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Original Issue


The legend began with a burst of feathers and wax, but now it has returned in the form of free flight with a Rogallo wing—and a new generation of adventurers is headed up and away, finding that a myth is as good as a mile

This is how it all began: Icarus, bold child of myth, flew too near the sun and crashed in a mess of hot wax and feathers. We have gone a long way since. Indeed, we have advanced through fog-banks of aeronautical hypertechnology so far and fast that we are now as much slaves as masters of the art.

Today a moon-bound astronaut can escape the pull of earth but he is still a puppet. The astronaut dances lightly on the lunar face, but it is the NASA computer bank in Houston that calls the tune. A small-plane pilot throbbing along at 2,000 feet is more his own master than a spaceman (provided, of course, he obeys FAA rules and the air controllers who bawl at him on selected crystal frequencies). Sailplane pilots and parachutists are free souls for sure, but neither can do his thing unless he is hauled to altitude. Of all the adventurers now crowding the sky only the aimless balloonist, drifting under a hot bag of mixed gases, is in position to enjoy the majesty of space and its silence. Despite the advantage, not even a free balloonist is truly free. He is always prisoner of the wind and spends a lot of time aloft with a propane burner roaring in his ear.

Just now, when the sweet old Icarian dream of flying like the birds is all but lost, a new breed of primitive birdmen is emerging. In the Mountain States and on the U.S. West Coast, the new Icarians are called hang-glider pilots. Back East they are known as sky surfers. Regardless of the name, East and West and in between the new breed is proliferating and quietly enjoying the sky at a dirt-cheap price.

The machines the new aviators fly are variously called hang gliders, kites, sails, delta wings and Rogallo wings. The machines glide, but they are not gliders in the current sense since they do not have rigid, cambered wings. They look like kites and resemble sails in stress and structure but are really neither. They more nearly approximate the delta wings of supersonic craft. Most commonly—and deservedly—they are called Rogallo wings in honor of Francis Rogallo, the Stanford graduate engineer who invented and developed them.

Viewed head-on in flight, a Rogallo wing is an awesome thing, novel yet archaic. Hovering in silence with a pilot dangling beneath as if he were its prey, a Rogallo wing suggests a pterodactylian throwback from Mesozoic time. Viewed from below, pressed against the bright sky, it is as casual and beautiful as a butterfly on a summer day.

The simplicity of a Rogallo wing begs belief. In a standard model a central keel of aluminum tubing is joined at the front to two other tubes that serve as the leading edges of a Dacron wing fabric. A fourth, transverse, tube holds the leading edges out so they form the 80-degree apex of a triangle. The angle of the fabric connected to the leading edges and keel exceeds the apex angle by about eight degrees so that in flight the material billows conically on either side of the keel. Four steel cables connected to a king post atop the wing—as on primitive monoplanes—serve as landing wires. Six flying wires under the wing are connected to a rigid, trapeze-like control bar. Abaft the control bar the pilot's seat (a plastic affair originally made for kiddie swings) is suspended on lines from the wing frame. That is about it. Using a few expensive tools, a competent home do-it-yourself craftsman can build a Rogallo wing for less than $100. The best Rogallos now sold ready to fly cost just over $600.

In learning the new art a fixed-wing pilot has little advantage over a non-flyer. There is no mechanical linkage between pilot and control surfaces as in a plane. In a Rogallo it is direct feel that must be acquired. In a plane the body of the pilot is a factor only with respect to wing loading and center of gravity. In a Rogallo every pound of the pilot is part of the action. An average size Rogallo wing—say 18 feet on the leading edge—weighs 35 pounds. Because his pendant body is the predominant weight, when a Rogallo pilot pushes forward on the control bar, the nose of his craft goes up; when he pulls back, the nose drops. When he shifts to either side, the wing banks and turns.

All the bold sports born or revived in the past 25 years have three things in common: 1) they all offered relief from the Babbitty boredom of these times, 2) they all languished at first because they were considered too much for ordinary folk, and 3) once this notion was dispelled, they all prospered. Consider, for example, ballooning. Fifteen years ago there was one U.S. balloon club fitfully active in suburban Philadelphia. Today there are big fat balloons carrying lawyers and bankers, publishers and candlestick makers. Consider also parachuting. Tapping its hard-core reserve of ex-paratroopers, smoke jumpers and stunt men, the U.S. could barely muster a five-man team good enough for the 1956 world championships. Ten years later mothers and sons, sons and lovers, vegetarians and octogenarians were jumping out of planes together, holding hands along the way down.

