"The question is constantly asked: Why would a man of Zen so purported to be as I am as found in Dark Luminosity and elsewhere, have any interest in P-40s or any other aircraft for that matter, at least at the level I seem to have?"
THE WANDERLING'S FIRST FLIGHT USED A HAND-BUILT FLYING MACHINE FROM A LILIENTHAL DESIGN
"It was only a short time after returning from the desert during the summer of 1948 --- and before school started --- that I removed the flying machine, mentioned previously above, from it's construction lair and hauled it up to the second story rooftop across the street, then, holding on for dear life, jumped off. The craft maintained the same two-story height advantage for quite some distance, but partway into the flight, instead of continuing in the direction I wanted, it began tipping lower on the right and turning. Without ailerons or maneuverable rudder controls and with inexperienced over-correcting on my part creating an adverse yaw followed by a sudden stall, the ensuing results ended with a somewhat dramatic drop, crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house diagonally across the way."(source)
As a young boy growing up I seemed to be somewhat more attuned to comic book and radio premium offers than some of my peers, spending an inordinate amount of time conniving ways to obtain, send for, receive, and play with such offers.
One of those premium offers revolved around a foremost interest of mine at the time, my favorite World War II fighter aircraft, the venerable P-40 Warhawk or Tomahawk depending on who flew them and where, the most notable of course being the Flying Tigers. Over a roughly two-year period near the end of the war the Kellogg's cereal company, in a marketing campaign tied in with the war effort, began putting easy to assemble flyable balsa wood model war planes into boxes of their breakfast cereal PEP.
The inside-the-box free Kellogg's PEP premium offer consisted of a small flat sheet of balsa wood with the parts of the plane printed on it inserted inside a paper envelope. Directions for constructing the planes were printed on the envelope along with a brief description of the aircraft itself. Kellogg's claimed thirty different models, although the number varied from eight to twenty-one to thirty. There may have been a thirty plane run over the span of the promotion. Of course the only one I wanted was the P-40. If I didn't get one right off the bat or trade for one, most likely I ended up having to buy 3,000 boxes.(see)
(for larger image, to read instructions, etc., click image)
THE FIRST FLIGHT:
When I first started making attempts at flight itself I was still a very young boy. When I moved from hand throwing small balsa wood models to actually flying, with no adult supervision and on my own initiative I began using bed sheets made into parachutes or tied to my wrists and ankles behind my back a la the glider chute of Captain Midnight. My very, very first serious attempt to build an airplane-like craft that would actually carry me in flight over any distance however, was based on the glider I saw in the 1947 movie Tarzan and the Huntress.
One day before Easter, Saturday April 5, 1947, the Johnny Weissmuller movie Tarzan and the Huntress was released, a movie that, although inconsequential in the lives of almost everybody else in the world, played a huge role in my life. I had been on an extended exploration trip into the desert southwest with my Uncle with an ending that didn't coincide with me seeing the movie on opening weekend. However, because I was such an ardent fan of the Weissmuller Tarzan series, it wasn't very many days before I caught up with it --- and then over and over. Most of the movie, typical of the Tarzan movies of the day, was pure corn. What impacted me so deeply though, was when Tarzan's son Boy builds a glider-type plane out of cloth and sticks that could not only fly but carry him in flight at the same time. Before Boy had a chance to test it, Tarzan's chimp Cheetah, apparently seeing the glider's potential, steals it and hanging on for dear life, jumps off some rocks covering quite some distance before eventually crashing into the trees and falling to the ground.
After seeing that scene I HAD to build and fly my own glider. Under my uncle's guidence and a seemingly unlimited supply of money provided through the graciousness of my Stepmother, I researched and studied everything I could find on manned flight, starting with Leonardo Da Vinci and His Flying Machines. Then, gathering all the info we put about building our own machine by combining our 1948 ideas with Leonardo's fifteenth century ideas and the 1895 ideas of some four-hundred years later of Otto Lilienthal.
