XC Pilot

My relationship with USHGA wasn’t all that good at the time. Aoli, Comet Clones & Pod People had been released in the Spring and people were going nuts about XC.

I was building some cred, but to the suspicious USHGA Board, it seemed like the wrong kind of cred. I was like some dangerous, renegade movie guy who wanted to pull hang gliding in the wrong direction. A loose cannon.

A few months later, I’d offer to replace Gil Dodgen as editor of Hang Gliding Magazine, backed by Bettina Gray at a USHGA Board Meeting.

I wanted to change the emphasis from safe sandbox fun on the sand dunes to dangerous edge-of-the-envelope science fiction adventure in 100-mile XC racing.

They didn’t like that. Unh-ungh.

And my pissed-off letter demanding they abandon ultralights and stick to free-flight flew in the face of their blossoming financial fantasies.

Letter to Hang Gliding Magazine, May 1981

It is now obvious that the honorable task which the USHGA took on several years ago, that of shepherding the ultralight powered aircraft craze through its infancy, has been successfully accomplished. The time is overdue for the representative organization of those who practice the art of hang gliding, the USHGA, to regain its focus and return exclusively to the pursuit of its original purpose.

Two powerful factors are working to estrange the USHGA from its defined path. The first is economic. The market potential for small powered aircraft is much greater than for hang gliders. Predictably, the hang gliding industry is rushing to fill this need. Caught up in this rush are a great many of those who are responsible for guiding hang gliding through the years to its present astounding level of accomplishment. Now blind with enthusiasm, they tend to pressure the USHGA down a different road.

The second factor has to do with the desires that motivate people to fly. Powered ultralight aircraft provide the pilot with unlimited airtime and unlimited mileage. The majority of pilots have no desire for engineless flight. Even hang glider pilots are turning to powered flight in droves. Screaming through the sky, motors snarling scant inches from their heads, they choose their destinations at will and claim they are hang gliding with engines. Blind with enthusiasm, they would take the USHGA with them.

It is indeed a sorry day that I must remind the members and officers of the USHGA, and the staff of its publication, Hang Gliding Magazine, what hang gliding is.

Hang gliding is the simplest form of flight.

Our wings are light and maneuverable.

Micrometeorology holds great meaning to us.

We challenge the wind to games of skill.

When we win, our rewards are airtime, distance and tremendous exhilaration.

We desire the serenity of the sky.

We are a breed apart.

Get power out of the USHGA or get the USHGA out of hang gliding!

Steve Hawxhurst was President of USHGA and ran Flight Realities there at Torrey Pines. Until recently, he had been the EipperFormance ultralight dealer in San Diego.

The winter before, I had chased Larry Tudor on his 221.5 world record flight. Then I’d tried to save George Worthington’s life at his crash in Bishop at the Ultralight Soaring Trials in September.

At the request of George’s widow, Steve had scattered hi’s ashes off the cliff in a powered Quicksilver a week or so later.

I was doing a lot of interviews at that time and Steve was on my list so I dropped by Torrey without my gear. He offered me a glider to fly for free.

So I thought I’d check the gear first. Just in case. I always did that anyway for any new (to me) ship, out of habit.

I proceeded to open it up there inside the building and “feel her up” by runing my hands the length of the leading edges.

Everyone seemed genuinely surprised when I found a sizeable dent in the right leading edge between the nose and crossbar junction.

“Well, we’ll have to red flag that one,” Steve said. He offered me a nice Wills Wing Raven 209 and a harness.

So I proceeded to launch an unfamiliar glider in an unfamiliar harness off an unfamiliar cliff takeoff, intending to punch through an unfamiliar rotor to top-land in an unfamiliar LZ. But it was no big deal. All hang gliders seemed prety much the same to me.

Pork gave me a wire assist. 

I didn’t need it. The wind was light. 

My only concern was sinking out and having to carry the damned glider and gear back up the cliff.

I flew right, gained 100 and turned back at the end. I flew left and turned back at the end. I couldn’t go anywhere. I was trapped!


I top landed after one pass – flew way back and burned it in to the parking lot.

“How come you landed way back there?” one Torrey Rat asked me.

“You don’t land way back there?”


“Why don’t you come up and fly the Owens Valley? You could fly a hundred miles, crossing over two giant mountain ranges.”

“Unh-ungh.” Clearly the thought was unthinkable. “I might miss a good day here!”

I felt like I was visiting a mental hospital.

So I went back to Owens Valley. I figured, “If you want to do anything right, you have to do it yourself.” I floated the idea of a cross country pilots association to everyone I knew and traded the story of Larry’s record flight for a full page ad in Hang Gliding magazine.

Things started rolling.