Scuba diving is this country's gross example of an underestimated sport. In the closing years of World War II a crippled aviator, Jacques Cousteau, and an engineer named Emile Gagnan devised an air demand regulator easy to use under water. By 1950 their invention could be rented by tourists on the pleasure coasts of Europe. Although it never saw service in World War II, in the U.S. the original Aqualung became associated with the heroics of frogmen—it was definitely not the kind of thing Junior should be fooling around with. When Cousteau visited here in 1950, he learned that all 10 regulators he had sent his U.S. distributor had been sold. Offered a second shipment, the distributor declined, claiming the U.S. market was saturated. In the 23 years since, more than 1½ million scuba regulators have been sold here, and no doubt somewhere in obscurity the original distributor is still pounding his fat head against the wall.

So here comes hang gliding, the latest contagion. Like the other bold sports, hang gliding languished for quite a spell, specifically from 1961 through 1971. In the past two years its track record has been phenomenal, particularly in Southern California, an area long famous as the spawning ground of restless, festering souls anxious for something different. When organized two years ago, the Southern California Hang Glider Association had 25 members. A year ago the SCHGA membership was nearly 500; it is now over 4,000. As yet there is no national association, and the SCHGA serves as such: about 2,700 of its members live outside California. Prior to 1970 most Rogallo wings were handcrafted, the total number begging 100. Many are still home-built, but in the past two years a dozen manufacturers have sold nearly 4,500. Three years ago, at the first commemorative Otto Lilienthal hang-glider meet in Corona Del Mar, Calif., 15 machines turned up. Two were Rogallo wings; the other 13 were fixed-wing gliders such as the pioneers Lilienthal, Chanute and the Wright brothers learned with long ago. At the third Lilienthal meet last July there were 157 Rogallo wings and a dozen fixed-wing craft.

The market is far from saturated. The FAA in time probably will—and should—slap a few regulations on it and slow the pace, but certainly the game will go on, for it is competitive and challenging and, when played properly, safe enough. Last month a 30-year-old Michigander named Rudy Kishazy took off under a Rogallo wing from the top of Mont Blanc in the French Alps and after a 30-minute glide landed near the village of Servoz. By so doing he flew roughly 15½ miles and set an altitude record of 13,145 feet. Using an identical Rogallo wing, a less enterprising duffer can have a perfectly safe and larky time casting himself off low sand dunes into a sea wind.

Despite its broad appeal the sport is not for everyone—certainly not for people who are nervous near the edge of tall buildings. Passengers taken aloft in Rogallos have been known to freeze. Since a Rogallo rider of necessity holds onto the pilot's control bar, such terror could bring disaster. Regrettably it is the kind of game that at the outset will attract careless optimists and show-offs. It suffers already on that count. The SCHGA has records of six deaths. In three instances the Rogallo pilots seemed to be stretching their luck in routine flights. Two others were foolishly stunting in a way that far exceeded the parameters of their craft.

Following Icarus, many of the world's great brains took up the problem of flight. Some of the smartest—Leonardo da Vinci for one—contributed almost nothing. Over the years men tried to get aloft with fixed wings and flapping wings, by using the buoyancy of gases and the vertical lift obtained from air screws and rotating fans. All the archetypes eventually succeeded except flapping wings. (A few wing-flappers are still trying, and more power to them.)

The colorful flexible wings now gliding, soaring and flying under power might never have come to be except for Francis Rogallo, a California-born engineer of flexible mind who once described his own genius by remarking, "I can't say what motivates some other inventor to do what he does. Sometimes I don't know why I do what I do." Twenty-five years ago Francis Rogallo was working at the Langley Research Center, which is now part of NASA. His work largely involved tunnel testing and stability and control problems on conventional craft. In his spare time he turned his back on the screaming progress of modern flight and looked down a long corridor that had barely been explored. In a world agog at the prospect of going ever upward and outward, across the sonic barrier and into space, Rogallo began toying with the idea of portable, flexible machines that would get stuff back to earth—not merely safely down as a parachute can, but in piloted or radio-controlled flight back to a particular landing spot. He built and successfully flew models with 30 square feet of wing that were as limp as a sail and depended only on the placement of suspension lines to provide rigidity along the keel and leading edges as aluminum tubing does in the sporting wings today.