As it turned out my uncle was a strong promoter of me building an actual flying machine based on a Da Vinci design for a number of reasons, but most prominently so --- cutting to the quick --- because of how it is explained in the following as found in ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: The Path Unfolds and LEONARDO DA VINCI: 500 Years To Soon, so sourced:
"At the time my older brother loved to build model airplanes and continued to build bigger and better models until eventually he was constructing huge gas engine powered remote control six-foot wingspan B-24 Liberators. He was also the apple of my father's eye. My uncle, noticing the situation, decided I too could impress my dad, only through art."(source)
My uncle drew a lifesize outline of the craft on the floor of the studio and from that the machine grew into an over fifteen-foot wingspan glider capable of supporting a man like Lilienthal's, or a ten year old boy like myself, in flight. I am not sure what his exact plan for the machine was, but one day without my uncle's knowledge a friend of mine and I hauled it out of the studio and up to the top of the second story apartments across the compound, and hanging on for dear life, launched it. The following paragraph, from the source so cited, describes the results of that attempt:
"Initially the flight played out fairly well, picking up wind under the wings and maintaining the same two-story height advantage for some distance. Halfway across busy Arlington Street though, the craft began slowing and losing forward momentum. It began dropping altitude rapidly, eventually crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house across the way. Other than a few bruises and a wrecked machine, nothing was broken, although as it turned out, my dad wasn't nearly as proud of me as intended. I never forgot the thrill of that flight and carried that thrill and Leonardo's dreams into my adulthood."(source)
THE SECOND FLIGHT:
When I reached my mid-high school years I met a man that I call my Mentor in all my writings. A U.S. American born citizen, he had been a pilot in World War I flying for the British in the Royal Flying Corps, joining at age 16 before the U.S. entered the war after having crossed into Canada. I always felt we strengthened our bonds as friends initially because of his interest in flying and my early childhood attempt at manned-flight, re the following:
"Although I never attempted another similar human-powered flight after that, my mentor loved the story, and I think it was an early key to our initial philosophical bond."(source)
Not only is there a slight caveat to my "never attempted another similar human-powered flight after that" found in the above quote, there's a huge one. That caveat circulates around the word "similar" in the sentence, which we will get to later, and a little something called the 'Washoe Zephyr' written about by Mark Twain. The Washoe Zephyr, sometimes referred to as a 'devil wind' occurs on a regular basis on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, with an extremely strong portion on the east side of the paralleling Virginia Range, most notably around Virginia City. Unlike the typical thermally driven slope-flows which blow upslope during the day and downslope at night, the Washoe Zephyr winds blow down the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in the afternoon against the local pressure gradient. The Washoe Zephyr figured prominently in my reconsideration of a second flight attempt. As for the strength and power of the downslope prevailing winds of the Zephyr and its ability to carry out what Twain has written it could do, in the book The Big Bonanza by Dan De Quille (1877), Chapter 35, the following is found:
"There is a tradition in Virginia City, that in the spring of 1863, a donkey was caught up from the side of Mount Davidson far up on the northern side, near the summit of the mountain and carried eastward over the city, at a height of five or six hundred feet above the houses, finally landing near the Sugar-Loaf Mountain nearly five miles away. Those who witnessed this remarkable instance of the force of the zephyr, say that as the poor beast was hurried away over the town, his neck was stretched out to its greatest length, and he was shrieking in the most despairing and heart-rending tones ever heard from any living creature."(source)
I had only been out of the Army and back in the states a few months when I bumped into a friend of mine, a recently discharged U.S. Navy able-bodied seaman, who I had not seen or talked to in years. Sitting down over a couple of beers the afternoon passed in a continuing flow of small talk and reminiscing about the old days and the military when before we knew it, dinner time was on us. He mentioned earlier he was going to visit his uncle that evening and suggested we go to dinner together then the two of us go by and see his elderly uncle. Basically having unexpectantly shot the whole day anyway, albeit pleasantly, and had known the uncle since my early teenage years, with no real reason not too by then, I went.
What I didn't know at the time I accepted, and was caught a little of guard although I guess it wouldn't have matter much anyway, my friend's uncle was in the hospital. That is when something odd, at least as I viewed it, happened. When my friend and I were in the room visiting his uncle the TV was on, primarily being watched by the person in another bed sharing the room. On the channel the other patient was watching was a program that I would probably otherwise not have seen but for being there at the time. Because of the story line it caught my eye and I began watching it much more intensely than perhaps I should have considering I was actually there to visit my friend's uncle.
