The Smithsonian on Francis Rogallo
Originally conceived in the mid-1940s as a way to make aviation
simpler, more practical and economically available to everyone, the paraglider
took its name from a combination of the words parachute and glider. Wouldnt
it be great, Rogallo would muse, if you could drive your car to the outskirts
of town, unfurl a wing from the trunk, and fly out over the countryside?"
While the Gemini paraglider failed for the manned space program, Rogallos dream
of simple, inexpensive flight ultimately was realized. The paraglider and
related flexible wing designs achieved enough notoriety during the early 1960s
to capture the imaginations of professional and amateur aeronautical engineers
all over the world.
Basing designs on pictures from magazines and working with readily available
materials like bamboo and plastic sheeting, early hang glider pilots built
Rogallo Wings and flew them from low hills in California, while others built
more sophisticated designs for towing behind water ski boats in Australia. By
the time Neil Armstrong was stepping down on the moon, the modern sport of hang
gliding was rocketing around the Earth.
Rogallos elegantly creative solution to the problem of spacecraft recovery
ultimately led to the simplest form of personal aviation. When asked about the
future of flexible wings, Rogallo once said, Oh I think theyll go on forever
now that theyre here. After all, once people learned to swim like fish, why,
they never gave it up. Now that theyve learned how to fly like birds, I dont
think theyre going to give that up either. For my part, I plan to imagine the
thrill for many years to come.