Ken de Russy's

Hang Gliding Museum

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The sport of hang gliding in the USA has no sanctioned museum. My hang gliding history preservation work along with my large collection and extensive library serves as the closest our sport has gotten to something like a National Hang Gliding Museum. Whenever inquiries about our history or offers to donate equipment come to the attention of our USHPA office or to our sporting community they are often referred to me. By now my work is known and well supported by the hang gliding community both in the USA and abroad. I spoke at the end of October 2011 at the Soaring100 event as one of the "Legends of Hang Gliding" and had many offers of donations from attendees. Our community is enthusiastic to know that there is a place for preserving our history and seem to be ever more eager to see that their artifacts find a home in my collection. To the many of you who have donated material to the collection let me say thank you. Each of you have made a huge contribution and deserve credit for what is now a far larger collection than it might have been without your thoughtful and generous support.

Thanks to a recent donation of the last 2 issues of Glider Rider that set is complete. The collection of Whole Air, Hang Gliding, and Joe Faust's various publications are all complete as are the Paraglide USA and Paragliding the Magazine sets. I have the first 2 years of the French and German magazines, a few of the first issues of the UK magazine plus most of 1978, 79, and 80, donated by Dan Poynter, and a collection of La Mouette Gazette/Cross Country that is nearly complete. As well I have many years of a couple dozen different early US newsletters and many other English language publications including sundry issues of Australian Skysailor and a NZ magazine. There are about 100 hang gliding specific books plus newspaper and magazine articles numbering in the hundreds, organized chronologically providing an easily viewed timeline of the 1960's and 1970's. There are many manuals, plan sets and batten diagrams.

I am doubtful anyone else in the world has assembled such a collection and assume no one else has done as much. I hope I am wrong and that there are other comprehensive collections. In the last week of January alone I have received 4 separate packages with donated material.  Each time I get a package of material there are always bits I don't have, bits I have never seen and some bits I already have. The bits that are new to the collection I mark to keep track of where they came from and then they are disbursed to the book section, a theme 3-ring binder (Contest Programs, etc.), the newsletter file cabinet, etc. If I can assemble enough information about the donating pilot I make up a notebook or folder so the material is kept in context. The bits that are surplus become available for trade for bits I don't have, as thank you gifts for donations (on those extremely rare occasions where I actually encounter another collector), and at some point I will publish a list of things for sale with the proceeds to help offset my costs.

I offer a photocopy service for those interested in obtaining copies of any of this material. The small profit helps me in continuing my hang gliding history preservation work. It is a joy when I receive a request for some arcane and obscure material that I am then able to locate and make available. I have had a small number of occasions to assist research into our history and I encourage contact for such purposes

A collection of 70 or so gliders, harnesses, many instruments, and even a surprisingly divers array of mechanical advantage devices are also part of this enormous collection.

My collection work has one primary goal and that is to collect and preserve as much of our history as I can. On occasion I have had various opportunities to support projects to display and research. I have produced some displays, the biggest being the 2001 Seattle Museum of Flight exhibit "Ride the Wind" which I am fairly sure is the biggest and most comprehensive exhibition of hang gliding history ever mounted in the US.

The archive contains many early documents and are a wonderful additional resource. Wherever I have solicited donations, such papers as early correspondence are always at the top of my list but all too often these old papers have been tossed. We must secure them while it is still possible. I have learned well to keep each piece that comes to me connected to the source and the context. On those occasions where I receive requests from someone researching our sport for constructing a website as is the case with Tom Kreyche who is building a web site about the history of hang gliding in the Owens Valley, or developing background for a movie like Bill Liscomb as he developed "Big Blue Sky", or to create an exhibit as with Larry West who was instrumental in creating the exhibit at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, I am able to easily access and share whatever whatever resources are needed. Where I have the opportunity to give history presentations such as when I hosted John Dickenson and Barry Palmer at my Museum or as a "Legend of Hang Gliding" at the Soaring100 Celebration at Kitty Hawk this past October or at the upcoming Oregon Reunion at Cape Kiwanda in May where I have been asked to make a presentation, I am able to do so with the help of my very organized, large archive.

I am unaware of any similar effort in the US. I realize that I must possess a rare combination of qualities that quite likely exists in no one else in the US. I have the background in our sport dating from summer 1973 in both the art and the business, the continuing keen interest (I began collecting soon after I started flying in 73), the standing in the sport, the capacity to collect, store and preserve, and the desire to do so. As many of the older pioneers pass on, material is lost. Out of context many artifacts, even where momentarily recognized as possibly historical in nature, are likely to be discarded. Within my large collection there is a much greater likelihood of survival. Possibly as important, their value is appreciated, enhanced by being part of the most comprehensive collection and very often they are put to good use.

The exposure to a large aviation museum during the time I worked with the Museum of Flight taught me that our history is of very little interest to the rest of the world. Museums rely on their patrons for support and hang gliding brings almost nothing to the table. Until such time as the world takes at least a modest interest in our activity I am skeptical that even an institution as the Smithsonian will do more than store material. I think the longer it remains in the hands of sportsman/interpreters like me the greater the chance of the details and nuances of our story being ferreted out, understood, recorded, preserved and shared with the world. It is much the same as the circumstance of a piece of pottery dug up by a nonprofessional archaeologist or pot hunter and removed to a shelf for display. Once removed from the location the context is lost along with much interpretation. Absent patron demand museums could not justify the expense of even part time staff to examine and interpret our history. And even if they did, what chance of finding someone with half of my background?  In my hands artifacts are located, organized, labeled, associated, studied and made available to our sport in our time and preserved for posterity, all at no cost to our community.

It is quite likely that that there is no where else on earth where your hang gliding artifacts would be more enthusiastically received or more lovingly cared for.


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