The program on that night was a long-running TV western series I was generally enough familiar with called 'Bonanza' that followed the adventures of a father and three grown-up sons living on a huge ranch that stretched between Virginia City, Nevada and Lake Tahoe. As a young boy I had been raised on cowboy and western comic books and movies, even to the point for the most part, adhering to the Cowboy Code of the West as I grew into adulthood. However, even though I watched Bonanza in its early years, being in the military and all, I kind of lost track of it. The plot of the specific episode that night that so caught my fancy had to do with one of the sons attempting to fly, and doing so with the aid of what was called the 'devil wind,' legendary winds that supposedly would sweep down the mountains at certain times of the year near Virginia City wreaking havoc with all that came within its path.
Even though I was grown man, been in the Army and shaved and everything, seeing that episode of Bonanza, and as depicted in the graphic above, the attempt to fly using the 'devil wind,' it was like I was a kid seeing Tarzan and the Huntress all over again and needing to run all the way home to build a glider.
My next step was to research and find out all I could about the 'devil wind.' Back in the far off long ago ancient days of the mid 1960s, before the rise of Google et al, research was much more difficult than it is in today's world. In today's world you can type 'Washoe Zephyr' into Google and before you have chance to remove your finger from the last letter Google has spewed out 1000s of potential search results --- why, you might even be able to find this page through Google if you searched hard enough. Anyway, pre-Google, when I was trying to run down information on the 'devil wind' and not being able to recall its formal name, 'Washoe Zephyr' as written about by Mark Twain, I called a hotel in Virginia City, told the person I would like to be there sometime when the 'devil wind' happened. She put me in touch with a local amateur historian who, in conversation, used the term 'Washoe Zephyr.'
After learning of Twain's use of the term 'Washoe Zephyr' I was soon able to pinpoint where he used it, that being the previously mentioned 1872 book he wrote titled Roughing It. Getting my hands on a copy of Roughing It back in the days we are talking about here was another thing, which, in that I was somehow familiar with the concept of 'devil wind,' Mark Twain, and Virginia City it makes me wonder where my initial source emanated from --- something I never learned.
In the year 1949 all kinds of original Mark Twain books and documents had been deposited in the care of UC Berkeley by Twain's sole surviving daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud. Upon her death in 1962 the entire collection was bequeathed to the University of California. It was at Berkeley I was able to kick back for a day or two and read a copy, although not a first edition, but one published several years later, in 1899 by the American Publishing Company to be exact, in turn getting all I needed to know from Twain's perspective.(see)
From Berkeley, armed with Twain's and additional information on the 'Washoe Zephyr' I drove east over the Sierras to Reno continuing then another 25 miles south to Virginia City. After arrival I could clearly see Mount Davidson that figures so prominently in the 'devil wind' stories, looking not much more than a boring backdrop west of town rising to a height of 7,868 feet, some 1648 feet above Virginia City's 6220 foot elevation. The next day I climbed to the top, and as boring as it looked from town it took me well over an hour to traverse the 1648 feet to the summit, plus at that altitude, as least for me, especially if you consider only a couple of years before I was scurrying around the Himalayas at twice the height, it wasn't the easiest thing I had ever done. So too, it didn't take much to figure out hauling a glider that was anything similar to what I had used previously up the slope to the summit, unless it could be broken down into pieces and easily assembled then able stay together in flight during the Zephyr, it wasn't going to be a totally effortless endeavor either.
Later in the day I was going in and out of the various shops along the main street when I came to an establishment that touted itself as being a museum and history of Virginia City type place. It was there I learned of Dan De Quille's story of a donkey being carried by the 'Washoe Zephyr' from Mount Davidson to Sugarloaf rock formation some five miles away. I had a local point out Sugarloaf and after seeing the location of both mountains in relation to each other it seemed feasible --- IF the Zephyr could carry something as heavy as a donkey. Now, I don't know how much donkeys typically weigh, and, although I may have been an ass to some then as I may still be to some now, I was sure I was nowhere close to what a donkey weighed. Extrapolating, if the wind could carry a donkey over that distance, the same wind should easily be able to carry me over an equal distance.
With such thoughts in my head I picked up three local area maps, one from a gas station, one from a drug store and one a tourist type hiking trails map with elevations, each map with a different size, different measurement scales and different strengths. Taking all three maps to my dimly-lit over 100 year old room with a creaky wooden floor and a skeleton key door lock, I spread them out and drew a straight-line path on each of them from the peak of Mount Davidson to Sugarloaf. By morning I had a solution to my dilemma and with that I headed home to make preparations for the following year when the 'Washoe Zepher' returned at it's strongest.
