Dave Cook

History of the Bognor Birdman
Between 1971 and 1978 the South of England's annual Birdman Really was held in the seaside resort of Selsey. With a distance of 46 metres to be covered and a prize of £3,000 to be won, intrepid flyers flocked to compete in the event. Despite fierce competition from the likes of Mary Poppins, Peter Pan and a naked jumper called John, the closest any came to the distance was 44 metres, achieved by David Cook in 1974.

More stuff can be found on Terry Aspinall's site Here

From the Shadow owners club
In 1977 I fitted a 9 BHP McCulloch go-cart engine to my foot-launched VJ-23E rigid wing 3-axis controlled hang glider. I designed and made a propeller 26" diameter, which rotated at 8000 RPM. With an open exhaust stub, this flying machine was clearly audible at 5 miles distance. I ran down our Suffolk beach and leaped upwards.


The thrust of 45 lbs flying at 20 MPH was insufficient to sustain flight and, I flew 50 yards per leap, but wouldn't give up, so 3/4 mile later I exhaustedly put down the aircraft to recover - admiring how I'd judged a touch & leap to clear a parked off-shore fishing boat, slightly contemplating the consequences of failure to have not cleared it. Naturally, a dear little ol' lady approached from her seaside house to offer a cup of tea. "Where have you come from?" she asked, obviously connecting this dramatic happening with some successful flight from afar. Rather than admit a poor showing, I said pointing, "From that way".

Gradually, during the year, my propellers improved until I was getting 55 lb thrust propellers take about 20 hours of work and are unlaminated. By the way, do you know why wood propellers are laminated? It's because a German found that bullets on his WWI flying machine's propeller did less damage than with a solid wood blade. There is no other reason for a laminated wooden propeller - I diverge.

One particular evening after my work (Design Engineer at R. Garrett's), I was partly arrested by the police who informed me that on 17 separate occasions they had seen me using the coastal footpath as a runway. Apparently, the Station's Sergeant said "Oh, that's just David Cook, forget it." No form of license for a powered hang glider was envisaged by any authority then. England is amazing really. In all other countries, if there's no law for something, then it's illegal. In this country, it's the reverse.

After an excess of beer in the pub late 1977, a group of us proposed me to fly the VJ23E across the English Channel. The longest flight I had completed was about 10 minutes by then, so we planned a cross country flight of 8 miles up the coast and back at low tide, so there would be a suitable landing area for my legs (the landing gear) for all of the flight. With 10 litres of fuel, I took off and zoomed upwards at an alarming angle. Something was very wrong. The aircraft did a wing-over from 75' and I calmly hit the kill switch and thought 'I'm crashing.' There was a skull-jarring thump as I hit the ground and everything went black. I couldn't move, but was very conscious. I could hear people running to my aid and tried in vain to get my sunglasses out of my mouth with a sort of spitting action, my arms and body being firmly pinned to the ground by wreckage. The terrifying thing was - I couldn't see, everything was black and I thought I was blind. Only when the weight of the aircraft was pulled off myself, did I realise I'd been staring into the top of my crash helmet. We failed to find the cause of this crash.

When the VJ was mended, I did the flight and, at 10 miles, whilst returning from Walberswick, the engine died. I successfully landed on the shore and rectified the problem before continuing. There had been a venting problem with the fuel system. This was the longest flight undertaken prior to attempting to fly from England to France. We all know that's only 20 miles, or is it?

David Cook

Flying the English Channel involves much more than the flight itself - which is enough in a minimum flying machine. With 9 BHP, I had 16 BHP less than Bleriot's 25 BHP engine and his flight on 25th July 1909 (my birthdate in 1940). Alexander Duckham sponsored Bleriot for his flight and I had the same sponsor. Bleriot was 37 years old when he flew - so was I, but I am English and he was French.

My good friend Chris Tansley and I were parked beneath a flyover on the M2 to Dover, at night, in pouring rain with the big ends blown on my VW Camper. It was cold in April and we were not happy. Later we discovered that the highway Police had guarded us and our flying machine in its trailer all night because Kent property is more vulnerable than Suffolk's.

Tansley and I walked to a car scrap yard the next day and paid £15 for another engine from a VW Beetle. To get it the 3 miles back to our Camper, were were given a wheel barrow with a cast-iron wheel and one handle shaft. It must have been an amusing sight, I'm sure, to have watched both of us frozen and wet, co-ordinate this barrow with one handle and a rope over the shoulder tied to the side of the barrow. But we changed the engine under this flyover and drove on. We were trying to fly the first powered hang glider across the English Channel and that seemed a long way off and what we were having to do here, an irrelevance. Every day seemed to rain and blow so that flying was impossible for my frail flying machine. Weeks passed before a slight window in the weather allowed the attempt. But on May 9th 1978, we were ON. Weather-wise, it looked possible.

Fear possessed me. I can't swim and the flying machine is so under-powered that if you pull back on the stick to climb, the energy is lost and you descend. Very delicate flying is required. I found to go up, it was best to fly until flat out Vc (25 MPH) straight and level and let the extra lift slowly gain altitude. The chase-boat driver, Les Wallen, had a small cabin sort of pilot boat with two 150 BHP Mercurys - vastly overpowered. It was called 'African Queen'. He wouldn't cross the Goodwin Sands from Walmer beach just north of Dover and having grown up by the sea myself, I respected this. We roared off to France in a southerly direction. This was not a direct route.