He tried to hustle his concept to government agencies and private business, but for nearly a decade the most tangible interest came from a New Haven company manufacturing Silly Putty. For two years the putty makers produced a Rogallo configuration out of Mylar and sold it as a child's kite. The Rogallo Flexi-kite flew excellently but was, alas, as easily tangled in trees and phone lines as any other. Retailing at $3, it could not compete with kites of paper and sticks. Rogallo recalls that he made a few hundred dollars out of the venture.

After Sputnik I went into orbit and the space race began, the Rogallo wing along with a lot of neglected ideas was swept up in the scramble. Indeed, it seems that just about every flight-conscious soul except Santa Claus was suddenly courting the Rogallo concept. Wings were built and flown in about every way Rogallo originally conceived: in gliding and soaring flight, in powered and towed flight, as air-dropped and rocket-launched vehicles. Rogallo wings were rocketed out at near Mach 3 and successfully deployed at 200,000 feet. The Army Transportation Research Command towed Jeeps and other vehicles under flexible wings. A three-ton load was safely brought down in radio-controlled flight. Ryan Aeronautical built two powered wings called "Fleeps," with 210-hp Continental engines that were able to take off with 1,000-pound pay loads. NASA built the "Paresev," an odd contraption that looked like a one-man surrey with a triangular awning above. The Paresev had a wing loading more than four times that of modern sport wings. In an efficient glide it whizzed along at 50 miles an hour and landed at 40. At Edwards Air Force Base it was safely flown down from above 5,000 feet by Test Pilot Milt Thompson and Astronauts Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong. NASA considered using huge, radio-controlled Rogallo wings to bring 50-ton booster stages of spacecraft back to land, but before long the boosters were going too far downrange to return without power. During this Cinderella period of the flexible wing the Langley Research Center became part of NASA: thus Rogallo, the inventor, worked on his own concept at salary. Because his comprehensive patent expired in 1968, before the sport boom began, his salary and a few hundred bucks from the Silly Putty people are all he has realized out of his wonder wing. Still, this seems to satisfy him. "I've had some fame," he says.

In the early '60s aeronautical engineers on the mailing list for NASA reports began tinkering with Rogallo wings on their own. A Northern Californian, Barry Hill Palmer, made short flights under a Rogallo wing by running and leaping off low hills and dunes. So far as the records show, he thus became the aborigine of the present sport. After moving to Florida, Palmer built several powered models and licensed them as experimental aircraft. In 1961 a North Carolina engineer, Thomas Purcell Jr., took off successfully under tow at the Raleigh-Durham Airport aboard a home-built Rogallo quite like the NASA Paresev that flew a year later. Milt Thompson, the NASA pilot who first tested the Paresev, learned on Purcell's homemade machine. Purcell later put floats on his Rogallo and was towed aloft by a boat, thus becoming the first amphibious flexible flyer.

In 1965 another engineer, Jim Natland, was so taken by the idea that he plunked out a bundle of cash to have the eminent West Coast sailmaker, Kenny Watts, cut and stitch a Dacron fabric for his handcrafted frame. Natland made 150-foot flights off a slope near his home in Palos Verdes, Calif. and later flew a bit off the steep 10th tee of a golf course in Huntsville, Ala. He was convinced that the fun he had found in the dry technology of NASA reports could easily be developed into an "addictive sport." He cast about for someone with capital to join him in the new venture and had no takers.

The sport popped up here and there and really went nowhere until 1969 when it got an unexpected push from half a world away. Down under in Australia in the early '60s, two water skiers, Bill Moyes and Bill Bennett, were flying under boat tow with flat kites like those American stunt men had been using for 15 years. "Flat kites are an invention of the devil," Bill Bennett now says. "We figured there had to be a better way to die." A brainstorming electronics engineer, John Dickinson of Gosford, New South Wales, had come onto NASA papers detailing the Rogallo wing. Under Dickinson's direction—they came to call him Dr. Cyclops—Moyes and Bennett built Rogallo wings of good Oregon wood and plastic used to cover banana plants. "We did just about everything possible to do that was wrong," Bennett recalls. "We crashed and burned a hundred times, and I have the scars to prove it."

In time they flew under tow higher and better than anyone could with a flat kite. When a boat towing him on the Hawkesbury River ran into a sandbar and stopped dead, Bennett had no choice but to glide down with a slack line. Thereafter they deliberately cut loose and flew free. In the late '60s they were taking off snow slopes of Mount Kosciusko in the runty Australian Alps on skis and gliding down. Bennett is not sure whether he or Moyes tried it first, but he is certain that he was always quicker getting airborne. "I am a rotten skier," he says. "I can snowplow, and that's about the limit of it. The sooner I get in the air, the better."

