Thursday, September 18, 2008

Inventor of the hang glider

This morning, in a villa on the slopes of the Chartreuse mountain range above Grenoble, I finally met up with a celebrated fellow-Australian, John Dickenson, who is recognized internationally as the inventor of the hang glider.

[Click the photo to visit the Dickenson website, based upon the remarkable
research efforts of an inspired New Zealander, Graeme Henderson.]


John and his wife are staying with a French enthusiast of aeronautical history, St├ęphane Malbos, who was responsible for publicizing the Dickenson story, years ago, at a time when few Australians were aware that this revolutionary invention—giving humans the power to glide like eagles—had been made in 1963 in Grafton, New South Wales... which happens to be the rural town where I was born in 1940.

This weekend, St├ęphane will be taking John Dickenson along to France's annual high mass of hang gliding: the Icarus Cup pageant in the nearby town of St-Hilaire-du-Touvet, which presents all kinds of exotic variations on the hang-gliding theme.

[Click the poster to visit their website. If you don't read French,
you can find amusing images of hang-glider specimens.]


This morning's encounter with John Dickenson was immensely moving. I sensed immediately that I was in the presence of a man of imagination, a quietly-spoken inventor of the Leonardo da Vinci kind. It's sad to learn that a tiny bunch of jealous loud-spoken usurpers, some of whom have money and influence, have been advancing empty arguments in an evil attempt to deprive John Dickenson of the honors in aeronautical history that are his due.

15 comments:

  1. John Dickenson certainly didn't invent the hang glider. Not even Dickensons' most ardent and strident fan, Graeme Henderson, actually claims that honor for him. People have been successfully hang gliding since the 1800's.

    Dickenson designed a type of hang glider that, once taken to the masses, sparked a boom in the popularity of hang gliding.

    Graeme Henderson is Dickensons' worst advertisement. A quick Google of discussion of the issue reveals that Henderson maligns, then threatens lawsuits and retribution against anyone who fails to toe his line. He anonymously vandalizes Wiki entries.

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  2. Mr. Anonymous misleads. The wing that Dickenson constructed and perfected became the template for 90% of all hang gliders ever made. It was such a successful format that 10 years after it was developed the vast bulk of hang glider models in existence were so close to being carbon copies that even the hang gliding pilots of the day could not identify any but cosmetic differences.

    Dickenson did not invent the hang glider. He just created the version that worked so well that it became the standard that made possible the modern sport. Take away the Dickenson Wing and its carbon copies and there would have been no modern sport of hang gliding. The level of flight success was laughable prior to the spread of the Dickenson Wing. Here

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-XC0dxerYs

    is a perfect example of the kind of flying that would not have attracted large numbers of participants. Only when the Dickenson Wing copies became available did the sport explode.

    25,000 sets of Bat-Glider plans were sold and yet not a single account has come to light of successful flight from the use of these plans in spite of the small successes by Richard Miller on the original.

    No, Dickenson did not invent the hang glider. He just created one that worked.

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  3. Mr De R writes:

    "Dickenson did not invent the hang glider."

    So we are, in fact agreed on this at least, which was the main point of the first comment; to point out that the blogger had got it wrong.

    "He just created one that worked."

    Yes, indeed he did. However, it would not be fair not to point out that other folks had already created hang gliders that flew and that were, in fact, quite controllable. I think that qualifies them as hang gliders that worked! They just weren't as simple and practical as the Dickenson design.

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  4. Mr. Anonymous said;

    "Yes, indeed he did. However, it would not be fair not to point out that other folks had already created hang gliders that flew and that were, in fact, quite controllable. I think that qualifies them as hang gliders that worked!"

    The proof that these other wings were, in the most practical and applied way, unsuccessful, can be seen in the almost complete absence of copies. If they had demonstrated their practicality they would have been copied.

    What other wings demonstrated their success by being widely copied? Be sure to illustrate their "success" by listing total approximate airtime achieved!

    The Dickenson Wing was the template for 90% of all hang gliders ever made. (Possibly even more important is the probability that Dickenson Wings accounted for 99% of all airtime accumulated in the world of hang gliding through 1975.) It worked in almost every important and measurable way.

    The world voted and the results are irrefutable.

    "They just weren't as simple and practical as the Dickenson design."

    That is a massive understatement.

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  5. I agree with all you say. There is no actual argument here!

    Nonetheless, as you yourself quite clearly wrote:

    "Dickenson did not invent the hang glider."

    Which is the whole point - to correct the misconception contained in this blog entries' title for the purposes of historical accuracy.

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  6. Mr.(Ms.?) Anonymous said;

    "I agree with all you say. There is no actual argument here!

    Nonetheless, as you yourself quite clearly wrote:

    "Dickenson did not invent the hang glider."

    Which is the whole point - to correct the misconception contained in this blog entries' title for the purposes of historical accuracy."

    OK! To be perfectly accurate Otto Lilienthal invented the first hang glider. Some may claim Montgomery but precious little evidence supports his claims of very modest and brief flight.

