entre 1.967 y 1.969 llevaron a cabo mucho trabajo en colaboracion buscando mejor rendimiento. Parece que Bill era un volador decidido y en su busqueda de records y publicidad creo mucho interes de la prensa. Bill Bennett estuvo igualmente motivadoy entre ambos empezaron a alcanzar records de altura. En  1969-70 Bennett se fue a los Estados Unidoscon algunas alas basadas en los diseños de John Dickensons y empezo un negocio de fabricacion en California. Moyes ya se habia establecido en Australia y comenzado a obtener buenos resultados. Es Ironico que cuando el ala delta empezo a cautivar la imaginacion por el mundo entero, John Dickenson se empezo a retirar. Las presiones en el trabajo, las implicaciones financieras al moverse a Sydney y tratar de salvar su diploma de administrador, todo contribuyo a su retiro. A finales de 1.969 John habia parado de volar y de construir y para 1.973 su colaboracion con Bill Moyes habia terminado, aunque continuaban siendo buenos amigos.

Su Lugar en la historia

Es indudable que mucha gente de muchos paises han hecho contribuciones verdaderas al desarrollo del ala delta. El Fenomeno del desarrollo paralelo ocurrio en gran medida. Richard Miller en los states desconocia el trabajo de John Dickenson en Grafton como lo estaba Mike Burns en Sydney. Parece que Tom Purcell Jr volo un rogallo halado en 1.961 y Jim Natlandandbar Palmer tambien fueron pioneros a mediados de los sesentas.

Aun con todos los esfuerzos de estos ingenieros visionarios, el nombre de John Dickenson debe resaltarse como el hombre que creo el primer ala delta flexible con todas las caracteristicas  que ahora conocemos. El lo hizo en 1.963 mucho primero de cualquier cosa que se estuviera haciendo en los estados unidos. LO hizo en un pequeño pueblo en Australia lejos de los llamados centros de enseñanza. El lo hizo en un pequeño pueblo e incluso tuvo una patente provisional de el.

Todo el proceso se completo en muy poco tiempo y por muy poco valor. Ironicamente el nunca hizo ningun dinero de su invención. Fuera de todo esto , su contribucion no es generalmente reconocida, ni siquiera en Australia. Ciertamente el lugar justo en la historia de John  Dickenson es al lado del Dr. Francis Rogallo.  



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