The development of the modern hang glider, and the birth of the sport of hang gliding and paragliding.

It all began when.....

Model of Lilienthal's Glider It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the dream of Icarus became a reality, but there were certainly several notable milestones during the development of an unpowered personal flying machine.

During the latter part of the 19th century a German engineer made over 2,000 successful flight on weight shift hang gliders. His name was Otto Lilienthal, and the hang gliders used were similar in design to the one illustrated here. The notes he kept of those experimental flights were a major source of inspiration for early aviation pioneers.

Unfortunately, once the Wright brothers achieved powered flight, Otto and hang gliding were largely forgotten.

Forgotten that is until the late 1940's, when Dr Francis Rogallo (a NASA scientist) and his wife became interested in the subject. Initially they worked in their spare time developing a flexible wing kite, which they patented in 1948.

In the late 1950's NASA joined the "space race", and conducted a number of tests to see if the Rogallo wing could be used as a steerable recovery parachute for their space capsules.

When pictures of these trials were released, aviation enthusiasts in Australia and America immediately saw the potential of the Rogallo Flexwing for recreational flight. The hang glider was re-born. By the late 1960's enthusiasts, armed only with pictures cut out from magazines, were building their own bamboo and polythene Rogallos, and leaping off the nearest sand dune. With little or no information to go on, initial progress was often slow and hazardous.

Then in May 1971 the Otto Lilienthal Anniversary Meet was held in California. This event attracted enthusiasts from all over the country, and really caught the public's imagination. One of the heroes of the day was Tom Dickinson, who managed to stay aloft in free flight for a quarter of a minute, covering a distance of over 300ft. The meet attracted over fifty pilots, and is regarded by many as the real starting point of hang gliding as we know it today.

The first British hang glider was constructed in 1971 by Geoff McBroom, Les Hockings, Steve Stanwick, Howard Holdie and Tony Gillette, with balloonist Don Cameron making the sail. The glider was designed by Geoff McBroom, and had a glide of around 3:1.

Locally, the sport can also has trace its roots back to the early '70s, and the formation the Welsh Hang Gliding Club by a group of flyers from the Swansea area.

Their idea was that the new Club would "branch out" and incorporate as many local Welsh groups as possible. Each group would have full autonomy in running its own affairs, but would operate under the umbrella of a representative central council.

By early 1976 the WHGC or Clwb Crog-Gleidio Cymru had a written constitution and three branches - The original West Glamorgan Branch, the Heads of the Valleys Branch and the Wye Valley Branch.
A 25ft Rogallo (mid '70s)

By 1978 the old Welsh Hang Gliding Club was no more, and it's branches had all become clubs in their own right. The new Clubs decided to retain a close relationship with one another by forming the Welsh Hang Gliding Federation. The initial members of the Federation were: Later that year they were joined by the Beacons Park Hang Gliding Club.

Each club within the Federation was truly independent, and was affiliated to the sport's UK governing body, the British Hang Gliding Association (BHGA). At that time the BHGA had around 3,000 individual members, 200 of whom were Federation club members.

Photo Paraglider The 1980's heralded an explosion of interest in paragliding in both Wales and the UK. Initially paragliding had its own UK governing body, the British Association of Paragliding Clubs (BAPC).

With both sports sharing the same airspace and often the same take-off sites, it rapidly became obvious that close co-operation between the two governing bodies was essential.

In 1992 this co-operation finally led to the merger of the BHGA and the BAPC, to form the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA), with headquarters in Leicester.

By this time the Welsh Hang Gliding Federation had become largely dormant. The lack of any issues to unite them had sadly allowed the Welsh clubs to slowly drift apart.

Then in December 1996 representatives from the clubs within the Federation met to discuss the best way forward. The meeting proved productive. Everyone present expressed a desire to see improved communications and the re-establishment of reciprocal flying rights within Wales.

The Federation was back in business. But as it now included paragliding pilots, a new name was required. In March 1997 the name was changed to the Welsh Free Flight Federation, giving us the structure we have today.

"The time has now come to mate the wings of mind with material wings and fly"
Otto Lilienthal

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