World Record

Austrian Manfred Ruhmer has again set a world record in freeflight. For years, he was the unbeatable world champion in hang-gliding cross-country competitions (shortest time to goal, often in excess of 100 miles per round, 4-6 daily rounds in a row). Since he thoroughly and indisputably dominated and conquered that world, he turned his attentions a couple of years ago to foot-launched light sailplanes.

He flies a Swift Light, a lighter design variation of the Swift, designed by Steve Morris, a hang-glider pilot and aeronautical engineer right here in the Bay Area whom I run into from time-to-time.

483.1 miles, from morning launch at Zapata, TX to an evening landing at Lovington, NM. This breaks Robin Hamilton’s record of 425 miles, set from Zapata last year. His only power was the thermal-generating power of the sun, and in fact, where normally they only decide to go if they’ve got a decent tail wind, Manfred needed to leave in a couple of days, so it was make or break and he flew the distance with a significant cross-wind component. Noteworthy is that Manfred also holds the flex-wing hang-glider world record of 432 miles, which he set from Zapata in 2001 and hasn’t even remotely come close to being touched since.

You can read about the events of the day beginning from this bookmark on down the page, or hit this, this, and this. For wrap-up and analysis, start here on down, or hit the bookmarks here, here (with cockpit video), here (pics). Here’s some YouTube videos.

My friend and one of my beginner instructors, Don Burns, writes Davis:

I just got back from 10 days of flying in the Owens Valley.  I also just got finished viewing Manfred’s videos in his Swift referenced on your web site.  Man, he’s kicking back, relaxed, moving a stick around and speaking in a calm voice.  He might as well have been watching TV and drinking a beer from the looks of it.

My best flight in the Owens this year was 150 miles.  I realize that this is the distance where you boys in Zapata are just gettin’ started.  However, when we fly the Owens, we freakin’ work for our miles: we get hypoxic, we get cold, we get the crap knocked out of us, and we get fear of God beat into us each time the air threatens to flip us over.  We fly into territory unretrievable, we risk long dehydrated walks in the desert, and by god we land on our FEET!

Then I read your report where Manfred claims he doesn’t fly flex wings any more because "flying a flex wing is hard work".

Distance Shmistance.  200 miles in the Owens Valley is more respectable than a thousand in Texas!

Ha! Yea, it’s a different sort of flying altogether. As Davis replies, "Been there, done that. I’m much more interested in enjoying the air in a
intellectually challenging flight competing or going for a record."

Don is the guy I shared a thermal with to 11,000 feet a couple of years ago.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Greg Freeman on July 30, 2006 at 13:32

    That Swift Light is an interesting machine. I've seen hang gliders and sailplanes, but never a hybrid of the two concepts. I'd love to get behind the stick of a sailplane or something similar. From the looks of it, those sailplane/glider hybrids aren't anywhere near the price of a cross-country sailplane.

    What gets me are pictures ) showing these small craft flying through mountains. I can imagine that would be very unpredictable and rough flying with the wind whipping over the elevated ground.

  2. Richard Nikoley on July 31, 2006 at 05:08


    Last I recall, the Swift Light runs about $25k, or thereabouts. Pure flex-wing hang-gliders range $4-$7k (beginner to advanced) and the rigid-wing hang-gliders (composite leading edge and ribs) are going for about $12-$15k.

    The photo you linked is, of course, the Swift with the motorized option. At any rate, yes, these sorts of craft were originally conceived as mountain-flying vehicles. Most of my own flying has been in the mountains, and yes, rotor, caused by winds moving over the terrain, is a major concern. But it's generally manageable if you know what you're doing, and never panic.

    Nowadays, since the advent of towing via ultralights (for both hang-gliders and light sailplanes), lots of flying is done in the flat lands and virtually all of the distance records are set over the flats. Lift is just more consistent and predictable. In the mountains, you get huge lift, but also massive sink and you can get flushed very easily and it's over. Time to land.

    Side note. When I was taking powered lessons, all the engine-out drills were a cinch, and in fact, the first time, the instructor actually let me keep going with the setup and approach to a nice field far longer then normal, before bringing on power. Later, he said it was because I was teaching him things. I was no-shit ready, able, and willing to land that thing in the field. I was convincing, and the instructor percieved that.

    It's amazing how fear vs. no fear makes a huge difference. I've landed in fields several hundred times. It's no big deal to me, and that fact that we're talking about an airplane and not a glider is not an essential part of the whole equation.

    I've got stick time in sailplanes, too, and I really want to do more. Hang-gliders, depending on performance, get 12-1 to 17-1 glide. Your average sailplane gets 40-1. You would be astounded how far you can glide with a few thousand feet under you, and of course, this greatly increases the chances that you're going to find lift.

  3. Greg Freeman on July 31, 2006 at 16:41

    Ah, the records will be set on the flats, but all the good scenery is elsewhere.

    I like the whole self-sufficiency part of the deal. It's a great feeling knowing that you're ready to handle whatever the world can throw at you, engine out or otherwise.

    I spent a lot of time sailing when I was younger, and got to enjoying the idea and finesse of handling a craft whose only motive power is the wind. That and you could pack enough food and supplies into a sailboat to go on as long a trip as you want.

    I'm hoping that some day I'll take the steps in the right direction and start flying some gliders, a motorglider trek over the country with flexible landing breakss would be quite a trip, especially with the right lady in the passenger seat. I think I remember seeing large motorgliders with over a 40-1 glide ratio, but somehow my old bookmarks got lost. It was one of the models that had a small engine fold upwards from behind the passenger compartment.

    Another thing that gets me about flying is the reality of the thing. You're putting your trust into a few mm of composite (in the case of a modern glider) versus the forces of lift and drag. It's up to you to make sure your engine is in working order, that there aren't any delaminations in the structure, the computer is in check, etc. That's real excitement, and an accomplishment that I have yet to experience on my own.

    Kind of like the third video on Ayn Rand you have linked below. What got me about that were the pictures of the bridge builders walking on the wire cables and also train engineer jostling around in the cabin, sticking his head out the window at speed, and realizing that it's all in his hands.

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