To see a display of color that can rival the leaves on a sunny autumn day, visit a gathering of hang glider pilots as they unfurl their wings to prepare them for a day of flying. Some sail colors are subdued, but most are bright and symmetrical, and it’s typically rare to see identical patterns from one kite to the next. Other variations exist in the sizes and types of gliders. Beginner wings typically have a lower “aspect ratio” with noticeably wider square footage nose to tail. Higher performance kites are thinner, and the structure of the wing may be more rigid, imitating the wing design found on fixed wing airplanes.
It’s obvious that the design of each wing reflects its purpose. Beginner pilots should learn to fly with a less challenging and more stable glider, while more experienced pilots can exchange stability for higher performance. The visual differences between gliders of varying performance are obvious in some cases and less obvious in others. Experience over time has allowed engineers to discover ways to increase performance while maintaining a higher degree of stability than in earlier designs. Pilots can choose the type of wing they prefer to fly based on their purposes for flying – pleasure, duration, distance – or on other factors such as ease of transport or setup or the cost of purchasing and maintaining their equipment.
I currently own two gliders. One, the Airwave Pulse, is a beginner/intermediate glider that is fairly easy to set up and fly. The other glider, a Wills Wing Sport 2, is in the recreational/sport class. It’s somewhat smaller and sleeker but is newer and has a bit higher performance capabilities. Unlike my Pulse, the Sport 2 has a feature called “variable geometry” (VG) which allows the pilot to adjust the nose angle while in flight. With more VG applied, the nose angle is wider, the sail is a bit tighter, and the kite is somewhat more efficient in straight and level flight. But the trade-off is that it’s more resistant to turning or banking when in this mode. So a pilot would release the VG when thermalling, but when the pilot needs to cover more distance the VG can be pulled on, allowing the kite to fly faster while losing less altitude between thermals. Obviously, the invention of variable geometry was a major step forward in glider design.
One of my fellow pilots, Michal, has an Airwave Pulse exactly the same size as my other glider. We both recently removed and sent our sails to a shop on the west coast where a fellow named Kamron (he was involved in the original design of the Pulse) replaced the leading edge of each glider because they had begun to show signs of age. This model, when introduced in the early 90’s, boasted a plastic laminated leading edge which was intended to decrease drag. Over the years the lamination on these sails begins to peel off. Because the glider is, otherwise, a very popular one due to it’s desirable flying characteristics, it is worth the cost of replacing the laminated leading edge with one made of Dacron like the rest of the sail. Both Michal and I also chose to replace the old foam inserts inside of the leading edge pockets with mylar inserts. The mylar option has proven to provide a more aerodynamic shape for the leading edge, improving the flying characteristics of the glider.
When I first flew my Pulse with the new leading edge and the mylar inserts, I could not have been happier. The kite flew like a dream. The stability and the roll characteristics improved noticeably. Michal, on the other hand, was very disappointed with the results he experienced. His Pulse felt very unstable in flight, and it seemed to “porpoise” (rocking forward and back) when flying straight. Something was not right! We examined his flying wires and the way the sail was mounted on the frame to make sure it was reinstalled correctly. Everything appeared to be in order. So one day in early spring Michal and John, the local hang gliding instructor, set up both gliders side by side to look for even the tiniest variances between the two wings.
John noticed that my Pulse had been shimmed so that the sail was a tiny bit tighter. Thin rings of aluminum were installed at the wing tips which, in effect, extended the length of the leading edge tubes and pulled the sail so it was more taught. The width of these shims was less than 1/2 inch on each side. The only other difference found between the two kites was the way that the new mylar insert was positioned inside the leading edge pocket. The mylar inside of my wing was shifted downward so that it wrapped around the bottom of the leading edge a bit further than on Michal’s wing. John and Michal worked all afternoon to adjust his glider so that it imitated mine. When John test flew Michal’s wing the difference in handling was astounding! The kite was very stable and the porpoising was gone. The tiny changes had made a remarkable difference.
Perhaps Kamron, as the designer of the glider, could have flown Michal’s glider and figured out what was wrong without the need to compare the gliders side by side. As an experienced engineer with thousands of hours of flight time he, most likely, would have had the knowledge and experience to determine how micro changes in the dimensions of the wing would affect the flying characteristics of the glider he designed.
No one would argue that it takes much experience, education, and wisdom to continually improve on the design of hang gliders. Early gliders were primitive, they had poor performance, and they were dangerous. But the accumulated intelligent input by both engineers and experienced pilots has resulted in gliders that are safer, higher performance, and more specialized in their flying characteristics than earlier models. This is the effect of intelligent design, and it’s obvious to even the most inexperienced observer.
