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New! Interviews with walkalong glider pioneers.

It was a wonderful gathering of Walkalong Glider innovators from around the country at the St. Louis Science Center's SciFest, October 2010!

If YouTube is blocked, try this SchoolTube link.http://www.schooltube.com/video/5d6427ac475ae8529275/SciFest

I was able to record some really interesting interviews witht the people who invented walkalong gliding and various branches of walkalong gliding.

The explanations of the innovators in the video can be found below.

Having spoken to several people responsible for wonderful innovations in air surfing (aka walkalong gliding) I cannot believe my good fortune to be witnessing the birth of a new science activity (and sport?) that anyone can participate in. So I have elected myself to write up some notes lest these great stories be lost. It is fascinating to me that walkalong gliding seems to have been invented and re-invented independently several times, and each new innovator added traits and took it in another direction. This is a work in progress and it's live: I'm sure we'll see lots more cool ideas added as more people start doing it. And let me know so I can add it to this page. Contact

Joseph E. Grant

Dr. Tyler MacCready (just below) told me about the first patent related to walkalong gliding. Joseph E. Grant of Beverly Hills, California, filed patent 2718092 in 1950 and it was granted in 1955. He seems to have been a prolific inventor, having filed for several patents starting in the late 1930s.

What inspired Joseph Grant to create ridge lift using relative wind from a board? Did he actually get a plane to fly? Did he ever market anything? The dates of his birth and death? Does he have surviving decedents? Are there any pictures of him? Perhaps somebody who is skilled in tracing genealogy can find out a little more about this mysterious pioneer.

Dr. Tyler MacCready

New! Interview with Tyler MacCready

Tyler MacCready appeared on a PBS Scientific American Frontiers program that mostly paid tribute to his late father Dr. Paul MacCready who is also the father of human-powered aviation and a huge inspiration to anyone aspires to creative engineering. In the segment about walkalong gliding, son Tyler uses his head--and I mean that literally--and his hands to keep his invention aloft. Viewing that amazing program was my first exposure to surfing with air and it blew me away. Dr. Tyler MacCready educates the program's host Alan Alda a bit about how it works as well as speaking a little about its early development.

I interviewed Tyler about walkalong gliders and he confided that in addition to the lift he generated with his hands and head, his glider in the Scientific American Frontiers sequence got caught in a thermal (it did look pretty high up sometimes)! He was around ten years old when he started hang gliding and his father was developing human-powered planes. He and his older brother, Parker, were making hang gliders and paper airplane models and gliding them across the living room in competition to see who had the best lift/drag ratio, measured by how high the aircraft hit the opposite wall. They tried "cheating" (sic) by whooshing the air under and behind the planes--first with their hands, then with cardboard. He said his father used to say that if the had to change the rules of a competition because of an innovation you discovered, you were onto something good. And indeed they eventually discovered they could continuously fly.

Although Dr. MacCready stopped hang gliding when he was 16 and became a geologist he is really good about about explaining in down-to-earth language the science behind walkalongs. He developed the glider he demonstrates on the video, which is now sold as the Wind Rider. You can see the MacCready patent here.

Terry Sweeney

Terry Sweeney was another hang glider developer, earlier than most, and he captured a lot of people's imagination when he was featured in a film. He branched out from the Rogallo design, and like the MacCreadys he made models before making full size hang gliders. He told me about some funny activities like he and his friends flying what he named "walk gliders" in a figure 8 flight path, like the old demolition car derby tracks. Even if you didn't run into each other, whoever got to the intersection first created turbulence that caused trouble for those in the wake.

Terry has had a long career as hang glider designer and professional musician. In fact his musical group was called Sweeney's Gliders, a regional favorite in New Hampshire. Terry was kind enough to dig up a decades old foam walk glider, fly it and send me the tape. He has a completely unique hand position as he flies (I can’t get anything to fly that way).

Phil Rossoni

New! Interview with Phil Rossoni

I...um...liberated this picture of Phil from his site. Great visual representation of the air wave created with the paddle as you move it forward!

For awhile after seeing the Scientific American Frontiers program, couldn't find much about walkalong gliders until my brother told me about a fellow he had met at Boston's Museum of Science who used a piece of cardboard to create a wave of air that caused inanimate objects--even dead insects--to fly mysteriously through the air. Small world, the fellow turned out to be none other than Phil Rossoni to whom I have bestowed the title of "World Evangelizer of Walkalong Gliding." He leads quite and interesting life--sailplane instructor, garden video blogger, world traveler, science exhibit maker, musician and who-knows-what-else. I once mentioned that I was hoping to create a fog tornado exhibit but could not find instructions on the internet. Phil, it turned out, not only had constructed such a museum exhibit, but he showed me how and he posted it on Instructables so everybody else could see it, too. He's that kind of person. Maybe I'll try his tidal wave exhibit sometime, but I think I'll hold off building the fire tornado! Phil was the first person to mount a video camera on his head to get those cool pilot's-view shots.

Phil Rossoni is the read haired guy you see on Instructables and YouTube (make, launch ) see all Phil's YouTube videos) and he initiated the Wikipedia Walkalong Glider entry. He has been around to visit lots of people doing things with walkalong gliders. I was honored that he and his wife Chris visited my family, driving in their Prius. He even came to my school and showed my students how to fly all sorts of things, including butter

Phil Rossoni has a wonderful web site with interesting nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. He now prefers the term Controlled Slope Soaring to more accurately describe the process. The home page is http://sites.google.com/site/controllableslopesoaring/ . He is currently developing activities that mimic airplane flights, like runway lights.


Michael Thompson

New! Interwiew with Michael Thompson

Through Phil, I became aware of an engineering student in Wisconsin who was doing interesting things with walkalong gliding. Michael Thompson was experimenting with a form he called the Jagwing. He makes them out of foam and can demonstrate amazing, seemingly effortless control. I would never have thought to tow another glider behind a walkalong glider by a thread. Mike not only thought of it, but kept at it until it worked!

Lately he's become obsessed with carbon nanotubes, the experimental material that could revolutionize engineering. He sends excited e-mails with calculations I don't understand, but I guess if you had a glider made of nanotube mesh, you could levitate it with a narrow wand, like magic.

I will always be in Mike's debt for giving me a starting point for what eventually became the 2 4 1 origami hang glider. It started with an early Jagwing pattern . Mike was moving to thin-sliced foam, but I made it out of telephone book paper and it flew. Furthermore, he was very helpful when I asked lots of pesky questions about wing design.

In tribute to all his help, I told Mike I wanted to name the design I came up with the "Jag D" for Jagwing Derivative, but he declined, saying it was no longer a Jagwing. Still, I know I never would have developed the 2 4 1 if he hadn't given me a starting point and theory as needed.

Michael Thompson with propeller jagwing on the attack!   Plankwings were the earliest design.   Michael said that the pale things in the box are tumblewings made of condenser paper (used in capacitors and indoor plane models) which is even lighter than tissue paper. Flight speeds around 1 mph.


A large jagwing complete with spinning propellers.   A large plankwing with a tethered small glider in tow, seen actually flying in the next picture.   One glider towing another. Amazing!


John Collins (aka The Paper Airplane Guy)

New! Interview with John Collins

Through Michael Thompson I became aware of John Collins, AKA Paper Airplane Guy, who invented the tumbling wing design. When John was a kid he noticed how when throwing thin pieces of wood (to make the buzzing sound) they tumbled and paddlewheeled down to earth. He made them from paper and eventually thought to add the end fins that keep it from sliding uncontrollably to the side. He also developed a walkalong glider that he calls a follow foil, which sort of looks like the MacReady design. And in an echo of Paul MacReady's advice that you were on the right path when they have to change the rules to block your innovations, John formally attempted to break the paper airplane record for time aloft. They did indeed have to change the rules to disqualify him from using a board.

John is a production supervisor for a television station in San Francisco. He is perhaps better known to people throughout the world through his paper airplane books and public events through which he uses paper airplanes to get kids interested in science.

In addition to the tumblewing, John Collins has also designed other good walkalong gliders. He puts on great group events. You can see a video here. Photos from The Paper Airplane Guy website.

I treasure two books by The Paper Airplane Guy: Fantastic Flight and Gliding Flight. Fantastic Flight is the one that has the tumbling wing and a paper version of the swept-back wing design similar to Tyler MacCready's WindSurfer, which he calls "follow foil."