    Copies John Dickensons's wing account for 90% of all hang gliders ever made and by virtue of the superior utility of his design the modern sport of hang gliding came into existence.

    It is therefor quite correct to say that John Dickenson is the inventor of the modern delta wing hang glider.

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  7. "It is therefor quite correct to say that John Dickenson is the inventor of the modern delta wing hang glider."

    That's sort of ironic. Since, strictly speaking, as far as I know, there are no modern hang gliders being produced which are actually delta shaped! Thanks to the use of supported roach, short keels and high aspect ratios, the classic delta wing was abandoned in the mid 70's.

    I guess to stretch a point, most still use a (heavily modified) version of the old delta wing frame, but nobody seeing the plan form of a Talon, or even a Falcon, for example, for the first time would ever describe it as a "delta" wing!

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  8. Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "It is therefor quite correct to say that John Dickenson is the inventor of the modern delta wing hang glider."

    That's sort of ironic. Since, strictly speaking, as far as I know, there are no modern hang gliders being produced which are actually delta shaped! Thanks to the use of supported roach, short keels and high aspect ratios, the classic delta wing was abandoned in the mid 70's.

    I guess to stretch a point, most still use a (heavily modified) version of the old delta wing frame, but nobody seeing the plan form of a Talon, or even a Falcon, for example, for the first time would ever describe it as a "delta" wing!

    September 23, 2008 11:03 PM

    You are a slippery character! You just keep moving the goal posts! Are you, by chance, Tony Prentice?

    The Dickenson Wing was the template for the modern delta wing hang glider. It was his design that was so ubiquitous in the 1970s as to be both iconic and constituting the vast bulk of the then "modern" sport of hang gliding. Without this enormous base there would never have been an industry from which these present day designs (that still bear the distinctive features of the original Dickenson wing)could evolve to such high aspect shapes.

    So, it is not ironic at all. The claim that Dickenson invented the modern delta wing glider is in no way undermined by the subsequent development. Only the most obtuse could infer from that claim, that Dickenson should be credited with all individual hang glider designs to the present day.

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  9. Nearly 100% of the sharpy Rogallo wings that flowed through Mike Burns and later through John Dickenson embedded the extant and world-around-shown template of the NASA Charles Richards delta Rogallo hang glider wing of 1960-61. Even Charles Richard did not claim invention even though nearly every standard diver Rogallo hang glider in several strands of development around the world gave mimic in result to what NASA's Charles Richards and his team produced. The 1908 control frame and pilot position with the Charles Richard wing made it so that John Dickenson did not have a mechanical invention; he only made a kite-glider that kited and glider. Zero mechanical invention, but immediate local ornamental success. http://HangGliderHistory.com

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  10. Spelling emphasis:
    Charles Richards
    gave the template for the wing. He had scalloped trailing edge, battens, noseplate fan fold, four booms, battens, no kingpost, hung-mass mass-shifting control. A full four years before Francis Rogallo demonstrated in conferences and with models hang gliders that gave success to all further. John Dickenson was not the seed, not the start, he was in a river of flowing successes that continued.
    Consider the fullness of Mike Burns while you are studying the matter, one start:
    http://ozreport.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=13358

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  11. The inventors of hang gliders mechanically are meshed and melted. Ornamentally are legion.

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Replacement post. The program cut off a long form of a link.

    Study the Charles Richards wing
    and find it mechanically present in the Mike Burns wing. Shown here will be the Mike Burns Ski Plane.
    http://tinyurl.com/MikeBurnsKITEGLIDERbeforeJD

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  14. The phrasings of the above posts seem to need some editing.

    Summary:
    1. The earlier Charles Richards resulted wing is what formed--up to severe templatehood--about 100% of all following 1960s sharp-nosed Rogallo wing hang gliders including the one John Dickenson made.

    2. The high focus then might be put on Charles Richards. Yet he pointed emphatically to Francis Rogallo for mechanical invention.

    3. The ornamental constrcution by Charles Richards and his team in 1961 and the first weeks of 1962 clearly took the ornamental invention of a later set of wings out of the later ornamental makers...namely Mike Burns and John Dickenson. The grab to get the wing credit is simply off historical accuracy. Choose to use the 1908 or earlier cable-stayed triangle control frame and presto the world has the diver dangerous craft that showed up for a few years only to be wholly replaced by much safer formats and configurations.

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  15. IT IS THEREFORE
    correct to say that people BEFORE JD
    were the users of something that had been invented before JD.
    THUS JD WAS NOT THE INVENTOR OF ANY MODERN HANG GLIDER, mechanically speaking to the standards of industrial societies.
    Just let the fact be: he made a hang glider that embedded others' inventions. If he and his lover want to grab a false global invention story and yell it with no end in sight, then so be it; it just does not match global scientific and mechanical standards of mechanical global invention. Let his city acclaim him "inventor" without just distinctions in a "our boy" complex, but be fair and get the global history aligned with facts.

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