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One year ago: Francis Rogallo

September 1, 2010 |  6:00 am

Francis-RogalloFrancis Rogallo helped bring to reality the Icarus dream of personal flight for humans.

The inventor, who died one year ago, used old kitchen curtains and makeshift wind tunnels in his basement to develop a flexible wing that gave rise to such sports as hang gliding, paragliding, ultralight flight and kiteboarding.

"Suddenly, here was this idea that people had dreamed about for thousands of years -- to be able to fly like a bird with a personal set of wings," said Mike Meier, president of the Hang Glider Manufacturers Assn. and a principal at Wills Wing Inc. "All of a sudden, with a very simple apparatus...this was possible. It was profound."

Rogallo, who was a researcher at what is now NASA, tried for nearly a decade to interest the government and military aircraft builders in his wing design. It took the Soviet Union launching the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the ensuing space race, however, for him to get their attention.

Beginning in 1960, NASA began testing the wing as a potential tool for bringing satellites back to Earth, an idea that was later abandoned in favor of standard parachutes and ocean recoveries.

For more, read Francis Rogallo's obituary by the Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Francis Rogallo with an implementation of his Rogallo Wing at NASA Langley Research Center. Credit: NASA Langley Research Center