Welcome to the world wide family of Wills Wing pilots. When you purchase a hang glider, accessory item, or any other product or service from Wills Wing you’re doing business with the most experienced and most professional manufacturer and distributor of foot-launched soaring equipment in the world. We are a company of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, and our goal is to provide you with the highest quality products, services, and technical support available, now and in the future, as we have done for pilots throughout the world since 1973.
History of Hang Gliding
To fly like a bird is among the oldest and most poignant dreams of mankind. Although commercial air travel is a common experience today, the realization of the original dream of bird-like flight has eluded all but a very few – the adventurous men and women who fly hang gliders.
Although often thought of as a newcomer to aviation, hang gliding is actually among the oldest forms of human flight. Before the airplane, the first successful emulation of the birds involved running down a hill with a light-weight glider, taking off into the air and gliding down. After the Wright brothers invented the airplane, however, interest in bird- like flight in light-weight gliders waned.
Then in the 1960’s a number of people contributed to a re-birth of hang gliding. One major impetus for this rebirth was the adaptation to hang gliding of a new type of flexible wing, now commonly referred to as the “Rogallo Wing.” In 1948, American engineer Francis Rogallo patented a design for a simple flexible wing. Rogallo worked for NASA, and additional designs derived from the flexible wing concept were subsequently developed and extensively tested by NASA as part of the early US space program. These NASA designs, which now included airframe components that partly stiffened and supported the wing, in turn inspired adaptations for foot launched hang gliders by people like Barry Palmer and Richard Miller. The most elegant and most successful adaptation of the flexible wing concept to a human carrying aircraft was Australian John Dickenson’s design for a towed water ski kite, which he first flew in the early 1960’s, and which contained all the essential design elements of what later became known as the “Standard Rogallo.” Dickenson’s design was simple, easy to make and easy to learn to fly. When the Dickenson design was scaled up to a size appropriate for foot-launching, the simplicity of design and construction, along with its capability for slow flight and gentle landing characteristics led to an explosive growth in popularity of the “new” sport of hang gliding. Several companies began manufacturing versions of the wing, and for the first time in history simple, unencumbered bird-like flight was available to almost anyone who wanted it.
At the very beginning of this growth period, early in 1973, two brothers named Bob and Chris Wills formed one of the first hang glider manufacturing companies, Wills Wing.
History of Wills Wing
Bob and Chris displayed a remarkable talent early on for both flying and designing. Chris Wills won the first U.S. National Championships in hang gliding in 1973 while Bob took second place, and a year later they traded places as Bob won the national championship title and Chris took second. In the years that followed, Wills Wing maintained a tradition of winning in competition, as Wills Wing pilots won 23 of the 51 official U.S. National Hang Gliding Championship titles awarded in various competition classes from 1973 through 2000, including every Class 1 U.S. National Championship between 1992 and 2000.
Although it started out as simply gliding down small hills on low performance kites, hang gliding over the years has evolved to include the ability to soar for hours with hawks and eagles, gain thousands of feet of altitude in thermal updrafts, and fly cross country over distances of hundreds of miles. In 1991, a Wills Wing hang glider was the first to fly farther than 300 miles in a single flight. In 1984, Wills Wing became the largest manufacturer of hang gliders in the United States, and has retained that position in every year since. Today, Wills Wing is the largest manufacturer of hang gliders in the world.
In the 1980’s paragliding, a new form of foot-launched gliding and soaring, was developed in Europe and soon migrated to the United States. Using specially designed ram air parachute canopies instead of wings of aluminum and Dacron™, paraglider pilots launch, glide and soar in much the same way that hang glider pilots do. In 1991, Wills Wing became involved in paragliding, and contributed to its growth in the United States by hosting one of the first large scale training and certification seminars for paragliding instructors. Wills Wing distributed the highly respected Swing and Airwave lines of paragliders in North and South America until April, 2007.
Rob Kells was our friend and business partner at Wills Wing for more than 30 years before he passed away on August 9th, 2008 after a nearly two-year battle with prostate cancer. Rob was a friend to every pilot he met, and his impact on, and contributions to the sport of hang gliding cannot be overstated. He will be missed by everyone who knew him, and especially so by those who knew him best. Read more about Rob here
Wills Wing believes that the major challenge for the sports of hang gliding and paragliding is to continue to improve both the safety and the accessibility of these two forms of sport aviation. Although there have been many significant improvements over the years, both in the design of hang gliding equipment and in the development of better instructional methods, there is much work that remains to be done. The birds still hold a tremendous natural advantage on human beings as a result of millions of years spent learning how to fly. At Wills Wing, a major part of our mission is to continue to strive to close that gap, and in the process to make bird-like flight safely and readily accessible to anyone who is inspired to pursue it.