John Dickenson

The inventor of the Modern Hang Glider in 1963


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Kite Timeline Parafoil Development

(a work in progress) by Dave Lang, October 2005




I approached this investigation by following up on individuals identified as having been associated with ParaFoils and ParaWings. This was a fairly convoluted trip, with a certain amount of mildly contradictory information discovered (regarding dates and individual roles played). For consistency, I have adopted the following nomenclature/definitions:

ParaWing: Typified by a single-sided, flexible surface, with minimal “hard” structural stiffening elements.

ParaFoil: Typified by a two-sided, multi-celled, self-inflating, flexible lifting surface with essentially no structural stiffening elements.

ParaGliding: The sport of un-tethered, un-powered “soft lifting surface” flight, strongly related to the developments of ParaWings and ParaFoils.

The paths to innovation frequently seemed intertwined and collaborative within (and between) the ParaWing and the ParaFoil pioneers, as one would expect when individuals share the exhilaration of working on the forefront of an exciting new era. In addition, examples of identical, but apparently independent, development seemed to have occurred: again, not unexpected, since, when new enabling technologies are introduced, many are quick to see the way to their application. Missing in the literature seems to be a Para-Foil/Wing historical TimeLine; this may be because (as is common) essentially parallel developments can be difficult to sort out and serialize. While the events shown in my timeline reflect my personal perceptions as to what were important and/ or interesting events, I feel that I nevertheless have included the unanimously agreed-upon pivotal events/persons (plus a lot of others that seemed appropriate to me for this historical timeline).

It is reasonably clear to me that, while Jalbert and Rogallo might not have been the ones most instrumental in pushing widespread sporting/kiting adoption of parafoils, nevertheless, they must be acknowledged as the Co-parents of the whole para-kiting genre. To me, it is a moot point as to which was the pre-eminent inventor, since both made brilliant contributions in somewhat independent directions.

Parafoil Development Timeline

Caveat: elements of this timeline are still being developed and verified. Dates, individual credits, and orders of occurrence reflect my opinion and may be inaccurate. So many diverse sources have been used, and interconnections deduced (that were subject to interpretation), that it is unfeasible to accurately correlate timeline events to specific references… This is a work in progress.

???? Note: some have conjectured that the folk kite form known as the“chirange” (of Greek and Puerto Rico origins) might be construed, at least in terms of form, as a precursor to the Rogallo designs. Such speculation, while maybe valid, can also precipitate an endless, essentially unverifiable, pursuit of “roots.” I have chosen to draw a line regarding parafoil lineage at a point where aerodynamic sophistication in the form of systematic innovation within the genre has been clearly applied.

1900 William Eddy is granted a patent for his “invention” of applying dihedral to kites (borrowed from the Javanese kite makers); notwithstanding my above proclamation, this might be conjectured as a fomenting precursor to Rogallo’s work, i.e. the application of overt aerodynamic surface manipulation of aerodynamic properties in kite design. Maybe a stretch, since the innovation in Rogallo’s work seems to lie in a kite’s“flexible, formlessness” (until subjected to the forces of the wind).

1902 Silas Conyne is granted a patent for the invention of cellular kites. In the same fashion that Eddy may have influenced Rogallo, Conyne’s ideas could have opened Jalbert to the idea of
incorporating “cells” into kites.

1936 Francis M. Rogallo (with a degree in Aeronautical engineering from Stanford University) starts work as an aerodynamicist at NACA Langley Research Center, ultimately to become director of a large wind tunnel facility there.

late-1930s Domina Jalbert starts work with US Rubber Corp, involved with development of static air-inflated balloons/fins for barrage balloons. Before that he was involved with creating kites to display advertising.

1948 Francis and Gertrude Rogallo apply for a patent on the “Flexi-Kite”: a single surface, double rhombus form, with an arched leading edge, all of flexible fabric and using shroud lines to maintain a keel-line and general aerodynamic shape.

