Robert T. Kells, Jr.
September 7, 1955 – August 9, 2008
Rob Kells passed away on August 9th, 2008 after a nearly two-year battle with prostate cancer. Rob was our friend and business partner at Wills Wing for more than 30 years.
Rob had his first exposure to hang gliding in the summer of 1973, ground skimming on a ski slope on a sixteen-foot standard. Having already flown sailplanes, Rob was relatively unimpressed with the level of performance of the standard Rogallo, and put hang gliding aside for a few years. In the summer of 1976, he would watch as a friend got an extended soaring flight on a new Wills Wing SST, and decide that the sport had progressed to where he was again interested.
In the spring of 1977, Rob and four of his friends traveled to Southern California in a motor home with hang gliders on the roof and showed up at Wills Wing. Wills Wing at the time was in its usual state of organizational disarray, and Rob and his friends decided that instead of pursuing their plan to become traveling sales representatives and air show pilots, they would first try to help Wills Wing get organized. After a short time, four of them left, but Rob stayed on.
On June 24, 1977 tragedy struck the Wills family when Bob Wills was killed while flying for a Jeep commercial at Escape Country. Bob had been the heart of the company, and there was serious doubt as to whether Wills Wing could continue.
Rob stepped up into a more active management role at this crucial time. He rallied the employees to work without the promise of pay, and encouraged the family to allow the company to try to survive. He worked to get Wills Wing’s then current models – the XC’s and SST’s – certified to the newly established testing standards of the HGMA. Later, he went on the road to visit the dealers and restore confidence in the company. In subsequent years, Rob established and promoted policies within Wills Wing in support of retail dealers and instructors that helped to further safety and professionalism within the sport of hang gliding.
Rob negotiated with the Wills family to sell a majority share of the company to the current managing partners, thus ensuring their vested interest in the survival and success of the company.
Since that time Rob has been the most publicly visible representative of Wills Wing to the hang gliding community, though he has always freely acknowledged the essential contributions of his partners and the company employees.
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. You can read remembrances from those who knew Rob here.
A summary of Rob’s aviation career:
Hang Glider Pilot since 1973 – Master Rated by United States Hang Gliding Association
5000 flight operations
Tandem Hang Glider Instructor – 200 flights
Production and Developmental Test Pilot for Wills Wing since 1977
Paraglider Pilot since 1986
Weight Shift Ultralight Pilot – 70 hours
Fixed Wing Ultralight Pilot – 200 hours
FAA Private Pilot
Airplane Single Engine Land and Sea ratings
Airplane Multi Engine Land
Total Time 1700 Hours
Head of Sales for Wills Wing since 1978
US Team Member – FAI Hang Gliding World Championships – 1985
Major Competitions Won:
Grouse Mountain Championships 1980 and 1986
First World Speed Gliding Championships – Telluride 1997
Chattanooga Great Race – 1984
Morningside Glide Angle Contest – 1994 and 1997
Telluride Aerobatic Championships
Member United States Hang Gliding Association Board of Directors (Honorary Director) – 1980 through 1998
Presidential Citation – United States Hang Gliding Association – 1998
Order of the Raven – Grandfather Mountain
Rogallo Foundation Hall of Fame – May 20, 2007