An Unexpected Life of Flying

An Unexpected Life of Flying

 

Mike Kelsey didn’t know he had a love for flying until 1972. That’s when he saw a photograph in a Popular Mechanics magazine. It sparked something inside of him that led him to pursue exploits from hang gliding to RC aircraft to his own handmade wing designs.

“(I) saw a photo of the Rogallo wing above a small hill with a man hanging from it. I had never had any interest in flying, but when I saw this image, and without even remotely understanding what was going on, I was smitten with the idea of becoming airborne,” he said.

Mike bought a kit and assembled it in the living room of his mobile home. He was living in Southern California at the time, and it wasn’t hard to round up locals interested in learning and convince a company instructor to come up and visit. He was flying immediately.

“What a great day it was. I was flying on my first run down the small hill. A good five-second flight. By the end of the day, despite a few of the trainees having some minor scratches and bruises, I was without a mark.”

But Mike wanted to fully understand how the wings fly, so he began building models of the Rogallo design.

“I was using wires and tools. It was time consuming, and they flew poorly. I needed an easier and cheaper way to duplicate the design of the Rogallo hang glider,” he said.

He replaced the heavier building materials with paper. It was then that another venture started–that of the OmniWing–which is an enhanced paper model wing influenced by the Rogallo design. It is launched by hand and returns to its starting point.

“I tried to build a billowy sail like the hang glider and tried to improve on that. I came up with the OmniWing which had a high angle.”

Then, although his wife was supportive of his hang gliding hobby, life happened. He and his wife started a family and he took a break for two decades in which he started a website design business and manages several apartments. Even though he had hung up his hang glider, his work on the OmniWing persisted. He began entering contests and blowing away the competition.

“The first year, my wings took first in every category,” Mike said. To date, his YouTube channel, menamiketrx, has received 7 millions views (and counting) since he started posting his instructional videos in 2006.

It was only natural that Mike also built balsa model airplanes and flew combat with a buddy. As expected, the planes ended in shambles, but the two repeated their friendly fighting until one day when he was getting a head start in testing the flight conditions, he heard a shotgun crack through the air and his plane plummeted. His friend had shot down his plane and taken the last word. Not long after, he met his first Zagi. Although he doesn’t remember exactly how he was introduced, it was meant to be. The design reminded him of the Rogallo wing and the plane could take a beating and keep flying. It was a good plane to teach his kids how to fly.

Today, Mike lives in Arkansas at the base of the Ouachita Mountains, with a 100-mile stretch of perfect peaks from which to launch. And, although he’s returned to hang gliding, he spends more days flying his Zagis and recently purchased a 5C glider.

“I’m getting particular about the weather I like to fly in and might only get to fly a dozen times a year,” Mike said. “With Zagi, I can go up on a mountain and throw it with a slight breeze, and it’s all good.”

If you’re interested in trying to make your own OmniWing paper model, visit his website at www.omniwing.com or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/menamiketrx. You can also visit his site on hang gliding and paragliding in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma www.ouachitahanggliding.com.

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