A&M-Kingsville Physics Professor Receives National Award For Developing Hang Gliding Safety Procedures
KINGSVILLE - March 22, 2007
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KINGSVILLE (March 22, 2007) — For more than 20 years, Dr. Lionel D. Hewett, professor of physics at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, has been working to make his hobby of hang gliding a little bit safer. On March 10, he received a national award honoring those efforts.
Hewett received the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) Safety Award from the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, Inc. (USHPA) at their spring 2007 Board of Directors meeting in Colorado Springs, Colo. The award is given to an individual who has contributed to safety promotion in some significant way that should be recognized.
The contributions of Hewett were in the area of towing, in which a hang glider is towed by a glider, ground-based tow system or other method to get it airborne.
In the early 1970s, when hang gliding became popular, towing came with many dangers. Hang gliders making their ascent may get jostled or shifted downward for a nosedive, much like a failed kite flying attempt. Hewett applied the principles of physics to develop a set of criteria that hang gliders could follow for safer towing.
Dave Broyles, chairman of safety and training for the USHPA and former president of the organization, elaborated on Hewett’s achievement. “The fatality rate in the early days was very high, and a disproportionate number were related to towing hang gliders. Since I started towing hang gliders, this was of great concern to me.
“Dr. Hewett proposed a radically new method for towing hang gliders. This method seemed counterintuitive at first, but turned out to be the answer to greatly improving safety in the towing of hang gliders. By the mid-1980s, old towing methods were made obsolete and hang gliders were being towed by a number of variations of Dr. Hewett’s methods. Now, hang gliders are exclusively towed by one of several variations of his inspiration, behind cars and trucks, behind ultralight airplanes and with stationary winches.”
In 1984, Hewett was awarded a USHPA Presidential Citation, the organization’s highest honor, given to a member or non‑member who has made significant contributions to the sport. He was suggested for the NAA Safety Award by the USHPA award committee, and nominated by unanimous vote of the USHPA board of directors.
“I believe that Dr. Hewett is the only recipient of both the USHPA Presidential Citation and the NAA Safety Award, both for the same accomplishment at different times,” said Broyles. “This shows the importance the hang gliding community gives his contribution.”
For Hewett, a love of flight came at age six, when he rode on an airplane for the first time. He would go on to own a plane of his own in adulthood, but it was the feeling of hang gliding that truly captured Hewett’s imagination.
“You’re in the air, within the environment, and you get the sensation of flying that you’ve dreamed about. You’re flying like a bird,” said Hewett.
The physics professor has been in the air hang gliding for as much as an hour at a time, making hundreds of flights over a host of locations, including Colorado, Mexico, Oklahoma, New Mexico and off the runway of the Kleberg County Airport of Kingsville. He also is a certified hang gliding instructor.
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