The visibility superb for a mile all around us, but fog hung like a curtain all round. The boat was travelling at 20 KTS - high speed for it in open seas. It seemed airborne as much as me. I'd reached about 30 minutes of fuel left. No sign of France. The boat stopped twice with electrical problems, but the versatile Tansley fixed it. I circled around not wishing to continue alone to possibly ditch and not be found. I couldn't see France and my drift angle was over 40! off track. Better to ditch out of fuel and be saved and try again, perhaps. At one hour, I became very anxious about the fuel state, which was one hour but suddenly saw the coast of France to my right, about 5 o'clock and maybe two miles away. I crossed the coast at 200 Ft and landed half a kilometre from Bleriot Plage - what a navigator. No fuel left

Landing on the sandy beach, I uttered one word. I struggled out of my wet suit which had been too tight and at last my wincing mouth and the rest of me went back to its normal shape.

The tale ended with HRH Prince of Wales honouring the effort with an Aviation Medal of Achievement at the R.Ae.Soc. The crew got no glory, but they all know who they are and they share the success of an adventure that couldn't have happened without them.

Boat Crew Retrieval Crew




David Cook

The Shadow
Designed by David Cook, the first person to fly the English Channel in a powered hang-glider, the Shadow first flew in 1983. Originally fitted with an EC44 Robin two stroke engine producing 53hp the engine was subsequently replaced by a Rotax 447 two stroke air-cooled unit producing 40hp, this was to form the basis of the Shadow 'B' series power unit. In 1988 the 'C' series was introduced with the more powerful 50 hp Rotax 503 two stroke air-cooled engine together with streamlined struts, providing a significant improvement in take-off performance. Many 'B' series Shadows have been upgraded to 'C' series specification. Both models conform to the British Civil Aviation Authority, Section S requirements and can be flown on a Microlight licence. The Shadow has a 33ft wing span and is 21.5ft in length.


In 1988 the Streak Shadow was introduced and having a 28ft wing span and the more powerful Rotax 532 liquid cooled engine producing 64hp, it was outside of the UK Microlight category. With a VNE (Velocity Never Exceed) of 140 mph and an initial climb of 1,500ft/min the Streak provides the Group 'A' licensed pilot with a truly low cost flying machine. The standard power unit for the Streak at present is the Rotax 582 liquid cooled, dual ignition two stroke, again with 64hp although some are now being flown with the more powerful Rotax 618 liquid cooled two-stroke power unit providing 74hp.

Both the Shadow and the Streak Shadow are constructed from modern, state-of-the-art materials. The body is built from 'Fibrelam' producing a robust component of exceptional strength, rigidity whilst remaining light in weight. The wing spar employs a unique 'I' - beam structure, with a plywood shear web and pre-formed alloy capping. Whilst in its appearance the wing is strutted, it is in fact a cantilever design. The struts provide 'psychological security' and reduce wing root stress in ground handling. The leading edge is a 'D' section of plywood with polyester fabric covering the rear wing.

New models are being developed, the Star Streak has yet shorter wings than the Streak and powered by the Rotax 618 achieves an initial climb rate of some 2,000ft/min solo and 2,800ft/min in a zoom climb. The Super Shadow series 'D' has a wider cockpit and is powered by a Rotax 582. Falling within the Microlight category the Super Shadow will rank among the quickest aircraft in its class.

The Shadow series 'B' and 'C' being within the Microlight category can be purchased ready built, or in kit form, whilst the Streak Shadow is available only as a kit for building under the British Popular Flying Association program.

The Shadow can be rigged in under 10 minutes, with times from trailer to flight realistically 30 minutes, which includes the rigging and pre-flight checks. The Shadow is truly a short field aircraft with members regularly flying from strips of less than 300 metres. Applying full power, the Shadow is easily airborne within 7-8 seconds with a climb-out at 60 mph achieving 800-1,100ft/min depending on the type of propeller and load etc.
Shadow Achievements & Records

To date more than 400 Shadows have been built around the world and the Shadow is not short on records. Two flights have been made to Australia, the first by Eve Jackson in 1987 and then by Brian Milton in 1988. More recently James Edmonds flew a Shadow to Beijing. In 1983 the Shadow achieved an FAI world record for its class for speed over 3km. In 1984 it achieved a distance record for its class. In 1990 a Shadow achieved a UK national altitude record of 23,648 ft. Also in 1990 the Streak achieved a UK national altitude of 27,066ft in its class.
Shadow - The Movie Star

The Shadow is also no stranger to the cinema screen having a starring role in the 1986 film Slipstream.

October 96 sees the release of the UK feature film 'DragonHeart' starring Dennis Quaid and Sean Connery. A Shadow flown by David Cook was used for the flying sequences that involve the dragon. With a movie camera fitted on the nose of the aircraft in front of the pilot, all of the 'dragon's eye view' sequences and flying shots were achieved. Filming took place on location in Slovakia in Eastern Europe during 1993

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