I see the same evidence of intelligent design in the natural world as well. To me it is obvious – there is purpose in every specialized component of every living thing. But many people who would quickly acknowledge the evidence of design in man-made objects can, somehow, look at the natural world with all its wonders and believe that it all happened by random, purposeless chance. They have been convinced that, through the process of evolution by natural selection, everything we observe in nature today is the result of naturalistic causes.
Recently I listened to a discussion forum featuring two of the world’s most famous atheistic evolutionists: Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawson. This was not a debate, because they agreed on almost everything. Rather it was a meeting of the minds, a conversation, where they carried on a high level discussion in front of an adoring and mesmerized crowd at Stanford University. The topic was science education and the need to eliminate in discussions about origins any remnants of the belief that an intelligent designer had anything to do with the world we see today. They equated believers in God-ordained processes to those who still believe the world is flat. Evolution, in their opinion, is no longer a theory but, instead, is an indisputable fact. Dawkins and Krauss set religious belief and progressive science education at opposite ends of the spectrum, indicating that the two were mutually exclusive.
I found numerous contradictions in their discussions, two of which I’ll highlight here. Early in the forum Dawkins, in remarking about the obvious simplicity of evolution, remarked “It’s somewhat baffling to me why we had to wait for our Darwin until the middle of the 19th century.” My immediate thought was that if evolution is so obvious, why did it take so long for someone to postulate a theory? Evolution is not obvious. Evolution is a theory because no one has observed the macro-processes required for it to take place. I personally am amazed that any thoughtful person could believe that evolution explains everything including the origins of the material universe. Most rational human beings are deeply aware of the necessary involvement of intelligence when purposeful design is observed. Kraus and Dawkins kept referring to “the illusion of design” in nature. In other words, it’s overwhelmingly obvious that purpose and order point to a designer…but they call this an illusion. Only fools (according to Dawkins and Krauss) could believe that an extremely intelligent and powerful being could have created and ordered the universe.
Dawkins explains that evolution can be summed up in one word: heredity. He defines heredity as “high fidelity replication of coded information.” Krauss agreed. I find this to be fascinating and even comical. Both Dawkins and Krauss have been guest speakers on the SETI Institute’s weekly radio program titled “Are We Alone?” The mission of the SETI Institute (the acronym SETI stands for Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) is to “explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe.” One project funded by SETI is the Alien Telescope Array (ATA) which is a large number of small radio telescope dishes that are scanning the celestial skies for signals from intelligent beings.
In the Frequently Asked Questions section of the SETI web page researchers explain how they will know if signals are from extra terrestrial beings. SETI researchers are listening for “narrow band signals” in the otherwise random radio static spread evenly across the frequency spectrum. Intelligent life forms would purposely pack a lot of energy, or information, in a narrow band of “spectral space.” In other words, the purposeful packing of high amounts of orderly information into a very small space (relatively speaking) is a sign of intelligence. Hmmmm, biologists are awed by the incredible amount of information packed into the strands of DNA that can be found in each and every cell of every living thing. One strand of a DNA molecule is estimated to contain approximately 350 megabytes of information. That’s a lot of information packed into something as tiny as the human cell!
So let me get this straight…if SETI researchers intercept a radio signal that is more than just static, this probably indicates that the signal was created by intelligent beings. But the massive amount of beautifully coded information packed into a single strand of DNA is a random occurrence caused by nothing but purposeless chance, and it’s origins can be traced back to absolutely…nothing?? The incredible contradictions in reasoning here will never cease to amaze me! It reminds me of the verse in Romans:
Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse…their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools…
Romans 1: 20-22
The only point of disagreement in the conversation between Krauss and Dawkins came when they discussed the question about whether there is purpose in the universe. Krauss commented that he remains open to the idea that an accidental universe could have purpose. Dawkins disagreed, and was somewhat flabbergasted. He even commented that the idea of purpose in a naturalistic world view is “stupid.” It’s the one point in the discussion where I agreed with Dawkins. Purpose implies design and meaning. If the natural world is a result of random causes, how could one believe that it has purpose? Yet Krauss commented that the world is filled with the “illusion of purpose” that is so powerful that he still has not eliminated the possibility that the universe does have some sort of undefined purpose.
The “illusion” of design…the “illusion” of purpose…these guys have a lot of faith. I guess it does take faith to believe that chance plus billions of years can produce a universe, from nothing, that is so orderly that it appears to have design and purpose. If you reject the idea of an intelligent God who is the Creator of everything, you will believe in just about anything to explain away the obvious.