(From Grand Prix Sailor, March 6, 1997)
WAUCHULA, Fla.–Lars Bergstrom, aeronautical engineer, yacht designer and inventor of the Windex wind indicator, was killed last Sunday when the small plane that he co-designed crashed near his home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 62 years old.
Bergstrom was born in Sweden, but had lived in the U.S. for 20 years. Together with partner Sven Ridder, they designed several high-performance sailboats, including the 60-footer Thursday’s Child, aboard which Bergstrom helped owner Warren Luhrs set a record from New York to San Francisco in 1988.
Bergstrom was a visionary. He had tank tested a winged keel nearly 20 years before the Australians used one to help win the America’s Cup in 1983. While studying aeronautical engineering in Sweden, he developed a system for testing sailing rigs in a wind tunnel. The coefficients from those tests are still used to assess sail efficiency.
Bergstrom and Ridder specialized in keels, rudders and rigs. Their unusual Bergstrom-Ridder rig, stepped on deck and featuring sharply swept spreaders, has gained considerable popularity over the years and now is used in a wide range of boats. The setup helped power Steve Pettengill aboard Hunter’s Child to a second in Division 1 in the 1994-’95 BOC Challenge.
But it was the Windex, seen throughout the world at the masthead of virtually all racing boats and a large percentage of cruising yachts, that brought Bergstrom to the attention of the sailing world in the 1960s.
The plane in which Bergstrom was killed was called the Windex 1200, and it crashed while he was performing stall tests in preparation for an air show.
The aircraft was typical of Bergstrom and Ridder’s creativity. It was really a sail plane with long, high-aspect ratio wings and a variable-pitch propeller engine mounted on the vertical tail fin to power it aloft so that it didn’t have to be towed like a conventional glider.