Skywackers — SW Virginia HG and PG Association

SW Virginia Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association

Merger and Other Changes

Before 1988 - The RVHGA and Skywackers

The early Skywackers (mid and late 70's) were centered around Big Walker and Bland, VA, home of President-for-Life Randy Newberry. They were a pioneering group of flyers who were more interested in all night parties than formalities such as meeting minutes or USHGA Chapter status. Perhaps the best account of the history of that group is given in Randy Newberry's BooWaa Call story and The First Skywackers. But by the early 80's many of the original 'Wackers had moved on or away, although Big Walker was still seeing a lot of activity.

The most organized group of pilots in the late 70's and early 80's was the Roanoke Valley Hang Gliding Association. This club consisted primarily of a group of Roanoke pilots, led by WW Richards, who was then the Region 9 Director. The early records of this group, if they exist, would be in the keeping of one of the members from those days. It is unclear as to whether they had ever formally become a USHGA Chapter.

While there was certainly interaction between the Skywackers and the RVHGA, with sharing of flying sites, they were essentially two separate groups at different locations. In 1985, a Blacksburg pilot, Richard Cobb, became an Instructor and began teaching on the Clover Hollow training hill. Thus began an influx of a group of young pilots, most of whom were from the local University, Virginia Tech.

The only official records of the period before 1988 are RVHGA newsletters from 1985 and 1986, and the minutes from a 1986 meeting, in which chapter status was granted (or renewed). These records are actually from a period that marked the beginning of the decline of the RVHGA, which had been much more active in the previous years:

Newsletter 1985 - This was the first issue of a newsletter, titled Thermals. For those who were not around then, newsletters were something that was delivered by postal mail, and were a primary means of communication to the whole club. Without an internet or email at the time, the only other means of communication were phone calls or face-to-face on a mountain or LZ. It seems an alien concept in these days of the internet, Twitter, and Instant Messaging, but newsletters and phone calls were state of the art in communications in that time.

Meeting Minutes 1986 - While there was talk at the time that the RVHGA had once been a chapter of the USHGA, it was not then, nor had it been for some time. Chapter requirements include a set of the by-laws, which had gone missing and only eventually turned up in 1986. Whether or not it had formerly been a chapter, it attained Chapter status in 1986. These are the minutes from that meeting.

Newsletter 1986 - A newsletter from the end of 1986, announcing Chapter status and other news.

If anyone has any other records from this early period, please contact the webmaster (under the Contacts link)

1988 - The Southwest Virginia Hang Gliding Association is born

1988 was a big turning point for the club. Up until then it had been the Roanoke Valley Hang Gliding Association, and consisted primarily of a group of Roanoke pilots, led by WW Richards, who was then the Region 9 Director. This was the year WW retired from hang gliding and moved to Florida, and a great many of the active Roanoke pilots quit flying around then too. What had been a very active club suddenly (within a year or so), dwindled to just a handful of pilots. In the meantime, Richard Cobb's group of young Blacksburg area pilots had begun flying the local sites of both the Skywackers and RVHGA.

The RVHGA was the only offical club/chapter at the time, but there were only a handful of Roanoke pilots still flying (including a few Lynchburg pilots flying Tobacco Row Mt). There were still a few Skywacker pilots active, but they had also declined in numbers. And the new Blacksburg pilots, while young and enthusiastic, were not great in number. The idea evolved of keeping the organization/chapter status of the RVHGA, but moving it's center of gravity out of Roanoke to all of SW Virginia and including all pilots.

In the Spring of 1988 there was a meeting combined with WW's retirement party. This meeting resulted in a number of changes, including:

  • Change the club name to the Southwest Virginia Hang Gliding Association
  • Easing membership requirements
  • New officers and a number of other, smaller changes
The club also adopted "Skywackers" as the day-to-day name, saving the more formal, official name for chapter paperwork and public contacts (landowners, newspapers, etc).

Newsletters 1988 - contains the announcement for WW's Retirement Party and 3 issues of the Thermals Newsletter. The last newsletter is a "special edition" announcing Wayne Sayer's flight over Lane Stadium during a football game.

Meeting Minutes 1988 - the minutes of the meeting where the changes above took place.

Into the 90's

I had become Secretary of an active club that was suddenly rapidly fading away in Roanoke, but I had eager young students and there were pilots actively flying Big Walker. With a little bit of discussion it was decided to rename the club to be more inclusive of the region, and loosen the member restrictions.

The founders of the RVHGA drew heavily from a biker community, and so their rules did as well. You could not simply join the RVHGA. You had to go through a probationary period where you flew with the club members until they got to know you. At some point there would be a vote as to whether you would be allowed to become a member. Membership required 100% approval of the active membership - one person could prevent you from joining. Needless to say, a lot of people thought this was overly restrictive.

The minutes in the link are from the meeting that changed the name to the Southwest Virginia Hang Gliding Association, and also changed the membership requirements and classifications. The new club drew members from Lynchburg to Bland, and was quite active in the late 80's. I was surprised to find a collection of newsletters from the time ("Thermals" was the name). Anyone remember newsletters? Printed things that came in the mail? That was before anybody had even heard of the internet, and connecting to anything with a computer was still something done only by a few geeks. Some years there were newsletters mailed out as often as quarterly. Earlier newsletters are in the sections above. Here are later issues:

1988 Issue of Thermals and Site Guide
1990 Issue of Thermals
1994 Issue of Thermals
1994-5 Winter Issue of Thermals
1995 Issue of Thermals

Of course, history shows there is an ebb and flow, and that lively community began to decline in the early 90's with the lack of an Instructor in the area. The next surge was the Paraglider pilots coming to Big Walker, fresh out of Chris and Tammy Bowles' Southern Skies Paragliding school. This brought the club back to healthy strength again, and resulted in the next stage of evolution - renaming the club to it's current name to include paraglider pilots. But that's another story for another day.

Comments or Questions?