1950 William Allison applies for patent on his“Flexible Soft Kite.”

This precursor to“curved” soft-kite configurations, when combined with “Jalbert Cells,” manifests itself in many “traction kite” designs prevalent in today’s 4-line Arc-Parafoil genre.

1951 Francis and Gertrude Rogallo are granted patent #2,546,078 on the“Flexi-Kite.”

1952 Jalbert develops a new multi-celled parachute concept (virtually the first innovation in parachuting since its inception).

1956 Allison is granted a patent for “Flexible Soft Kite” (above), the delayed issuance explained by conflicts with Rogallo’s application simultaneously under examination by the USPTO.

1961 M. Lemoigne (France) develops the “Inverted Apex ascending parachute” (based on the Rogallo wing), inaugurating (towed) “parachute soaring.”

1962 Ryan Aircraft, as a result of internal studies (wishful thinking?), publishes a well-known picture of a Gemini capsule suspended under a Para-Wing coming in to land.

1963 Based on the famous Gemini photo, John Dickenson (more or less isolated in a small town in Australia) invents and patents a singlehang- point, A-frame, water skiing hang glider (to be towed for exhibitions); this is the elemental prototype of virtually all hanggliding that was to follow.

1964 Dickenson sends the plans of his man-carrying A-Frame Para- Wing invention to Langley Research Center (at Rogallo’s request).

1964 The first Jalbert Parafoil is successfully flown (privately).

1964 Dr. John Nicolaides, head of the Notre Dame Aeronautics department, plays an instrumental role in testing Jalbert’s Parafoil early designs, also developing the concept of the “Powered Parachute” under a military contract.

1965 David Barish, one of the developers of Para-Wing concepts (similar to Rogallo’s for bringing spacecraft back to landing) test flies what might be considered the first incarnation of the modern “Hang-

mid-1960s This is a period of intense US Government-sponsored Contractor development and innovation, with multiple patents issued relating to aerospace engineering applications.

mid-1960s NASA makes the engineering decision to use conventional parachutes for all capsule recovery, thus ending the golden era of Government sponsored Para-Wing development.

1966 Jalbert patents the Parafoil; a self inflating, flexible fabric, air foil Patent #3,285,546 assigned to Space Recovery Research Center, Inc, Palm Beach, FL.

1966 Irvin Industries starts marketing a commercial version of the Rogallo Wing to sport parachuting enthusiasts.

1966 The Pioneer Parachute Co. develops a commercial version of the Lemoigne design and markets to parachuting enthusiasts.

late-1960s Richard Miller (CA) spearheads the introduction of hang-gliding to American sportsmen, working independently of John Dickenson’s developments.

late-1960s Bill Moyes and Bill Bennett of Australia also spearhead the introduction of hang-gliding to American as well as Australian sportsmen, their work based largely on John Dickenson’s inventions
(to which they were a witness).

mid-1970s Dr. Nicolaides, now a department head at California Polytechnic, conducts tests to advance uses of Jalbert’s Parafoil in areas other than “conventional parachute replacement.”

1983 Harry Osborne (WA) builds and attempts to fly the largest ParaFoil in the world (over 10,000 sq ft) at Long Beach WA, resulting tragically in the death of Steve Edeiken, his flight coordinator, due to a fluke accident. While the flight met the requirements to achieve the record, Harry apparently declines to submit the application due to the tragic outcome of the event.

1980s-90s The 1980s and 90s are the heyday of the development of sport kiting genres such as surfing, buggying and sailing (not to mention rogue sports such as“kite-jumping”). I have not attempted to sort this out yet, as I feel I need to understand better what I am trying to achieve in this overall effort. Dave Lang



October 2005
© 2005 The Drachen Foundation

Kite Timeline Parafoil Development
Reproduction Conyne kite Greg Kono
Eddy the boy Courtesy of Eden Maxwell
Jalbert with parafoil DF Archive
Kiteboarder Naish International
(a work in progress by Dave Lang, October 2005)
Francis Rogallo and his kite Drachen


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