Taras Kiceniuk, Jr., designed this revolutionary tailless, rigid-wing, hang glider. Like the flexible wing, Rogallo-type hang gliders that preceeded it, one person could carry Kiceniuk's Icarus but she could fly it in more demanding conditions, such as weak lift or turbulence, than she could fly a Rogallo glider. Late in 1971, Taras and his father, Taras, Sr., realized that they could improve significantly on the Rogallo wing by moving to a rigid-wing configuration. The new hang glider was radically different from nearly every other hang glider flying at the time. It was a rigid-wing, tailless biplane and young Taras named it "Icarus" after the Greek legend of a father and son who fashioned wings made of feathers and wax.
Wingspan: 9.17 m (30 ft 1 in)
Length: 5.94 m (19 ft 6 in)
Height: 1 m (3 ft)
Weight: 24.5 kg (54 lb)
Gift of Thomas Johnson.
Rigid wing, biplane hang glider; wings slightly swept and covered with sheet plastic.
Taras Kiceniuk, Jr., designed this revolutionary tailless, rigid-wing, hang glider. Like the flexible wing, Rogallo-type hang gliders, one person could carry Kiceniuk's Icarus but she could fly it in more demanding conditions, such as weak lift or turbulence, than she could fly a Rogallo glider.
The Rogallo wing stirred the upsurge in the popularity of hang gliding that began in the late 1960s. Francis Rogallo designed this unique wing for his employer, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA hoped to use Rogallo's wings to recover spacecraft. Disappointing tests nixed this idea but not before it had migrated to creative minds outside the space agency who saw the potential to fly on very inexpensive wings.
A Rogallo wing is one of the simplest flying devices ever created. It is a flying wing with no fuselage and no tail, ailerons, flaps, or other devices to control direction of flight and altitude. These accessories equip conventional aircraft and make them many times heavier and more complex to construct and fly than a Rogallo. In its early, basic, form Rogallo's wing consisted of three aluminum tubes, a central keel and two leading edges, all tied together at one end. A person building the glider stretched a 'sail,' usually made of cheap plastic sheet but later, Dacron fabric, between the three tubes like the webbing on a duck's foot. Smaller tubes and wires added rigidity and support the assembly. In the earliest Rogallo hang gliders, there were no wing spars or ribs to spread and hold the wing to generate lift. Rather, the wind filled the Dacron sail and held it open.
The Rogallo hang glider was simple and inexpensive to build and fly. Some people made them from bamboo poles and plastic sheeting from local hardware stores. Critics called the Rogallo wing little more than a parachute because it did not produce large amounts of lift and the wing was not very maneuverable. A standard, early Rogallo could glide one meter (3 ft 4 in) forward for every 30.5 cm (1 ft) of altitude lost, a glide ratio of about 3:1. Most conventional sailplanes of that day equipped with fuselage and tail had glide ratios of about 25:1.
In 1971, Taras Kiceniuk, Jr., was still in high school when he built his first hang glider. His father, Taras, Sr., worked as an administrator at the Mount Palomar Observatory and he had taught at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Father and son became very involved in the sport as it blossomed and became popular in Southern California. An early bamboo-and-plastic Rogallo wing inspired their first design but the Kiceniuk version used an improved wing covered with black plastic. This unusual covering inspired the name "Batso." Young Taras gliding "Batso" down the hills around Palomar Mountain northeast of San Diego became a common sight. He also flew this aircraft at one of the first hang glider meets to attract a sizable number of pilots held on May 23, 1971. Plans to build "Batso" sold well enough to finance young Taras' engineering degree at Caltech.
Late in 1971, the Kiceniuk men realized that they could improve significantly on the Rogallo wing by moving to a rigid-wing configuration. The new hang glider was radically different from nearly every other hang glider flying at the time. It was a rigid-wing, tailless biplane and Taras named it "Icarus" after the Greek legend of a father and son who fashioned wings made of feathers and wax.
Lightweight aluminum tubing and Styrofoam ribs covered with clear plastic formed the "Icarus" airframe. On the upper left and lower right wingtips, the Kiceniuks placed sunburst logos and the word 'Icarus' written with Greek letters. To mount the aircraft, a pilot stood in an opening built into the center of the lower wing and supported himself and wing by grasping two sturdy pieces of the airframe tubing that passed close on either side of his chest. To launch the "Icarus," the pilot ran with the wing downhill and into the wind. Once airborne, he or she sat in a small swing seat, feet propped on the back of the wing leading edge tube to streamline her profile and reduce drag. By pushing or pulling on the wing leading edge, the pilot could shift his center of gravity forward or backward to climb or dive the glider, just as Rogallo wing pilots did.
A rudder hinged between the two wings at both tips gave better turning capability than any Rogallo hang glider. The pilot moved these control surfaces using twist grips mounted on the airframe.
"Icarus" was an immediate sensation. No longer were hang glider pilots restricted to flying the Rogallo gliders on short, "sled-rides" to the bottom of the hill. Pilots of the rigid-wing "Icarus" could soar to altitude, ride thermal and ridge lift to impressive heights and fly long distances. Maralys Wills wrote this about the Kiceniuk's Icarus in her book "Manbirds: Hang Gliders and Hang Gliding:"
"In October 1971 Taras and his Icarus cruised back and forth above the cliff at Torrance Beach, California, an event seen on television. By January 1972 Icarus had made the cover of "Soaring" magazine. The advantages of his biwing, and later the single-wing Icarus V, were obvious: In light or no breezes the Icarus could stay up and soar above the ridge, and the eight-to-one glide angle it boasted meant flights of long duration."
Taras continued to improve his design, with help from his father. He soon finished the "Icarus II" and the original "Icarus" became the "Icarus I." The "Icarus II" was another biplane but the wings swept back more steeply. Taras set an endurance record of one hour and eleven minutes while flying the "Icarus II" above the high cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines, California, on July 2, 1972. Construction plans and drawings for the "Icarus II" sold extremely well. The Federal Aviation Administration recognized the "Icarus II" as an aircraft and officials assigned it an aircraft registration number; something that never happened to a Rogallo wing because of its limited performance. "Icarus III" and "'IV" did not pass beyond conception in Taras' mind for he chose to concentrate all of his efforts on designing and building his ultimate achievement in hang glider design, the "Icarus V." This swept-back monoplane hang glider possessed a 10:1 glide ratio.
Taras Kiceniuk, Jr., donated the "Icarus I" to the National Air and Space Museum on October 25, 1978. This important aircraft is now in storage at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland.