The First Ten Years


'Cam Long Down' photo from Google


Les Hocking made the first test flight of what has become known as the McBroom hang glider, taking off at Camlong Down near Dursley during March 1972. He also became the very first person to fly a modern hang glider in the United Kingdom. Followed very closely by Geoff McBroom and later Tony Gillette.

On another occasion (sometime between April and June), Arthur Duke, another member of Geoff's team, took some photos of the glider. At the time the team were flying from Frocester Hill and by then they were all quite proficient. (Photos of the glider) Geoff reported that during the day, Tony Gillette undertook the very first cross country flight when he managed to get over the hedge at the bottom of the slope (he said with tongue in cheek).

February/March. The 'Sailplane and Gliding' magazine published an article from Ann Welch describing how hang gliding was taking off in the USA, and of how it might soon arrive on our UK shores.

April/May. After a big response from people all over the country about her earlier article, Ann Welch undertook more research on the subject and published a follow up article in which she mention that she knew of three different gliders that had already been built. It was published in the April/May edition of 'Sailplane and Gliding' magazine.

18th June. Enter new pilot and hang glider John Cardiff, who flew a McBroom built hang glider at Nympsfield, during a conventional gliding meet. An article was published in the 'Sailplane Gliding' magazine during August and September 1972.

Another group of enthusiasts that included the Haynes Brothers, Robin, Terence and John started building their own hang glider. Terry Haynes recalls seeing an American magazine in the early 1970's with an illustration of a primitive Rogallo glider skimming down sand dunes. He’s sure it had a bamboo structure that supported the pilot under his arm pits rather than what is now the conventional A-Frame and central hang point. This all led to some scaling up of illustrations, some weird experiments and, eventually several flights from Box Hill in Surrey. Terry Haynes: “It was all wildly experimental and included ideas about reflex that were somewhat under developed, so we tended to tighten cables if things looked a bit wobbly without fully appreciating what we were doing to the aerodynamics. This led to some interesting characteristics and I can remember very clearly stalling out after getting some lift over a tree line and going up, which we didn't actually think was possible until then, and then coming down to earth very quickly and doing a gammy leg in”.

Terry Haynes also remembers that at one time, they visited the patents office to try and have a look at Rogallo’s patents and suddenly became aware of Bill Bennett's Patent for the hang glider, and from there things hooked together. Terry’s personal records show that they became airborne on Box Hill in August 1972 and he has an article from the 'London Evening Standard' newspaper to support his claim. They went on to form a company and call it Waspair Ltd.

Waspair Ltd began experimenting with a hang glider that became known as the 'A' type. The very first prototype was called No1 and its sail was glued on to the frame. The 'A' type had a 19 foot wing boom, an 80º nose angle, 5º billow, and a total sail area of 220 sq-ft. Four of these gliders were built over a period of about a year. The sail material was rip-stop nylon. Plans were also supplied to other enthusiasts around the country.

During the summer Nick Regan and a close friend designed their own hang glider and built it during October. Nick was in touch with Joe Faust in the USA at the time, having read one of his early hang gliding 'Low and Slow' magazines. They based their glider on the 'Kilbo Plans' drawn up by Dave Kilborne from the USA. As stated earlier the 'Kilbo Plans' were a copy of one of Bill Bennett’s early hang gliders.

They based their glider on the 'Kilbo Plans' drawn up by Dave Kilborne from the USA, which were distributed free in the 'Low and Slow' magazine #6 in mid 1972. The 'Kilbo Plans' were a copy of one of Bill Bennett’s early hang gliders.

The Selsey Birdman Rally was held in 1972 however the date is unknown. An article was published in two American magazines.

August. Dave Watts was also one of the very early pioneers, although his name is not as well known as Geoff’s. Dave became interested while sitting in a dentist waiting room and reading a 'National Geographic' magazine. An article described a meeting in Southern California to celebrate the 123rd anniversary of Otto Lilienthal's birthday on 23rd May 1848, so the magazine was definitely dated late 1971. Dave says he designed and built his first glider based on the American Batso design. Not having access to bamboo, he made the glider from sailing boat spars (18 gauge 2 inches) he had purchased from a Brighton company known as Andersons, and covered it with black polythene. The frame was held together with aluminium scaffold clamps. He called it 'The Black Polythene Bat'. Dave flew after Geoff, but was in contact with him, at a time when Geoff was reducing his gliders down from 280 to 240 sq-ft. Ditchling was the only place steep enough to ensure that Dave's glider actually made it into the air, although looking at the photograph of Dave flying from Ditchling it does not look like a Batso airframe and control system. You can clearly see an A-Frame. He may have used a set of 'Batso plans', but apart from perhaps using the wing size information, it doesn’t seem like he has followed those plans very closely. Having a harness or seat would be a complete break away from the Batso design, which was a slightly altered copy of the 'Bat Glider'. It looks like he might have used the 'Kilbo Plans' which were around during 1972. He was also in contact with Jack Lambie (USA) at the time, who sent him plans for his biplane. Dave is also reported to have been the first person in the United Kingdom to fly what was known as a reefing hang glider, (variable billow and/or geometry). Looking at the photo of Dave's first flight at Ditchling and looking at the vegetation around him, it's assumed that the flight took place during the summer.

3rd September. The 'Southdown Gliding Club' hosted their 50th anniversary of the 1922 Itford first meeting at Firle Beacon. Geoff McBroom demonstrated two of his hang gliders to the enthusiastic crowd. It's reported that on one flight he made a couple of beats along the ridge in 20-25 mph winds and eventually got caught in a rotor.

October/November. Geoff McBroom became the first person in the United Kingdom to claim a flight duration record of eight and a half minutes while flying one of his own gliders at the Westbury White Horse. Later to be known as soaring.

October. Later John Cardiff also flying a McBroom glider raised the bar and soared for ten minutes. Its believed that the glider was either the Second or Third glider that Geoff McBroom built.

Len Gabriels believes Geoff's record was definitely around October/November, having seen an article about the record in the 'Sunday Empire Newspaper'.

October/November. Len Gabriels states that after seeing Geoff‘s article in the newspaper, he wrote to him asking for a set of plans, but got fed up of awaiting their none arrival, and therefore set about building his own hang glider instead. Several weeks later Geoff finally got in touch with Len apologising for the very long delay, as he’d been laid up with a broken arm connected with hang gliding.

November. Len Gabriels remembers seeing an article on the Television news that mentioned Bill Bennett’s visit to the United Kingdom. This also opens up the possibility that Bill Bennett, although an Australian living in American was also one of the very early flyers in the United Kingdom.

November. (Actual date unknown). Ken Messenger met up with Bill Bennett when Bennett visited the local water ski club (possibly the South Cerney Flooded gravel pits) to demonstrate a new man carrying kite which could be towed behind a boat to a reasonable height and then release to glide back down onto the water. It looked terrific and Ken wondered if it would be possible to glide from the local hills near Marlborough. Bill kindly agreed to show him it could be done and the next day they visited a suitable local site for the demonstration. Unfortunately, the wind was far too strong and all Ken witnessed was a 10 second flight on a slope close to the bottom of the hill. Later he realised that Bill had been pretty brave doing even that short flight. Ken asked Bill to send him one of his gliders upon his return to the USA.

October/November. An article titled 'A Pilot's Guide to the Revolution' by Ann Welch was published in the 'Sailplane & Gliding' magazine, and gave a basic account of how Ann had seen the gliding's development over the year and the direction she thought it might be going, especially by those with a love of flying and a lack of money.

Early November, Nick Regan finally flew his own designed (Low and Slow USA magazine influenced) hang glider at Farnham Park.

November. Gerry Breen based his first hang glider on Geoff McBroom’s design, although up until then he had only seen one photo of it. He described it as his clear polythene covered Himets aluminium scaffold tube hang glider. The first flight he made was at Whitehorse Hill near Wantage in November 1972. However, it turned out to be much too heavy and large to handle, so he cut it down to a reasonable size and later managed some significant soaring flights.

November. Bill Bennett (Australian living in the USA) took part in the 'The Record Breakers' a British Broadcasting Company (BBC) Television program filmed at the London Gliding Club based on the Dunstable Downs.

Len Gabriels has reported that he first became interested in hang gliding after seeing an article in a children’s 'Look & Learn', magazine which described, with artist’s impressions, what the hippies in California were doing with bamboo poles and polythene sheet using the parallel bar system. Gliding down sand dunes, it even advised would-be flyers not to fly higher than they would want to fall. Len had been a lifelong aero-modeller fan from the age of 12. He had trained as an engineer, served in the RAF and worked in an aircraft factory. He fully understood the theory, design and the building of aircraft. However, he had never flown one and the article sparked him into action, as he wanted to be up there flying alongside his model aircraft. At first, he started to make miniatures like the article showed, and chuck them about. Then during October/November of the same year, the 'Sunday Empire News', (a long defunct broadsheet newspaper) ran a half a page spread on Geoff McBroom who had already made one and flown it for a British record of around eight minutes. This really got Len fired up and he wrote to Geoff, but received no reply for several weeks and even then, it was only to say he had broken his arm(s) hang gliding and apologised for the slow reply. However, by this time Len was excited and impatient. He had finalised his little models and bought tube, cloth, etc, and proceeded to make one of his own. The dimensions were all his own and, according to Len, there wasn't really anything to copy from. However, he does remember seeing the A-Frame on the newspaper photo of Geoff McBroom’s first glider.

26th December Boxing Day. Len Gabriels, along with a few of his fellow aero-modeler friends attempted to fly his first hang glider but could not get airborne, not realising how steep a hill was needed.

It was published in the December 1972 / January 1973 issue of 'Sailplane & Gliding' magazine that Justine Wills was flying a hang glider, although an exact date has not yet been confirmed, or what glider he was flying at the time and where. It's assumed that it was some time during late 1972 before the article was written. The same magazine has two other articles of interest, one from Geoff McBroom and Les Hockings, and another one from Philip Wills.

Justine is the son of Philip Wills, the famous British sailplane pilot and pioneer.

Justine Wills is certainly the first person in the UK to use a 'King Post', as can be clearly seen in a couple of photos published in the December 1972 / January 1973 edition of the 'Sailplane & Gliding' magazine. It's late 1973 before manufactures start talking about and using a king post on their gliders, and not until 1974 that Geoff McBroom made a public recommendation that all hang gliders should have a king post. Here are photos of Justine's glider one and two.

The only other evidence of a king post at that time is a video of Bill Moyes and Angela Revelle, water ski kiting during 1971, on the Australian Hang Gliding History website. Go to the video web page and click on Ski Kiteing.

There is no king post on the 'Kilbro Plans' displayed in the #14 'Low and Slow' magazine that was published in June 1972, and Bill Bennett's patent taken out during 1972 clearly shows that it did not have a king post.

This is an approximate order of the first flights taken in the United Kingdom:

1) Les Hocking
2) Geoff McBroom
3) Tony Gillette
4) Robin Hayne
5) John Hayne
6) Terry Haynes
7) John Cardiff
8) Dave Watts
9) Bill Bennett
10) Nick Regan
11) Gerry Breen
12) Justine Wills

Justin Wills certainly fits in somewhere on this list, but for the moment we do not have an exact date for his first flight. However, from conversations with other historians and the articles posted in the 'Sailplane & Gliding' magazines, he was certainly flying before December. Its possibly he could be in position 9, which would mean that Nick and Gerry might each drop one place. However, there is also the possibility that there were other flyers, which at this moment in time are unknown.


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