The BMAA 1977

By 1977 a pattern was emerging, with the movement polarised into two camps. While Europeans were playing around with powered Rogallos, power flyers in Australia were adopting the same stance as the Americans, who had spurned the creation of their native son in favour of aircraft with control surfaces, some like Jensen's creations derived from fixed-wing hang-gliders, others like the 'Whing Ding' designed from the outset for power. In the US they became known as ultralights, in Britain they were microlights (since in the UK there already existed a category of very light aircraft known as ultralights), whilst in France they were known as motorised ultralights or ULM for short.

Image: An Aircraft Specialities Co. Whing Ding II, this example built in France by M Chavenet in 1975.

The British were still doggedly pursuing ways of motorising Rogallos, and four men were making the running. Len Gabriels mounted two of the biggest model aircraft engines he could find on a Skyhook 'Sunspot' and on 15 July '77 took off from 'a pimple of a hill' in conditions of almost nil-lift. Encouraged, he fitted a McCulloch and tried again on 11 August, taking off at the bottom of a 300 ft (90 m) hill and landing at the top, feeling on top of the world in more senses than one.

He decided to demonstrate the machine at the big hang-gliding meeting at Mere the following month, but was crestfallen when he arrived to find that the motor wouldn't start. To make matters worse, Murray Rose and Simon Wootton from rival hang-glider manufacturer Chargus had produced a similar tool based on a 'Midas E', and were merrily giving demonstrations! The fourth pioneer, Steve Hunt, was at the time working for a third Rogallo manufacturer, Hiway, and tried a different approach. Early that year he had coupled a McCulloch to a ducted fan and mounted the ensemble on a 'Scorpion D' wing. It was less than successful, but he had made his entry into the microlight world and Britain would hear a great deal from this tireless Australian from then on.

Not to be outdone, across in France Camille Lefevre and Phillippe Peauger built a twin-engined two-seater by mounting one 10 hp McCulloch on the front of a 'Delta Manta' and another on the rear. And it flew well, confounding the sceptics at that year's homebuilders gathering in Brienne-le Chateau.

Despite these developments, it was the US which was making the running now. Following Volmer Jensen's lead, a whole series of fixedwing hang-gliders were being successfully motorised. The 'Icarus V' flying wing appeared, with its tip rudders and swept-back style wing, while Larry Mauro's 'Easy Riser' biplane started to sell in large numbers, using McCulloch 12 hp or Chrysler 8 hp two-strokes. Hang gliding record holder Don Mitchell fitted his 'BF-10' with a motor, though he still used the pilot's legs as undercarriage, an arrangement which persisted until his 'B-10 Mitchell Wing' ultralight proper appeared.

Image: An early version of the B-10 Mitchell Wing Ultralight.

Then there was the 'Manta Fledge IIB', copied by many but immortalised by Jack McCormack, who derived from it the famous Pterodactyl series of machines and produced a great deal of favourable publicity for the movement by making a long-distance proving flight in each new model.

And last but by no means least was the famous 'Quicksilver', created in 1972 by Bob Lovejoy. Unlike many of its contemporaries, it was designed from the outset to have a tail, and so was a natural for conversion into a relatively conventional looking ultralight. Its success in this guise was staggering, and far outstripped anything it had achieved as a hang-glider. In the years to come thousands of 'Quicks' would be produced, plus many more machines of the same genre from other manufacturers. The Quicksilver's single-surface tube and Dacron construction, tubular empennage with fully flying rudder, and straightforward undercarriage were copied all over the world, not just because they worked, but also because diligent development and effective marketing gave the product a reputation which imitators were only too ready to trade on.

Image: While a little later than 1977, this dual Quicksilver was one of many used in training throughout the world.

Two and three-axis ultralights became more and more numerous, outnumbering their forerunners. In Australia, there was the Kimberley 'Sky Rider', designed to the legislation which the 'Scout' had prompted, while in America the MGI 'Teratorn' and Bill Adaska's Rotec 'Rally' made their appearance. Bill, exBell and ex-Aerospatiale employee who had specialised until then in helicopters, went on to sell over 2000 Rallys in the next four years! The pre-history of ultralight aviation ended that year, at the first meeting of American pioneers at Brook Fields Aerodrome near Marshall, halfway between Chicago and Detroit. At that event, held from 1 to 3 July, John Moody, who had involuntarily looped three times the year before at Oshkosh, climbed to 4250 ft (1300 m) with his 'Easy Rider' and a 12 hp engine. Now we were really flying!