After having had the good fortune of completing eight weeks of basic without incident I was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia to attend the U.S. Army Signal Corps School for what they called Advanced Individual Training, or AIT. Following completion of the training at Gordon I was sent across the state to Fort Benning for even more training.
It was at Benning that I learned, years before, about what I would eventually adapt and use to overcome the potential dilemma I faced against the 'devil wind.' After I made my investigatory climb to the top of Mount Davidson from the back streets of Virginia City, my dilemma was, if I was going to successfully complete a manned-flight in conjunction with and using the 'Washoe Zephyr' as the primary driving force for propulsion, it most likely wouldn't be feasible to haul a fixed-wing glider like the one I had used in the past, up the slope to the summit, unless it could be broken down into pieces and easily re-assembled, then be able stay together in flight during the Zephyr.
Fort Benning is the U.S. Army's major airborne training site, or jump school as it is sometimes called. Although things have changed drastically since I was in the military, briefly, in the simplest terms, airborne troops, both seasoned and in training, carried two parachutes when it came to participating in a jump. One, a primary or main standard-issued chute designated as a T-10, which was carried on the back attached to an over-shoulder and under crotch harness system. It was supported with a smaller front mounted reserve or emergency chute, called a T-10R in case the primary chute malfunctioned. The T-10 main chute canopy measured 35 feet in diameter and the whole package assembly weighed somewhere around 30 pounds. The front worn T-10R reserve chute measured 24 feet in diameter and weighed in at about 13 pounds, was packed into a bag similar to a duffle bag, easily carried and how I intended to use it, easily deployed. Although I never had reason to use a T-10R in any sort of an emergency situation, I was familiar enough with its functions and operation to know it was exactly what I wanted for my plan to incorporate the 'Washoe Zephyr' as the primary driving force for propulsion in my attempt toward manned-flight.
One year later, following my excursion to the top of Mount Davidson I was back in Virginia City, albeit this time skewed purposely toward the maximum strength of the 'Washoe Zephyr' season. For this trip however, rather than renting a room, I was instead parked along the backstreets of town in a fully-equipped nearly new Volkswagen Westfalia Camper van owned by an inner-city elementary school teacher of some accomplishment who wanted to exchange accommodations for a possible adventure. After settling in the two of us hiked up to the top of Mount Davidson, found the spot I wanted to use for my launch site, stuck a bunch of knee-high sticks in the ground, each tied at the top with two inch wide by two foot long bright red crepe paper stringers, placed in a variety of places in an arc in front of the launch site and down the mountain to judge the wind strength and direction. I stretched the open chute out full length in front of where I planned to launch from, propping up the canopy at the end like a wide open shark's mouth with drop-away sticks, then attached the whole rig to the front of my chest-waist over shoulder harness. After that I sat down waiting for the Zephyr to billow up the canopy. After a day or two of waiting, and a couple of false starts, the wind really began to roar, reaching what I gaged to be the right strength and velocity, and when I could no longer comfortably hold back against the forward pull of the wind I let my braced legs and arm-hand grips loose and off I went.
Although the wind was strong, at first the parachute unfurled only about half open, more wide than high, with the top folded over towards me and the bottom half closely dragging along the downward slope of the mountain pulling me right behind it, scraping and bouncing me over the rocky surface. Just as I was thinking the whole idea was really stupid and most likely was going to end in failure or worse, the chute raised upwards and caught a huge burst of wind with the canopy suddenly becoming open and fully billowed. The next thing I knew I shot away from the side of the mountain, both the chute and me level, extended straight back at the end of the suspension lines in a nearly direct center line with the canopy apex opening. As the ground dropped rapidly away from beneath me the wind strength pulled the chute so strongly that initially my weight wasn't a factor. Easily maintaining the same height in elevation at the time I left the ground I crossed over the northern end of Virginia City at least 1500 feet above the tallest buildings making my overall altitude roughly 7,600 feet. As I headed eastward past the town the landscape beneath me actually dropped away faster than I was loosing altitude although for a while I was sure I was physically gaining altitude over some distance as well. Soon I could tell I was beginning to angle lower off parallel with the center of the chute as I was able to see more and more past the canopy lower edge. Still moving forward with a fairly powerful wind momentum at a pretty good clip my body weight began tipping the chute-center angle and myself more toward 60 degrees, then soon, 45 degrees. My line of sight, clearing beneath the canopy allowed me to see Sugarloaf, although I was still west of it and off toward the south a little bit. The farther I got from Davidson the less strength the wind seemed to have. The same time I was loosing wind power and altitude the landscape beneath my trajectory began to rise. The chute and I tipped into an almost regular parachute drop angle and I knew I would soon be touching down. When I did it was a smooth landing considering the northern slope terrain. I was, for all practical purposes, on a north-south axis straight even with Sugarloaf, although somewhat to the south, having traveled totally airborne from near the summit of Mount Davidson to a location maybe a little less than 6 miles east of Virginia City. I walked back to the van and drove home the next day.
