It all began when....It‘s hard to pinpoint exactly when the dream of Icarus became a reality, but there were a number of very important milestones during the development of an unpowered personal flying machine.
During the latter part of the 19th century a German engineer made over 2,000 successful flight on weight shift hang gliders. His name was Otto Lilienthal, and the hang gliders used were similar in design to the one illustrated here. The notes he kept of those experimental flights were a major source of inspiration for early aviation pioneers.
Unfortunately, once the Wright brothers achieved powered flight, Otto and hang gliding were largely forgotten.
Forgotten that is until the late 1940‘s, when Dr Francis Rogallo (a NASA scientist) and his wife became interested in the subject. Initially they worked in their spare time developing a flexible wing kite, which they patented in 1948.
In the late 1950‘s NASA joined the "space race", and conducted a number of tests to see if the Rogallo wing could be used as a steerable recovery parachute for their space capsules.
When pictures of these trials were released, aviation enthusiasts in Australia and America immediately saw the potential of the Rogallo Flexwing for recreational flight. The hang glider was re-born. By the late 1960‘s enthusiasts, armed only with pictures cut out from magazines, were starting to build their own bamboo and polythene Rogallos, and launching their wings off the nearest sand dune. With little or no information to go on, initial progress was often slow and hazardous.
In May 1971 the Otto Lilienthal Anniversary Meet was held in California. This event attracted enthusiasts from all over the country, and really caught the public‘s imagination. One of the heroes of the day was Tom Dickinson, who managed to stay aloft in free flight for a quarter of a minute, covering a distance of over 300ft. The meet attracted over fifty pilots, and is regarded by many as the real starting point of hang gliding as we know it today.
The first British hang glider was constructed in 1971 by Geoff McBroom, Les Hockings, Steve Stanwick, Howard Holdie and Tony Gillette, with balloonist Don Cameron making the sail. The glider was designed by Geoff McBroom, and had a glide of around 3:1.
The South East Wales Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club can trace its own roots back to the early ‘70s when a group of pilots from the Swansea area formed the Welsh Hang Gliding Club.
Their idea was that the new Club would "branch out" and incorporate as many local Welsh groups as possible. Each group would have full autonomy in running its own affairs, but would operate under the umbrella of a representative central council.
In December 1975 a local branch of the Welsh Hang Gliding Club (WHGC) was formed to look after the interests of fliers living within the area bounded by Bridgend to the west, Brecon to the north, and the river Monnow to the east. This was initially known as the Heads of the Valleys Branch. Ewart Jones, who was the first man in Wales to own a kite, was elected as Chairman, and Hugh Hutchinson became Secretary.
By early 1976 a new structure and constitution for the WHGC or Clwb Crog-Gleidio Cymru had been agreed. It now consisted of three Branches, the original West Glamorgan Branch, the Heads of the Valleys Branch and the Wye Valley Branch.
In 1977 the situation became more complicated when Jerry Breen established a proprietary hang gliding club based at the Welsh Hang Gliding Centre in Crickhowell. This caused considerable confusion and a dilution of already scarce hang gliding resources. It soon became clear that having two clubs covering the same area was not in the best interests of local fliers.
At a joint meeting held in Cwmbran in December 1977 members of the Heads of the Valleys Club and Jerry Breen‘s Club decided to amalgamate and form the SE Wales Hang Gliding Club. Alistair Benn was elected as the first Chairman of the new club, and Hugh Hutchison became its first secretary. Initially the club had around 57 members, and Membership fees were £8.00 plus a £2.00 joining fee.
By 1978 the old Welsh Hang Gliding Club was no more, and it‘s branches had all become clubs in their own right. The new Clubs decided to retain a close relationship with one another by forming the Welsh Hang Gliding Federation. The initial members of the Federation were:
- The North Wales Hang Gliding Club
- The Mid Wales Hang Gliding Club
- The SW Wales Hang Gliding Club
- The SE Wales Hang Gliding Club
Each club within the Federation was truly independent, and was affiliated to the sport‘s UK governing body, the British Hang Gliding Association (BHGA). At that time the BHGA had around 3,000 individual members, 200 of whom were Federation club members.
The explosion of interest in paragliding in the 1980‘s brought further change. The South East Wales Hang Gliding Club was one of the first in the country to incorporate the new sport within its activities, and in 1989 the decision was taken to change the name of the club to the present one. That year also saw the introduction of the Club‘s first combined hang gliding and paragliding sites guide.
In 1991 the SEWHG&PGC became an affiliate member of the British Association of Paragliding Clubs (BAPC), which at that time was the UK governing body for paragliding.
The following year, on 1st October 1992, after a lengthy and sometimes acrimonious debate, the BHGA and the BAPC finally agreed to merge and form the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA), with headquarters in Leicester.
By this time the Welsh Hang Gliding Federation had become largely dormant. The lack of any issues to unite them had sadly allowed the Welsh clubs to slowly drift apart.
Then in December 1996 representatives from the clubs within the Federation met to discuss the best way forward. The meeting proved productive. Everyone present expressed a desire to see improved communications and the re-establishment of reciprocal flying rights within Wales.
The Federation was back in business. But as it now included paragliding pilots, a new name was required. In March 1997 the name was changed to the Welsh Free Flight Federation, giving us the structure we have today.
"The time has now come to mate the wings of mind with material wings and fly"
[ SE Wales sites history ]