Francis Rogallo, "Father of Hang Gliding," Dies At 97

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Francis Rogallo, who patented a flexible wing design in 1948 that has been credited with spurring the development of hang gliders, sport parachutes, and ultralights, died at his home in North Carolina on Sept. 1. In the 1950s, Rogallo and his wife, Gertrude, who was credited as co-inventor of the wing, gave their patent to the government and began a series of experiments with NASA, who renamed the design the Parawing. The wing was tested at altitudes as high as 200,000 feet and as fast as Mach 3 to evaluate it as an alternative recovery system for the Gemini space capsules and spent rocket stages. NASA conducted test flights of a Parawing aircraft called the "flying Jeep" and a weight-shift Parawing glider, both manned and unmanned. In the 1960s, the Rogallo wing design was adopted by the hang-gliding community. "Millions of people around the world have enjoyed flight as a result of Rogallo's invention of the Flexible Wing," according to the obituary published by the Rogallo Foundation.

Gertrude Rogallo died in 2008. Rogallo received several awards from NASA for his work, and was recognized by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum "for outstanding achievement in aerospace technology." Rogallo lived in the Outer Banks, close to Kitty Hawk, where he was a frequent visitor at Jockey's Ridge State Park, a popular site for hang gliding. He took his last hang-gliding flight on his 80th birthday. A day of kiting and hang-gliding will be held in Rogallo's honor at the park on Sunday, Sept. 20.