By Mary Jones
You can take a trip back to the early days of ultralights down on the farm this week as several early-day ultralights have returned, and one of the most unique is a Wasp Wing powered hang glider with a modified Rogallo wing.
The Rogallo wing, you may recall, was designed by Francis and Gertrude Rogallo as a recovery chute for early space capsules. While that solution never found complete favor with NASA at the time, it did offer a great wing design for the hang gliding community, and the Wasp Wing was one of many powered and unpowered hang gliders to use the Rogallo wing.
This Wasp Wing is owned and flown by Keith Sharon, of Sturgeon, Missouri, and it's always been in his family. Keith's father, Charles Sharon, built the airframe in 1976 and over the years modified the Rogallo wing several times. Sharon remembers spending weekends with his father, who often glided in Oregon's Cape Kiwanda and Seaside areas, as well as Dog Mountain, Washington.
After the family moved to Missouri, he and his brother started experimenting with putting engines on the glider, starting with a Zenoah G62 model airplane engine. The machine that Sharon is flying today-and he will be flying it from the ultralight runway this week-is powered by twin 160-cc ZDZ model airplane engines that develop 16 hp. He's been flying it with these engines since 2000, and with 2.5 gallons of fuel on board he can fly for up to 90 minutes and cover 35 to 40 miles. The glider stalls at 18 mph and has a top speed of 35 mph. The machine weighs 115 pounds empty (less fuel).
Sharon said to his knowledge this is one of three Wasp Wings still in existence. His brother owns the second one, and together they have a baby Wasp Wing trainer that they learned to fly on when they were 9 and 10 years old.
In its day, the Wasp Wing was considered a high-performance glider because the wing had a double-surface with battens, and it was recoverable in a dive. It also sported an 8-to-1 glide ratio. Folks familiar with the old Ground Skimmer hang gliding magazine will likely remember the classic Wasp Wing ads.
Take a stroll (or hop one of the trams) down to the Ultralight/Light Plane area at the south end of the field. If you're an ultralight enthusiast, you'll definitely enjoy seeing some of the older vehicles on display.