The Early Years by Johnny Carr

Early days of our club

The Southern Hang gliding Club was formed in 1974 as a result of a lot of bad press. The fear was, that if hang gliding didn’t have a strong voice in the area, and have a body that was responsible in the eyes of the powers that be, that we could lose the goodwill of farmers who were letting us use their sites. Worse, that hang gliding as a sport could be banned completely.
A committee was formed, and our club has survived all sorts of pressures put on it over the years.

The sites that were most used by our club in those days were Steyning Bowl, Mill Hill and Truleigh Hill.

I had been flying several months before I launched from Devil’s Dyke. Our club used to have a special PR exercise at the Dyke, every Christmas we would have a pilot dressed up as Father Christmas. He would take off at the Dyke (weather permitting) and fly to the bottom where there was a sack full of presents for the kids of Poynings village. If the weather were unfavourable we would just rig the glider at the bottom, prior to the kids coming over. This always went down well with the locals.

Early hang gliders started much the same as the early Paragliders; you could take off and land but you couldn’t go anywhere with them. Our club grew from strength to strength with the development of new hang gliders bringing better performance. Every 6 months or so there would be a major step forward in performance, and the top pilots would always be upgrading to whatever the best hang glider was at the time. At the same time we were expanding our knowledge of thermals and these new gliders were able to use thermals to good effect.

When I started hang gliding, if we glided out from the hill and found that the glider went up bit we called it magic lift. A 360-degree turn was an artistic manoeuvre. I distinctly remember learning this scary manoeuvre. One day at Bo peep I took off on an experimental glider called a Gulp; I flew out from the hill, and proceeded to do a series of 360- degree turns. To my surprise, the ground just disappeared below me, and I found myself at about 4000’. The hill was so far below me, what with no parachute on an experimental glider, I was quite scared, but elated at the same time. When I landed, pilots on the hill said I went out of sight for a while.

I first saw this happen with Mike Robertson (Golly) as we used to call him. Bo Peep Hill (known a Firle by the pilots in those days) had a reputation for these phenomena. Of course we all know now these were thermals. These thermals combined with our 360 turns were causing us to go up. Pilots that had gliding knowledge confirmed this. The interesting part of this story is how hang gliders stepped over from being able to do no more than take off from a hill, and at best, have an extended flight to the bottom, followed by being able to stay up in a band of ridge lift, to a glider that could climb to thousands of feet, using the 360 degree method we all use today called thermalling.