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Colver Soaring Instruments, Variometer, and HG history.
OK, here I go. Over my life span I’ve known egotists who were always promoting themselves and their accomplishments and I never much cared for them. But then sometimes one has to step into that uncomfortable position. So, to you guys who are helping to keep the hang gliding history together, I’m letting you know of my concern.
My variometer, the Colver Soaring Instruments variometer, is on the brink of going into hang gliding history obscurity. This bothers me a great deal. It isn’t just that I want my name out there it is because the first aircraft instrument designed and manufactured exclusively for hang gliders also played a significant role in many early flight accomplishments. When I was attending the 40th Oregon HG anniversary fly-in, at Cape Kiwanda, in 2012, Dave Raybourn told me stories about the difference it made in their coastal slope flying. The Colver vario’s sensitivity and rapid response made it possible to do cross country thermal flights, heading inland over the dense forest’s weak thermals, leaving the coastal cliff’s slope lift behind.
Most of the HG pilots who flew with the Colver vario are either gone now or are no longer flying, so there is some disconnect between today’s flyers and the history of the use of that instrument. Of course that’s what makes history, “history”.
Some years back Hang Gliding magazine had an article about a pilot who had just set a cross country HG distance record (unfortunately I don’t remember his name or the distance). He kept referring to his Colver vario throughout the article. At one point the bottom fell off and the batteries were suspended in the breeze by the wires but it kept working. I always intended to send him a new case bottom but never did. J
During the time I was manufacturing the instrument I would get phone calls from pilots who would tell me great stories of flights they had made that they said wouldn’t have been possible without the “Colver Vario”. I remember one guy, a Texas HG pilot, would drive a couple of hours to fly from an 800 foot hill. He said that he never left his Colver vario on his control bar when he was away from his glider because he was afraid someone would take it. One day he launched from that 800 foot hill and worked weak thermals for a flight that was around 200 miles (I don’t remember the exact distance). Nobody else flying the site that day could follow him because their varios weren’t sensitive enough. To my knowledge, even though today’s varios are much more sophisticated with GPS and many other features, I don’t think any have come close to the rapid response and sensitivity of the Colver. I have heard that there are actually a few pilots still using them but I can’t confirm that. I continued to use mine for many years in my hot air balloon after I stopped hang gliding.
The Colver vario was also used inside the “Chad” HG instrumentation “dash board” package.
Dave Raybourn told me, just before the 40th Oregon anniversary meet, that he Googled the Colver vario and found some web site where the guy treated the instrument as some kind of primitive joke, not to be taken seriously. I never looked for that site because I didn’t want to read that opinion message. Of course it looks primitive by today’s standards.
Bill Liscomb told me that his documentary, “Big Blue Sky” was about hang gliding firsts. But it did not mention the first true hang glider instrument, the Colver vario, even though viewers can see it on the control bars of various gliders shown in his documentary video. There’s an irony.
So I don’t know what anybody can do to change the situation, but I see the Colver vario slipping out of the historical hang gliding record and I don’t think that should happen. It was a definite part of that history and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m proud of having made that contribution to the modern sport of hang gliding. My Colver Skysail was a very high performance glider for its day, and its plan form looked much like the gliders of today, but only a few of us flew it and it was always flown from low hills, so it never became anything of significance to the hang gliding world. The vario, on the other hand, sold about 5,000 instruments during the time I was involved with it and I don’t know how many more were produced and sold after I turned over the total rights to Wills Wing.
USHPA #7 [[sic, USHGA #7]]
October 29, 2014
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