Archaeopteryx, the beautiful

on Nov 1, 2019 in Landing | No Comments

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”, is a saying often attributed to Mark Twain. Perhaps these words can be applied to all human endeavours. The invention of the motorised plane relegated gliding to oblivion… until the prohibitions between the World Wars led to its resurgence in Germany. As a result, pilots’ range of techniques and resources increased, from using wind above dunes and small elevations to the discovery of thermals – columns of hot air rising from the ground – and the gigantic mountain wave systems. Also, flying machines developed with such advances, becoming faster, more aerodynamic… as well as heavier and more expensive. And, once again, the glider pilot, fascinated at the sight of storks, eagles and albatrosses, started to think… about the simplicity of things. Then came the techniques and gliders that explored the world of microlift, which was beyond the reach of traditional sailplaners. Microlift, which can be found in the smallest atmospheric swirls, speed disparities in air mass interfaces, needs special machines to be exploited: light gliders, with low wing loading, capable of tight turns and with greater aerodynamic efficiency than hang gliders and paragliders. A quasi-return to the infancy of gliding…

In Gary Osoba’s hands, Jim Maupin’s Carbon Dragon – first flight in 1988 – became a pioneer in microlift. Gary’s experiments showed how a range of different techniques could harness the energy hidden in the atmosphere, remaining airborne for hours on end, while others had to land machines designed only for major air mass movements. A talented pilot himself, Gary paved the way for dynamic gliding and carved a niche in the world of air explorers.

And so, we hear history rhyming… among microlift gliders, the Swiss-made Archaeopteryx is made of carbon and can be launched on foot, as well as via elastic rope, winch, plane tow or, since 2014, electric motors. Designed in 1998 by Roger Ruppert at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, the glider flew for the first time in 2001. Improvements in the technical construction of the two machines is notable, the cyclical repetition of inevitable progress… and cost. Common to both is the sensation and features of this type of flight: being able to feel the air’s movements. With the aircraft’s structure being an extension of the pilot, it allows humans to surf the invisible and come close to the grace of kites and albatrosses, the masters of minimum-effort flight.


by Ricardo Reis



Microlift brings gliding even closer to the world of birds. To do so, in addition to special gliders, it requires expertise in techniques little used for classic glider flight, hence its rarity within the community of air explorers.


The Maupin family no longer sells the plans for the Carbon Dragon, but they can still be found on the Internet, alongside a small community of builders. Alternatively, the Nest of Dragons website lists 74 models, 59 of which are foot-launched.


160 kg /// gross weight

54 kg /// empty weight

57 km/h /// cruise speed

28:1 km/h /// maximum glide ratio

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