THE THIRD FLIGHT:
The Buddha said "If a monk should frame a wish as follows: 'Let me travel through the air like a winged bird,' then must he be perfect in the precepts (Sila), bring his thoughts to a state of quiescence (Samadhi), practice diligently the trances (Jhana), attain to insight (Prajna) and be frequenter to lonely places."(source)
After what could be called nothing less than a NOT so successful foray into a more formalized Zen practice under the venerated Japanese Zen master, Yasutani Hakuun Roshi, followed by an undetermined amount of time doing hard time in a Zen monastery and more study practice under my own spiritual guide and mentor and the somewhat obscure American Zen master Alfred Pulyan, many years after the above 'Washoe Zepher' episode, I ended up living on the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica.
Because of the continuous sultry heat and overwhelming humidity typically encountered along the lower coastal plains of the southern part of the island I chose to set up housekeeping above the mosquito zone somewhat absconded high among the cliffsides of the Blue Mountains, nearly a mile above the island's capitol city, Kingston, facing out over the Caribbean.
One day a young girl living in the small village close to where I lived got hit by a car on the mountain road. The vehicle took off leaving her injured and unconscious laying facedown in the scrub brush of a muddy ditch alongside the weathered asphalt. The girl's parents, like most of the locals, were poor. Being poor they were not able to afford a regular doctor, so instead they opted for a less expensive, local solution. That solution included me, because I had found the young girl and knew the parents, and a village member because he knew the way among the mountain perilous trails and where we were going. We made a sling hammock suspended between two poles placed on our shoulders and carrying her slung front-to-back between us on what turned out to be an all day rugged journey high into the mountains of Jamaica. Our goal, to find a nearly hermit man of spells called an Obeah.
Some things I recall seem as though they just happened, others are blurred and long lost. One thing I remember for sure about that night was, even though I helped carry an injured girl up perilous trails high into the mountains, because I was a white man, the Obeah would not let me enter his hut...and at first refused to have anything to do with me. I sat outside in the dark basically just poking the fire with a stick and watching the light flicker amongst the trees. As the night wore on something in the light off my eyes must have caught his attention because I felt him staring at me. Eventually he came over and tipped my chin up looking into my eyes glowing dimmly in the flame-lit darkness. Mimicking almost the exact same thing that happend to me as a ten year-old boy at Pendejo Cave with the Native American spritual elder, the Obeah squated down without changing or losing eye contact, peering at me with an astounding set of eyes that seemed to shine deeply from within with a mysterious, intense light of their own, and said, in his heavy Jamaican patois, "You have felt the breath of the Dark One." "Yes, once," I said, "many years ago," refering to an incident in the military when I literally felt the boney fingers of the Shadow of Death brush across my soul. "Why didn't he take you with him," the Obeah asked? "I don't know," I responded, shrugging my shoulders. Then the Obeah said:
"In ancient times far away a young maiden came upon a starving prince sitting beneath a tree. Bringing him gruel, he lived. You see what he sees. There are other things planned for you."
The Obeah poured a warm tea-like broth into two small bowl-shaped cups without handles. He took one and gave me the other, gulping down the liquid while motioning me to do the same.
