History recognises inventor
By JULIA ILES
DAYS ago the unstoppable inventor of the hang glider John Dickenson was in a light plane doing spins, rolls and loops.
Almost 50 years after his invention made from sticky tape, banana plastic and clothesline wire glided high over Grafton in 1963, he's still afflicted by flying fever.
"I love all things to do with aviation ... even a pelican when it takes off on the water," John said.
But despite his Order of Australia medal, NASA awards and life memberships to many hang gliding clubs, his story remains largely untold.
"My hang glider was very humble and crude ? it cost about 12 pounds to make," John said.
"It came about after the Grafton Waterski Club heard I was building autogyro's, which are little helicopters with a blade, they asked if I could design a waterski kite."
He experimented with a flat five-sided kite but found it wasn't stable enough, then he became enamoured by the way a bat could glide effortlessly.
But John's bat-inspired prototype lacked any control.
For three months he wrung his hands in frustration until he had a revelation while pushing his infant daughter on a swing in a park in Grafton.
"I decided to try a single suspension of the pilot on an A-frame, with a control column underneath it, I built it and tried to fly it but couldn't get it off the water, then Rod tried and just flew it, it was brilliant," John said.
It was then he realised he'd created a new type of flying contraption.
His glider was patented and manufactured in Sydney, but after several years of production the company went broke.
John's design was superseded in the 1980s but every current hang glider manufacturer uses his weight shift system.
He lived in Grafton from 1961-65 before moving to Sydney's northern beaches where he resides with his wife today.
John's life has followed a path of twists and turns.
Another of his inventions was a liquid control device to monitor flow patterns, it is used for sewerage treatment.
And although he's qualified in electronics, he completed a degree in psychology when he was 50 and worked in private practice.
"I would identify too closely with the clients and to be a softy like I am and have 20 or 30 people crying on your shoulder, I just couldn't disconnect from it," he said.
So John moved back into the mathematical arena of engineering.
Two years ago a cement truck came within inches of killing him when it ploughed into the car he was in.
"I suffered serious injuries including a spinal fracture and my body will never be the same," John said.
Now retired, he is a keen photographer and spends his time designing hydrofoil stabilised sailboats.
On Wednesday he was in Grafton to discuss a memorial plaque to be unveiled at the Jacaranda Festival in a tribute to him, the first flyer Rod Fuller and Pat Crowe who drove the boat to which the glider was attached.
It is hoped the plaque will be installed near the river adjoining Duke Street where the Grafton Waterski Club used to meet.
"They are talking about floats and all sorts of things but I am just happy this story is being told," John said.
"I read in an American book once that said a guy named Dr Rogallo invented the hang glider but it's not true.
"John Dickenson did in Grafton and slowly the truth is coming out."