John W. Dickenson

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A 'Standard' hang glider, 1975.

John Wallace Dickenson (born 22 January 1934) is an Australian inventor, who developed some liquid flow measuring devices[1] and designed a successful hang glider configuration.[2] He is recipient of the Gold Air Medal,[3] the highest award given by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the world governing body for air sports, aeronautics and astronautics world records.

The Ski Kite

NASA's Paresev glider in flight with tow cable (1962).

In 1963, after seeing an image of a Rogallo wing airfoil, specifically "Ryan research aircraft" on a magazine, Dickenson set to build a water skiing kite[4] that could be released at altitude for a glide to a safe drop in the water, thus designed and built a water skiing kite wing he called the Ski Kite.[5][6][7]

His ski kite format incorporated an airframe with a triangle control frame as used in hang gliding in Breslau 1908, having a basebar tow-point and was integrated on an all-ready publicized four-boom stiffened Rogallo wing airfoil, where the pilot sat on a swinging seat while the control frame and wire bracing distributed the load to the wing as well as giving a frame to brace for weight-shift control.[8][9] Dickenson's Ski Wing turned out to be stable and controllable, unlike the flat manned kites used at water ski shows.[10] The Ski Wing was first flown in public at the 'Grafton Jacaranda Festival', New South Wales, Australia, in September 1963 by Rod Fuller while towed behind a motorboat.

The Ski Kite was light and portable like the prior instances of the same wing earlier by others such as James Hobson, Charles Richards, Thomas H. Purcell of which he had not studied, so Dickenson decided to file for a mechanical patent, but lacking on economic resources, the patent process of formal review of claims could not be entered to determine which, if any, of the claims could hold, so the patent was not awarded.[11] Since the single hang point and triangle control frame had already been in public domain, those two claims globally would not have stood the test of professional scutiny; the full mechanics were freely already available in John Worth.[12] A full year prior the four-boom stiffened Rogallo-wing hang glider by James Hobson had been publicly shown in Sport Aviation magazine of the Experimental Aircraft Association and also displayed for viewer in the USA national television program Lawrence Welk Show.

Glider versions

Half scale prototype

Produced in 1963

Mark I

Produced on September 8, 1963. Features:

  • Wing: biconical flexible wing
  • Keel and leading edge length: 16 feet (5 m)
  • Keel and leading edge: rigid
  • Cross bar: rigid
  • Control type: pendulum weight shift
  • Pendulum attachment: single line
  • Control bar: square frame
  • Pilot support: seat
  • Side wires: 8


  • Wing surface: banana bag plastic
  • Leading edge and keel : 1 ½ inch wood, Oregon douglas fir
  • Cross bar:"cross bar was a length of T.V. antenna, with a length of turned wood jammed into it to give it the required strength"[13]
  • Leading edge attachment:'D-section' wood and nails
  • Cable: clothesline wire

Mark I with A-frame

Produced on September 1963.
Change: control A-frame added.
1963 October - Flown at the Jacaranda Festival in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia.
1963 Oct 11 - Provisional patent filed.

Mark II

Produced on January 1964.
Changes: All aluminium frame, leading edge and keel.
Length: 14 feet (4 m)

Mark III

Produced on March 1964.
Changes: Back to wooden leading edge and keel.
Leading edge and keel length <14 feet (4 m)

Mark IV

Produced on November 1964.
Changes: sewn sail.
Diagrams of this sent to Francis Rogallo at NASA.
On 1965, John leaves Grafton for Sydney.

Mark V

Produced between 1967 - 1968.
Changes: built by Aero Structures.
1969 April - endurance record.[specify]


A basic hang glider flying over the Alps (2006)

Dickenson's hang glider format was further developed by other builders and directly helped to build the popularity of hang gliding around the world in the 1970s and 1980s.[15][16][17][18][19]

It is certain that many people from many countries, made contributions to the development of the flexible wing hang glider to the extent that any global mechanical claim for invention would be untenable. In the aviation context of 'first flights' and recreational vs. commercial developments, new and old inventions often complement in synergy; it is in this evolutionary and social context that the crucial developments put together by Otto Lilienthal, Gustave Whitehead, Francis Rogallo, John Worth, Barry Hill Palmer, Charles Richards, Cecil E. Craigo, Peter F. Girard, Thomas H. Purcell Jr., and many other before John Dickenson, were the ones that were most successful and influential on the evolution of stiffened four-boom hang gliders.[5][20] John Dickenson was a ski-kite leader; he never foot-launched a hang glider but was a leader in the delta waterski sport.


Most recognitions and awards have been given to Dickenson decades after his invention:[21]

  • 'Life Membership' to the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia (1993)
  • 'Certificate of Recognition' by the British Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association (1993)
  • Space Technology Hall of Fame (1995)
  • Order of Australia (1996)[22]
  • Grafton Town Memorial, NSW Australia (2006)
  • 'Certificate of Recognition' by the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia (2006)
  • The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Hang Gliding Diploma (2006) for the invention of the modern hang glider.[23]
  • The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale Gold Air Medal (2012).[3][24]
  • Oswald Watt Gold Medal (2012)[25]
  • "Flex-Wing Hang Glider Gold Air Award" in World Hang Gliding Association (2013)

See also


  1. Other inventions and designs by J. Dickenson
  2. Triangle control frame, Paresev and Barry Hill Palmer. Kites of John Dickenson
  3. 3.0 3.1 "The FAI Gold Air Medal for John Dickenson". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. 19 July 2012. Archived from the original on 22 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Daily Examinar. Grafton, NSW, Australia. 21 October 1963. p. 1. Missing or empty |title= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lukasch, Bernd (2 June 2000). "To fly like a bird". Retrieved 12 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Skyvington, William. "Grafton's Ski Wing". Retrieved 13 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Fogg, Chris (2006). "History – Grafton, Jacaranda Festival and John Dickenson". Hang Gliding Federation of Australia. Retrieved 13 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Woodhams, Mark (May 2004). "Who invented the flex wing hang glider?". Newsletter of the British Columbia Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Retrieved 12 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Rogallo "Sail Wing" Hang Glider". Western Museum of flight. Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved 12 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Stability and weight-shift control are inherent flex-wing characteristics previously established and described by its inventor Francis Rogallo and by NASA engineers in the Paresev and Fleep programs.
  11. On October/11/1963, Dickenson filed for a patent, and a provisional protection was awarded for his application number 36189/63 but the patent was not awarded: "John Dickenson - Profits left hanging by glider" (PDF). InovatED. Retrieved 12 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. An interview with Francis Rogallo, John Dickenson, and Bill Moyes in 1988 on YouTube.
  15. Article on John Dickenson
  16. Contributions by Bill Bennet as explained by the 'Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum': Delta Wing Phoenix VI [1], Delta Wing Phoenix VI:[2], Delta Wing Phoenix Mariah M-9: [3], Delta Wing Model 162: [4], Delta Wing Phoenix Viper 175: [5], Delta Wing Streak 130: [6].
  17. Moyes' story:[7], The History of Moyes: [8]
  18. ABC History -an interview with Moyes
  19. Mike Harker
  20. [9] Flexible Wing Gold Air Award
  21. Awards to John W. Dickenson
  22. Order of Australia award to John Dickenson
  23. FAI Award: The FAI Hang Gliding Diploma
  24. Robertson, James (25 August 2012). "Inventor hangs in there to finally soar to glory". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links