Father Of Hang Gliding Remembered

Francis Rogallo, the father of hang gliding, died last week at age 97. Bruce Weaver, a manager at Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School, says without Rogallo there would likely be no hang gliding anywhere.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

Francis Rogallo made it possible to fly like a bird, to soar on currents of air. Francis Rogallo made possible the sport that we know as hang gliding. He was an aeronautical engineer, worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; that's the agency that later became NASA. And on his own time, he devised a flexible wing, a wing made from fabric, triangle shaped. And those who are serious about the sport still refer to it as the Rogallo wing. Mr. Rogallo died last week in North Carolina at age 97. Bruce Weaver joins us now from Nags Head, North Carolina. He's a manager at the Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School.

Mr. Weaver, I would surmise that if it were not for Mr. Rogallo, there would be no hang gliding school there at Nags Head.

Mr. BRUCE WEAVER (Manager, Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School): That's true indeed, yeah. You know, there would be - likely be no hang gliding at all anywhere. And in addition to that, there'd be no paragliding, no stunt kites. I mean, all these things came from that original idea he had with that Rogallo wing that he and Gertrude put together so many years ago.

ADAMS: You know, the detail about that that's so interesting is that she put it together using a kitchen curtain at her sewing machine. Do you think that's true?

Mr. WEAVER: That's true, yeah. We've seen the prototype. It's quite a contraption.

ADAMS: Mr. Rogallo and his wife lived in Virginia, and then he retired in 1970, and they came to Kitty Hawk. Did he ever tell you why they moved to Kitty Hawk?

Mr. WEAVER: You know, he says it was because it was such a lovely area, but I am positive that, you know, the deep roots that aviation has here in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, had a part to play on it, for sure.

ADAMS: It's where the Wright brothers flew first.

Mr. WEAVER: That's right.

ADAMS: It's interesting that it appears - I may have this wrong - that Francis Rogallo didn't actually do much hang gliding himself until he came to Kitty Hawk.

Mr. WEAVER: Yes, that's true. You know, his idea with the wing was to be able to figure out a way for people to enjoy personal, powerless aviation, you know, and this idea of the wing would hopefully move toward that direction. But he himself really didn't start getting into it much until, like you say, he gets out here to the Outer Banks. And he flew quite a bit out here on the dunes of Jockey's Ridge.

ADAMS: Taking his last flight on his 80th birthday.

Mr. WEAVER: On his 80th birthday. I was there for that one. It was very difficult to describe. I was just very fortunate to be able to be there with him for sure.

ADAMS: You know, I have this sort of picture in my mind that Francis Rogallo would come up to Jockey's Ridge there and watch people doing it, hang gliding, and maybe talking to a few people and probably never venturing to them that he was the guy who made it possible.

Mr. WEAVER: That's exactly right. That's the kind of guy he was. And it was amazing to me, when I met him for the first time years and years ago, this is in the late '80s, and you know, I had so many questions for him and wanted to talk to him about so many different aspects of what he did and how he got to the point of getting this wing up in the air, and what he wanted to do was talk to me about what I was doing, how I was doing flying my hang glider and things. So it was very unassuming. He's just a wonderful man.

ADAMS: Bruce Weaver is a manager at the Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School in Nags Head, North Carolina, talking with us about Francis Rogallo who died at age 97 last week.

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