Hang gliding here owes its present staggering success in large part to Bennett, Moyes and a handful or contriving Australians. Indeed, the birth date of the present boom can fairly be set at April 29, 1969, when Bennett landed here bringing two special gifts. Early American noodlers such as Palmer and Natland had hung by their arms from parallel bars under their Rogallo wings, much in the style of the fixed-wing pioneer, Otto Lilienthal—a poor system compared to the present control bar and swinging seat that Bennett introduced from Australia.

Bennett's other gift was himself. It can be truly said that never before in so short a time has one man exposed a new sport to so many unbelieving eyeballs and so many feet of home-movie film. Bennett left Australia in 1969 on a world vacation, hoping to fly his wing over and off scenic wonders such as Niagara Falls and Corcovado down Rio de Janeiro way. He got no farther than California before his antics were in demand. He flew command performances at tourist spas such as Lake Tahoe, Cypress Gardens and Wisconsin Dells and, under contract to a land development company, at many lesser-known water holes. His act was written into a James Bond movie. For a TV commercial he took off under car tow from one bay of Lake Mead, flew 34 miles overland and put down with the ease of a flaring mallard on another arm of the same lake. At the dedication of the old London Bridge on Lake Havasu, he set a boat-tow altitude record of 2,960 feet, nearly half a mile higher than fiat kites can manage. Abetted by his first American disciple, Dave Kilbourne, he flew over the Golden Gate and landed on Alcatraz. He foot-launched himself off Dante's View, 5,475 feet up in the sere Amargosa Range, and landed 280 feet below sea level in Death Valley. On the 4th of July, 1969, he cut loose above the Statue of Liberty, circled it two and a half times and landed at the foot, irritating the U.S. Park custodians and the New York Harbor Police.

Many of Bennett's records have been exceeded and his antics duplicated by disciples, notably 23-year-old Robert Wills, a Southern California barefoot folk hero of elfish bent and Bunyonesque proportion. Since boyhood Bob Wills has walked the world in a friendly way, doing what comes unnaturally. He once told his mother, "I don't know what I am going to be when I grow up, but it won't be what everybody else is." And how true, how true. Over the years Wills' family—father, mother, sister and four brothers—have collected prizes in tennis, racquetball, water polo, swimming, Ping-Pong, cycling and motorcycling. Although he has always suffered from asthma, Bob Wills played the ordinary games and insists he never let the affliction cramp his style. Again, how true. On his parents' property as a boy he dug a cave of tunnels and rooms and more tunnels and rooms that threatened to collapse the whole backyard. As any fool knows, the prime risk for a compulsive cave-digger is instant suffocation. As any medical man knows, making like a mole in dirt is not the best of all hobbies for an asthmatic.

Considering his whole psyche, it is a wonder that Wills ever became a devotee, much less a master, of the Rogallo wing. His predominant passion has always been extravagant machinery, motorized or man-powered. He is an advocate of speed and noise. There is nothing that elevates him more than a poorly muffled engine crashing out decibels. There is nothing to him more beautiful than charging a steep, dry California hill on a Husky motorbike, roaring and bucking and throwing up lung-clogging dust. The maximum speed limit posted on California freeways is the minimum he can endure without fretting. "When I go slow in a car," he says, "I feel nervous." Yet he delights now in poking along at 20 miles an hour under a simple and silent Rogallo wing. Explaining his new love, he says, "When I take off a hill the suspense is left behind. There is an unbelievable free feeling as the ground falls away. I float. I have control as in a car, and use of the whole air space to turn and drift and dive. I have a sense of the wing above me in the pressure of the control bar and the sound of the wind—quiet when the nose is up and flapping the fabric in a dive. The wing becomes a part of me, and the higher I go the better I feel, for there is more time for the joy of it."

Because his home in Santa Ana lay on the southeast rim of the Greater Los Angeles smog bowl, in his 13th and 14th years Bob Wills was sent to a school for asthmatics in Denver. He hated the school, and today, as a 6'3" 195-pounder, he still rants about his two-year exile, claiming among other things that it stunted his growth.