David Aronstein (check out this video from one of their events)! http://youtube.com/watch?v=QwRyNZE4YKE

New! Interview with David Aronstein

David Aronstein, who designs airplanes for a living, figured out how to expand walkalong gliding beyond only the "flying wing" kind of glider. Having a typical airplane tail section jutting out the back can cause problems with walkalong gliding. Here are a few of David's plans Club Racer, F-89, Red Flying Wing DC3 and Slow Surfer (a flying wing design)

At one time, everybody was making essentially "flying wings"--all wing and no tail section. David figured out how to make more conventional-looking airplanes air surf as well. I'll let him tell the story:

"I first heard about them from a fellow-modeler around 1990.  At that time I built two stick-and-tissue flying wings, very similar to the “Red Flying Wing”) but without the decorative profile body or winglets." 

"I also tried flying a conventional freeflight indoor hand-launch glider and discovered that the tail gets very much more upflow than the wing, seriously disrupting the trim [ (most free flight models have very long tail moment arm – that’s considered a good thing for freeflight stability, not so good for board flying!).  I realized – as the McCreadys did – that a flying wing would be preferable; but I also had a nagging suspicion that a tailed airplane could work if it were designed properly.  That would mean a small, short-coupled horizontal tail with plenty of negative incidence angle, and a much more forward center of gravity . than I am accustomed to."

"I did not act on that suspicion until ~2003, however, when my kids started getting old enough to enjoy “air surfing”.  A few more flying wings, then our first “tailed” glider which was the F-89 Scorpion semi-scale jet fighter with profile balsa fuselage, stick-and-tissue wing & tail.  Performance was outstanding; it is still one our nicest-flying gliders.  Kids enjoy them, and we always take a few to any Indoor contests we go to (where the principal activity is rubber-powered endurance flying). 

Furthermore, David was looking for activities to do with his sons. He set up courses through hula hoops, under bars, over strings and around serpentine paths between tables. The course ended on a landing strip on a table. These events were not limited to his family, however, and they became social events.

David Aronstein got Mike Thompson a summer internship at his company. Phil visited and got a video of Mike and David having a dogfight, trying to knock each other's walkalongs out of the air with whooshes of turbulence!

David Aronstein executing a "free turn" with an F-16 Scorpion at one of his races.       David's son Jesse flying a "mini club racer."

Thaddeo Andre

Just as I was finishing the history and new directions video my interest was piqued by a comment about using telephone book paper, bits of carbon fiber and super glue. It was not a combination I'd never heard of, so I wanted to know more. Soon tazeus had videos of flying his amazing creations.

Here is some of what he wrote in his replies:

I had some bits of carbon fibre rods, the really thin kind you get in model shops, you can split these into smaller strands, being cf it spilts clean and equally right down the rod, so you can make them really light and use it instead of balsa wood to strengthen leading edges etc.

I also have some Carbon fiber tow (it's basically raw carbon fiber before you'd epoxy it, in yarn form or braided, it's like cf hair =) I found this really useful for strengthening/ holding an airfoil in the wing, what i did was crease the paper into the desired shape and then with some super glue, paint on the bits of tow in rib format, they dry into the shape of the paper and stick. it's all very light too. ( it might be possible to use thread or strips of paper instead of tow, the super glue dries more brittle and also doesn't particularly soak into the paper, it dries very quick so no room for errors

Well I'm not particularly technical when I approach making one, I just imagine what I want it to look like, sketch out a few dimensions/ shapes and built it around the wing, also do a little bit research on what/how characteristics of full scale planes. A lot of it is trial and error, I like to try things which might not work as well just so I understand better why, I think aesthetics is also a contribution to how I make something, usually if it looks good it works well.

I've always been fascinated by flight and since I was young built many different flying objects, a lot of them didn't work but as I understood flight more and more I had more success. When I look back at the things I made in the past I realize now how and why they worked or could have worked better. I also find it fascinating and really enjoy building things in small scale, a plus side is that you need less material too =).
I also have a tendency of taking things apart to see how they work and why they do, I think it would be a good subject in school =) you learn so much from it.

I am a cellist and just finishing my masters degree in music performance. I was home schooled to allow for more time to play my instrument, this also allowed me to really get engrossed in the subjects I enjoyed(physics etc) and anything which could relate to flight. I read lot's of books on flight and the history of it.

The place I fly my models is the campus of the university I'm at. I want to build a glider which is slow and maneuverable enough to fly around a flat though, so I'm trying a lighter + smaller version of the traditional glider.

This is a good place to stop: with someone who does not have formal training aerospace engineering, but who is creating wonderful work nevertheless. So there is a survey of a motley bunch. Far flung geographically, professional to amateur, old and young. The only thing they all seem have in common is curiosity about the world and an openness to experimenting.

Contact me (Slater Harrison) with questions or to add to the history.

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