"The Rest of the Story"My good friend Hal Loken, now retired, owns a lovely house, with a grass runway built alongside it, tucked into the west side of the Blue Ridge mountains a bit south of Waynesboro, VA. He's a glider pilot, and how owns two motorgliders which he keeps at home.
Hal's career was with DuPont, and at one time, he was getting a lot of pressure from his bosses to expand DuPont’s aramid materials technology beyond their traditional big aerospace company customer base. One of those materials, Kevlar®, was being used in formula 1 race car tubs, and Hal had also done some work for Boeing Helicopter aimed at protecting troops in hard landings.
Being a glider pilot, Hal heard about John Roncz's and Jim Marske’s Genesis (a flying wing sailplane) development program in the early 1990s. What better opportunity to visit a small startup glider manufacturer and get paid by DuPont to do it? Jim Marske and Robert Mudd showed him what they were doing and explained the advantages of their “almost flying wing” design. So, when Hal called on the Genesis glider design team, he discussed the benefits of including Kevlar® in the cockpit construction. (Fiberglass and carbon fiber break into nasty sharp edges when the structure is damaged. They listened and adopted Kevlar® in the cockpit area and DuPont gave them enough material for the prototype and the first few production aircraft.
Hal was so impressed with the Genesis that he bought one for himself! It was delivered in 1999 and after his retirement in 2005 he finally got to fly it a lot! In 2010 he insured it so he could invite his friends to fly it too and a number of them did so without difficulty or incident.
However, the story did not end there. In October 2012, one of his friends in his first Genesis flight got into what appeared to be a pilot-induced oscillation (PIO) in yaw just off the ground on tow. A wing got planted firmly in the soft ground and the glider was figuratively rolled up in a ball. While talking about how the cockpit must protect the pilot, a glider fuselage has a special challenge if it flips upside down in an accident. The acrylic canopy gives very little crash protection, but it must be there because the pilot needs to see out! The saving grace this time was that this accident happened on a fairly smooth, yet a little soft and forgiving, grass surface. The top of the fuselage behind the canopy survived the impact, and that was still enough for the pilot to have "room to live" and walk away with nothing worse than a black eye. The nose of the glider, reinforced by the Kevlar Hal had talked the designers into using, withstood a ferocious hit after the wing had broken and the glider tumbled forward end over end. Sometimes we are luckier than we deserve to be! When he was 'selling' the idea of using Kevlar to a sailplane designer, he never for a moment thought that he would someday watch it all put to the test. It is quite ironic that what happened at a market development meeting about 20 years earlier would someday contribute to saving the life of one of his friends.