During his exile, his brother Chris, two years his junior, motorized a kiddie wagon, using the engine off the family mower. Chris Wills is an addicted tinkerer, but simply not restless enough ever to match his older brother's productivity. Within a year after his return from Denver, motor-mad Bob Wills had easily supplanted his brother Chris as the neighborhood's most attractive nuisance. The noise of the weird machines he built filled streets. In trial runs he took younger children aboard, sometimes as ballast but usually because he enjoys company. In collisions and upsets he never killed a child bin he bloodied a less. He built at such a pace that his parents had to find a garage three miles away to handle the output.

His oddest machines were well outside the mainstream of invention. He motorized a trash cart, so designed that when everybody aboard put their weight to the rear, it automatically went into a spin. Using a flatulent Briggs & Stratton engine, he built a three-speed, 50-mph motorbike. He constructed a push-pull truck-trailer combo out of two-by-fours, each end powered by a Briggs & Stratton. He put together a clattering vehicle that sounded like a Patton tank on pavement and clawed its way up steep banks on six-inch spikes. On a 70-degree slope his spiked monster ground-looped, threw him and came down the hill after him before catching fire.

The day Bob bought a welder he built a tandem bicycle—not, mind you, an ordinary horizontal machine on which one rider sits in line behind the other. His tandem bike was vertical—one rider situated properly close to the ground and the other pedaling eight feet above him. Riding his "double-decker," Wills and his chum Curt Kiefer often stopped traffic and were often tailed by the highway patrol who wanted to see what ordinance they would violate first.

Inspired by the success of his double-decker, Wills built a high single-seater bike—nobody below, just one rider eight feet up. On Earth Day in 1970, at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., Dr. Willard Frank Libby, Nobel winner in chemistry, was addressing a crowd that had come, appropriately, on foot and bicycle. While Libby talked, his audience started rubbernecking around, focusing on the parking lot where Wills was riding his high bike. Wills was asked to leave because he was distracting. A cop subsequently arrested him. In court, in the middle of reading the complaint, the judge suddenly said aloud, "Now what is this? Riding a bicycle with pedals more than four feet off the ground." The court tittered. The judge dismissed the case. The first time Wills' chum Kiefer was arrested on the high bike, the judge fined him $10. The second time Kiefer was brought in, the judge let him off and told the prosecutor, "Stop bringing me cases like this."

In his sophomore year in high school Chris, the younger Wills brother, built a bi-wing glider that, when towed by a car, could be persuaded to rise 25 feet in the air and stagger around unreliably. An aeronautical engineer named Leo Pfankuch, who lived in the neighborhood, gave Chris Wills advice on stressing his machine, but had nothing to do with the design of the wing and control surfaces other than to point out that even a patio table could be made to fly if pulled or pushed by enough power. Chris and Bob later started building a powered plane, but were persuaded by their parents to forget it. They never looked into the sky again until two years ago when a pal, Chris Price, came upon a picture of a Rogallo wing in The National Geographic. With only the picture as a guide, they started their first Rogallo.

As Chris Wills now recalls, Price showed him the picture on a Wednesday. On Thursday they collected materials. On Friday, abetted by his brother Bob, they built the wing. By Saturday afternoon they were flying it unsuccessfully. "Our style," Chris Wills explains, "has always been to build everything fast and start enjoying it."

Before trying to fly it, they tunnel-tested their first wing in a crude way. They ran down the street with it, feeling nothing in the way of reassuring lift. They then put it in the back of Bob Wills' pickup truck. While he drove 30 miles an hour, brother Chris and Chris Price and their local, friendly aeronautical consultant, Leo Pfankuch, held the home-built Rogallo aloft in the air burbling over the truck cab. They felt lift, sufficient for Pfankuch to observe that their home-built machine probably would fly better than a patio table.

They started learning properly enough on a 400-foot hill with a hospital situated at the foot, recording their spectacular lack of progress on movie film. When he projects the early films today, Chris Price's narration goes like this: "Now, watch this next crash. It is even worse. This is the one where Bobby re-sprains his ankle.... Now here I come trying again, and I go in hard, nose first. On that one I shook the earth and broke the keel of the kite.... Now here's Chris Wills trying it. Watch him hit the motorcycle...."

They built a second Rogallo wing, bigger and of better proportion. Guided by another picture in Soaring magazine, they built a third wing, better still. In time they learned to crash less often and fly farther, sometimes 500 yards all the way down the hill. On one exuberant day Bob Wills went so far as to touch down on the hospital roof at the base of the hill and take off again for the ground.

