Ryan Aeronautical test pilot Lou Everett explains the controls of the company’s Flex-Wing to US Navy personnel at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Brown Field, near San Diego, in 1961. Everett saw a great deal of potential in what he called the “Pterodactyl”, saying “we don’t yet realise all the possibilities of the brand new, yet millions-of-years-old, flexible wing”.
The Flex-Bee was developed by Ryan for the US Marines as a flexible-winged radio-controlled reconnaissance drone, launched from a rail and powered by a 9 1/2 h.p. McCulloch MC-40 engine.
NASA engineers are dwarfed by the cavernous throat of the agency’s full-scale windtunnel at Langley during trials of the Flex-Wing, following the completion of its initial flight research programme in 1961.
The Flex-Wing in flight over Californian farmland during its test flight programme. Lou Everett explained, “our test bed at Ryan is not a prototype for a production aircraft. It is for research alone, hence all its cables and linkages are exposed. We can make all the necessary adjustments without having to open a lot of panels”.
Everett at the controls of what the Ryan press department described as “the craziest kite in the sky” during its flight test programme. The triangular object within the main control framework is the fuel tank. The front wheels were steerable and the rear wheels were fitted with brakes.
Two XV-8A Fleeps, 63-13003 and 63-13004, were built for further research into the Rogallo wing, the first of which is seen here at the US Army Proving Ground at Yuma. Although the type’s trials were entirely successful, the concept was not adopted by the military.
The keel and leading edges of the Rogallo wing are put in place over the Dacron/Mylar fabric. Rogallo also intended for the concept to be used to return booster rockets from space; the idea was never adopted.
Everett takes the Flex-Wing into the air during one of its test flights at Brown Field in the summer of 1961. The aircraft was purely experimental, about which Everett was emphatic in press releases: “Don’t try and build one of these yourself. The design factors are very precise and even a small change can make a tremendous difference in safety”.
A jeep chassis fitted with a Rogallo flexible wing is towed into the air by a helicopter at the US Army Proving Ground at Yuma, Arizona, in 1960. The idea was to transport cargo or materiel without the need for large transport aircraft, which would in turn require long runways and support infrastructure.
The much underrated aeronautical engineer Francis Melvin Rogallo, whose flexible wing concept became the foundation for the modern hang glider. Despite Rogallo’s idea being simple and relatively easy to build, he met with a great deal of resistance when looking for funds to develop the idea in the late 1940s.