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“Father of Hang Gliding” Dies at 97


Francis and Gertrude Rogallo invented the flexible or Rogallo wing in 1948 with material from Gertrude’s kitchen curtains.

September 10, 2009 — Francis Rogallo, inventor of the flexible wing, died September 1 at his home near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Francis and his wife, Gertrude Rogallo, invented the flexible or Rogallo wing in 1948 with material from Gertrude’s kitchen curtains.  The airfoil, which was tested using a homemade wind tunnel consisting of a cardboard box and a window fan eventually led to the development of the hang glider, paraglider, ultralights (light-sport aircraft), sport parachutes, delta kites, stunt kites, parafoil kites, sport parachutes, and kiteboarding kites. (Read a Sport Aviation excerpt about the Rogallo’s from June 1997)

At the outset of the space race, the Rogallo’s donated their wing patent to the government and NASA began a series of experiments testing the Parawing (renamed by NASA). The wing was tested at altitudes as high as 200,000 feet and as fast as Mach 3 in order to evaluate it as an alternative recovery system for the Gemini space capsules and spent rocket stages.  The Parawing program was used by civilian designers as a basis to develop many of the ultralights in use today.

Francis Rogallo was born in Sanger, California on January 27, 1912. He graduated from Stanford with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and aeronautics in 1935 during what is called the 'Golden Age of Aviation'. In addition to the “flexible wing”, he held patents on wing controls, slots, airfoils, target kites, and advanced configurations for flexible wing vehicles.  His death is preceded by his wife Gertrude’s in January 2008.  Rogallo took his last hang gliding flight on his 80th birthday.

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