Bill Bennett, the prophet who brought the modern sport here from Australia, remembers his first meeting with Bob Wills on a modest hill in Mission Viejo, Calif. "When I first saw Bob Wills, he was flying a dreadful machine with exceptional ability. His brother Chris is mentally the better flyer, but Bob has the instinct for it. At the Palmdale site I asked him if he would like to fly a good kite, and I said, 'There's one on top of that car if you'd like to try it.' He straightaway took the damn thing and almost made it talk."

In so short a time at the game, Bob Wills seems to have won a mystical advantage. Like Paul Elvstrom, the great Danish sailor, he seems now to own a special part of the wind that not even he can see and no one else can find. In drafts where others sink, he gets an easy ride. Where rivals only glide, he finds air that lifts him above his takeoff point. In 30-mile-an-hour winds that discourage others, he casts himself off a hill competently, boldly holding the nose of his craft down in the blast until the trailing edge of his fabric is grumbling in disbelief. On a fair day 3,000 feet up the mountains west of Lake Elsinore, half a dozen Rogallo men look for lift and find little. The best of them gets a 15-minute flight before landing in a farm field. Two of them, misjudging, come down short on brushy hillsides. Launching from the same spot, Bob Wills in two sweeping searches across the mountain face finds the lift. For half an hour he rides 200 feet above his takeoff point. Finally bored with it, he breaks out of the rising air and heads for the valley floor, doing 360-degree turns and flirting with lift along a ridge. Forty-five minutes after takeoff he settles gently down at a convenient, predetermined spot where the road winds out of the hills.

Last January, using a good kite Bennett made for him, Wills won the first big meet for free-flying Rogallo wingers at Big White ski resort in British Columbia. He outclassed the field by swinging around in his seat and flying backward and hanging upside down, controlling the kite with his knees.

This past September he took off with his brother Chris from the edge of the great crater of Haleakala in Hawaii and sat down 10,000 feet lower near the Maui shore, setting an altitude record that has been twice bettered. The elder Wills still holds the record for altitude gained above takeoff, once climbing 1,070 feet higher than his launching site. He also holds the endurance mark of eight hours, 24 minutes in flight. The endurance record, though impressive, was not so much a test of his soaring skill as proof of his doggedness. He set it last September on the steep northeast face of the Koolau Range on Oahu, Hawaii, where the sea wind offers constant and often vigorous lift. The local records show that persons have fallen or jumped more than 200 feet down sheer parts of the range and survived, their descent slowed by the rising air. One attempting suicide was blown back onto the lookout site from which he leaped.

In the ninth hour of his endurance run Wills came down not for want of wind but because of the absolute monotony of riding for so long tightly belted in a small seat. To get the blood moving in his legs, he occasionally released his safety belt and stood with his feet in a loop of line. Now and again he climbed up on his control bar and squatted there like an outsize gibbon.

In October the first so-called national hang-gliding championship was held in the mountains behind Sylmar, Calif.—sponsored by Annie Green Springs, a brand of fizzy pop wine as tasty sweet as a jelly bean. The competition—regrettably truncated by bad winds—was a good one, emphasizing sensible skills: overall form, properly executed turns, accuracy and poise in landing, and soaring ability. Monkeyshines like hanging upside down counted nothing. The entry list, limited to the 30 U.S. flyers considered best by their peers, was understandably loaded with Southern Californians. The competition was dominated by the Wills brothers. Scoring 1,774 out of 2,000 possible points in the finals, Chris, the younger, won over his brother by 118 points.

In a sport so young and booming the preeminence of the Wills brothers is apt to last about as long as the head on a glass of ginger ale. Recently, wondering over the progress of the sport he largely provoked, 41-year-old Bill Bennett of Australia began speaking sagely. Though only half in his cups at the time, he spoke like a mawkish old octogenarian about to pass the torch before falling into his grave. "You and I are of the past generation," Bennett said, "and this sport is for the new. In our day we went to war to be a man. I for one couldn't wait to get into service. Now kids don't want it. They are even taught peace in kindergarten. So here is something old that is very new. It's excitement that cannot fail tomorrow."





Wafting about the California skies, the pioneers on these pages are representative of the newest breed of aerial enthusiasts, the hang-gliders. In their recent meet the flyers threw themselves off cliffs, circling and soaring in demonstrations of form, proper turns and landing poise—and emerged with a new national champ, young Chris Wills.