He asked me what I liked about Jamaica. I told him things like the weather and the people. Then he asked again what I liked about Jamaica. But now I wasn't able to answer. It was like my mind had grown so huge that trying to focus on something as minuscule as a few words to string together into a sentence had become an impossible hardship. As I struggled to form something at least semi-comprehensible the Obeah asked, "What about the old man in a far away place a long time ago that constructed bird-like contraptions in order to fly even as you did as a child?" Da Vinci was the answer, but I couldn't form the words. Finally I told him about my Totem Animal, Cathartes Aura, the huge six-foot wingspan condor-like vultures Jamaicans call John Crows, that glide and soar for hours, riding the thermals, never flapping their wings.
That the Obeah seemed to like. Soon a cool breeze fell across my face even though it came from a direction from across the fire. The Obeahman took a vessel of water and tossed it onto the flames. A huge cloud of steam burst forth followed by a thick cloud of smoke. I jumped back and turned away, stumbling to the ground while covering my face and eyes. Then it got cold, very cold. The breeze began to blow harder and I could no longer feel the ground underneath me. It felt as though I was moving very fast, yet as far as I knew I was still on the ground by the fire. I moved my arm away from my face just barely squinting my eyes open. For an instant I was still in the billowing white smoke, then suddenly I broke through to clean, fresh air. The smoke was no longer smoke, but clouds high in the night sky. I wasn't on the ground, but hundreds of feet in the air, soaring through the night, arms along my side, wind in my face, stars over my head.
With absolutely no effort I was able to swoop down the darkened mountain gullies and high into the air, eventually passing above Bamboo Lodge recognizable along the mountain road even in the dark because of a large empty swimming pool. Then, just barely above the treetops I picked up speed and headed toward the lighted streets and tall buildings of New Kingston. Soon I was even higher in the air over Port Royal, Lime Cay, and the Caribbean. Then somehow the exhilaration began to fade. I turned back toward the mountains as a creeping apprehension seeped into my thoughts. Then nothing.
Around ten the next morning a couple of Jamaican kids found me unconscious in a ravine about a mile from Bamboo Lodge and miles from the Obeah's hut, naked, all scratched up, and in the bushes, as though I had crashed through the trees or something. The kids apparently went to their parents or adults and told them there was a naked white man in the gully all beat up. Since I was one of the few white men in the area the adults must have assumed it was me and told Benji, the Bamboo Lodge groundskeeper. After discovering for sure who it was, he brought some shoes and clothes and took me home. Everybody in the village area knew what had happened.
SO, DID THE WANDERLING FLY?
Let Me Travel Through the Air Like a Winged Bird
ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
Over a roughly two-year period, 1942-1944, the Kellogg's cereal company, in a marketing campaign tied in with the war effort, began putting easy to assemble flyable balsa wood model war planes into boxes of their breakfast cereal PEP.
(FROM SUPERMAN, ISSUE #29, JULY-AUGUST 1944)
Kellogg's was the first cereal maker to offer premiums directly inside their packages of cereal. Most people who were raised on inside-the-box cereal prizes remember the ones offered by Ruskets. However, inside the box prizes came later. Originally Ruskets prizes required you to save coupons from the boxes, then, depending on how many the prize or premium took, save them up and send them in to get your prize --- of which you were able to select which prize you wanted. Later Ruskets simply began putting prizes inside the box, but what you got is what you got.
TARZAN AND THE HUNTRESS
Howard Hughes, Da Vinci, and Flying Machines
THE BLACK CONDOR: THE MAN WHO COULD FLY LIKE A BIRD
For those who may be so interested, pertinent follow-up information regarding the opening two paragraphs can be found at the following links:
THE GLIDER CHUTE:
In issue #1 of the Fawcett Publication version of Captain Midnight dated September 30, 1942 it reveals that Captain Albright, soldier and inventor, is actually Captain Midnight. In the second of several stories appearing in that first issue, titled "Secret Sub" Captain Midnight is shown using his glider chute for the first time, it's invention thereof credited back to Albright it is presumed.
As to glider-chutes and who did what first we could go on and on, Captain Midnight this, Black Condor that. However, one way or the other, it is quite clear that as early as 1938, in the black and white serial Flash Gordon Trip to Mars Flash Gordon is seen using a batwing like glider-cape in several chapters. The first such instance is in Chapter 6 Tree Men of Mars followed later in chapters 11, 12, and 13.
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CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT: THE CODE-O-GRAPHS
CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT'S RADIO PREMIUMS: 1938-1949
At the 6 minutes and 31 second mark the glider-chute flying scene shows up: