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Hang Gliding History : Development in Britain of the Flexwing hang glider : Fifth Generation

Fifth Generation

During the year 1980 the British hang gliding industry was overtaken by a development from America which completely wiped out all existing models. Although several of these models had such sophistications as camber cut sails and keel pockets they could not compete with the outstanding advance in performance offered by the Ultralite Products Inc. Comet. This American glider had taken the U.S. scene by storm and inflicted a resounding defeat upon the British team in that Summer's competition. Rory Carter set up a company (Airways Gliders Ltd) to manufacture under license the Comet for British European markets and other manufacturers had to set about producing 'clones'. Solar Wings took up the challenge in July and had their Typhoon available before the end of the year. It followed the successful formula as epitomised by the Comet in that it had about 50 percent double surface. The airfoil section was defined closely by preformed battens whilst the now far more aerodynamically correct leading edges were reinforced by mylar sheet inserts. The cross booms, which in previous models right back to the original Rogallo had been exposed, were now enclosed within the double surface to give a significant reduction in drag at higher airspeeds. Not only that but also very importantly the cross booms were no longer rigidly attached to the keel at the cross over point. The new design allowed the cross booms to float, only restrained from excessive movement by a strop and by the cross boom tensioning wires. At the time of its introduction to the British market the double surface glider incorporated features which had been carried forward from previous models, including the keel pocket and the camber and shaping which were sewn into the sail. Sail making had arrived at the point where computer aided design and very close manufacturing tolerances were the norm. It has been estimated that the double surface glider required 75 per cent more work to produce than the fourth generation machine. The inexorable rise in the production and development costs had accelarated significantly.

Fifth generation double surface gliders represented a large step forward in performance with L/Ds of about 10:1. Whilst this step forward of only two points may seem very little, in practice the pilots of the time felt it was a significant improvement. The clone when flown against the previous year's models was outstanding in its performance, especially at speed where it left the older gliders 'for dead'. On the handling front perhaps some agility and easy landing properties had been lost. Pilots, even of some experience began to suffer from 'nose-slammer syndrome ',an unpleasant suspicion that the forthcoming landing was not going to be a happy experience - yet again. Of the 1980/81 clones perhaps the Hiway Demon was the best handling glider and the easiest to land.

Very soon after beginning the production of licensed Comets the Airwave company developed its own clone. This was called 'The Magic' - supposedly because of the delighted test pilot's comment. The high quality and finish of their gliders allied to excellent performance soon established Airwave as the industry leader and until toward the end of the company's existence its products could arguably be termed the benchmark against which other manufacturers measured their success. The fierce competition which the arrival of the fifth generation glider engendered ensured that two companies would dominate the hills for the forthcoming decade - namely Airwave and Solar Wings. The Magic from the Airwave company went through several marks and variants. It could be said that the Magic IV represented the best of the 'M' series of gliders. Although a little heavy its handling and performance ensured that it won many competitions and gave hundreds of pilots tremendous enjoyment in safety. It was undoubtedly a classic fourth generation glider. Solar Wings meanwhile developed their Typhoon into the S4. Here again the glider was considered rather heavy and in the opinion of many pilots it was rated as slightly inferior in its handling and landing qualities as compared to the Airwave machines.

Airwave's development program next produced the Magic Kiss which was to be the first of the K series gliders. The Kiss was sold in some numbers and became a standard club machine just as the M series had done.

Solar Wings had countered the Magic with its Ace and then Ace Sport before producing the Rumour and later Scandal. Avian, a relative newcomer to the manufacturing scene joined the fray with the Java but in reality this was a declining market as fewer young recruits were joining the ranks of veteran pilots. No longer was there a ready sale for last year's glider, and prices too had inevitably been driven high by the economic forces involved in producing sophisticated machines in ever decreasing numbers.

General Specification of fifth generation gliders

Aspect ratio 5.5-8.5.

Nose angle 120 degrees or higher.

Sail planform Full flying wing with no tail.

Sail shaping Double surface airfoil that is entirely cut and sewn to match the frame exactly. Most models retained keel pocket from previous generation.

Keel and leading edges Very strong and often tapered towards the tip.

Cross tubes Concealed and floating within airfoil sail, raked forward and allowed to move from side to side, but tethered from the keel.

Sail slackness So tight on frame to give minus quantities of billow.

Top rigging Kingpost. Later models with airfoil section.

Battens Preformed metal battens under tension top and bottom of sail.

Pitch stability From planform stability, luff lines and tip struts or internal floating truncations.

Duration of type 1980 to 1997.

Examples Airwave Magic, Hiway Demon, Solar Wings Typhoon, Southdown Lightning and Avian Java.

Fifth Generation
Hang Gliding History : Development in Britain of the Flexwing hang glider : Fifth Generation