Who Is Bruce Hawk?
By Dan Grunloh, Editor, Light Plane World
Bruce Hawk might not have been readily recognized at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010 because of his hat. For nearly two decades he has been selling wind socks at the major air shows while wearing his trademark weather-beaten cowboy or Panama straw hat. He said he was shamed into replacing his old tattered hat, but the new one isn’t broken in yet. Yes, Bruce manufactures and sells a full line of wind socks, but what do you really know about him?
Bruce and his wind socks have long been a fixture in the world of ultralights and light planes. But he doesn’t fly them, because he’s a purist. In other words, he’s a hang glider pilot. His roots go farther back than you would guess from his apparent age. In an interview at AirVenture 2010, I asked Bruce how he got into the wind sock business. He said he got into it by accident. In fact it was caused by an accident. He didn’t start out wanting to make wind socks; his love was hang gliding, and he ran a hang gliding school.
He started hang gliding in 1974 when hang gliders were simple Rogallo wings with no battens whatsoever. He witnessed the rapid evolution of the designs and admits there were lots of fatalities in those early years. Bruce talked about a time when Tom Peghiny, now of Flight Design USA (but then a teenager), showed up at a flying site with a wing called the Merlin that created a sensation because of its wider nose angle and three ash battens per side. A year or so later Tom brought a wing called the Kestrel. Bruce called it the Skyhook because when he got a flight in it, he caught a thermal (rare in those early days) and it just went on up. He said you couldn’t make it come down. He was so excited after that flight he couldn’t sleep for three days.
The wind sock business came about because he needed wind socks for the hang glider school he established in Sevierville, Tennessee, near the entrance to the Smoky Mountains. His school flew students from many different locations requiring a wind sock at the launch site and at the landing zone. He couldn’t buy suitable wind socks for his purpose and began building his own in 1988. By 1996 he had a full-time business making wind socks for his school and for others. He even built a small hang gliding training hill for the school that allowed flights in any direction. The school was very successful, and it continued up to and including the beginning of the use of aero-towing in hang gliding. Unfortunately a towing accident occurred on one of his sites while he wasn’t present that took the life of a friend and ended his career as owner of a hang gliding school.
By that time, he had perfected his wind sock design so that part of his business could expand. The features of a successful portable hang gliding wind sock are just the thing for many other types of temporary use such as for helicopters, fire departments, disaster relief, agriculture, or sporting events. He brought in more employees and began marketing his unique wind sock designs more widely. Bruce also manufactures replacement wind socks for traditional welded cage style wind socks, but his lightweight rugged design is more responsive to light winds and to changes in wind directions.
Bruce and friends at his booth at AirVenture Oshkosh 2010
Instead of a heavy steel cage that must swivel to respond to changes in wind direction, he uses a lightweight poly hoop mounted on a simple upper support. His wind socks tend to be slightly longer and with a smaller exit opening making them more responsive to light winds. For the emergency wind sock market, he produces an all-inclusive portable wind sock kit that zips up into a storage bag and can be set up quickly wherever needed. The hardware has all been tested and proven by 20 years of making wind socks for hang gliders and ultralights. For the permanent home installation a simple fitting is available that adapts his portable wind sock to a galvanized iron pipe set in concrete, or attached to a building.
How the permanent installation works
When you see his Windsok booth at a major air show, stop in for a visit, say hello to Bruce, and check out his designs. For more information about the wide variety of custom wind sock colors and patterns and all the other wind toys, lawn sails, and poles available, go to www.Windsok.com or call 800-826-2719. Hopefully the next time you see Bruce he’ll have his new straw hat properly broken in. He said the correct procedure is to soak the hat in a horse trough to soften it up, shake off the excess water, and then wear it until it forms to the desired shape. Those of you without a horse trough will have to improvise. When asked, he admitted that he hadn’t flown in several years, but he still owns an Airwave glider and has obtained permission to clear a private mountain launch site. So he hopes to get back into the air.