Hang gliding and paragliding are about soaring and flying.
There is none of that "stomach in the throat" feeling as
you hurtle towards earth, well very little anyway.
Hang gliding is flying.
The chance to fly literally like a bird. Soaring quietly
over the countryside barely noticed. Just you and your
wings, catching the warm breezes to raise up over the
ridge and survey God's creation. What could be more magical?
There are adrenaline sports
& there are experience sports. This is an experience sport.
Hang gliding is to parachuting or sky diving, as hiking
is to climbing, or as sea kayaking is to whitewater kayaking.
One is more about where you are verses what you are doing.
At first there is certainly adrenaline and some fear,
until you learn your equipment.
If you've ever dreamed
of flying like a bird, this sport may be for you. The
beauty is that you can try it before you "buy it". Most
schools offer tandem flights for around $100, which are
a great way to get a feeling for the sport. You'll know
immediately if it's something for you.
In 1893 some of the first
attempts of flight used hang gliders, pilots such as Otto
Lilienthal, Octave Chanute and the Wright brothers. Hang
gliding reemerged in the 1970's. The design has significantly
improved since the 70s. Today's gliders are equipped with
flight instruments, radios, and emergency parachutes.
The early models looked and were called kites. Today,
they look like wings. The earliest models were constructed
of plastic on bamboo frames. They have been redesigned
with high tech fabrics and aluminum frames. With the improved
designs came better glide to sink ratios, which meant
longer flights. The flight records today are over 300
There are some great female
hang gliding pilots, although it's a small percentage.
The standard gliders are often too big and hard to control
for smaller women. Manufacturers are starting to make
smaller gliders as more and more women enter the sport.
There are some physical
demands, especially when launching the glider. You'll
need to run with your 50lbs glider down a hill to launch.
While in the air it requires much less strength. Your
body is suspended from the glider's frame, and shifting
your weight steers the glider. Landing also requires strength
to stall the glider. If you're strong enough to launch
the glider, you're strong enough to land it.
The sister sport of hang
gliding is paragliding. A hang glider is a rigid structure
made up of ribs, cross tube, control bar, and keel. The
pilot controls the glider by shifting their weight on
the control bar. A paraglider is a non-rigid airfoil,
consisting of inflatable cells and looks similar to a
parachute. The pilot controls the glider by changing the
shape of the foil or wing. Paragliding requires much less
physical strength than hang gliding and for some may be
a more enjoyable way to "fly".
There are many similarities
in hang gliding and paragliding and the same organizations
govern both sports. A paraglider is much lighter than
a hang glider, which makes the learning process easier.
They are also easier to land because they fly slower taking
less room to land. And they are easier to use because
there is no assembly or disassembly like a hang glider.
However a paraglider has a greater sink ratio so it doesn't
fly as far or as fast as a hang glider. Learning to paraglide
will get you in the air faster. Hang gliding will get
Whichever you choose, weather
is a key element. You'll become a weather expert, able
to read all the cloud formations. All gliders use thermals
to gain altitude. Back to your science 101 class, warm
air raises. Thermals are bands of warmer air raising.
The goal of a glider pilot is to find thermals, so they
can gain altitude and fly for a longer time.
Becoming a glider pilot
is similar to becoming an airline pilot. You'll need airtime
to become an expert. The United States Hang Gliding Association
(USHGA) has established a rating system for both pilots
and launch locations. There are 6 levels of pilot ratings.
- Classroom - Student
- Hang 1- Beginner
- Hang 2 - Novice
- Hang 3 - Intermediate
- Hang 4 - Advanced
- Hang 5 - Master
Ground school is your classroom
work where you learn about safety, the weather and wind,
and the fundamentals of aerodynamics. Additionally, you
will learn about your equipment, how to rig and de-rig,
how to launch, control and land the glider.
Ground handling is where
you practice how to correctly hold, balance, and run with
the glider. You will also practice the in-flight control
movements while suspended in a harness.
You're now prepared for
the training hill. Here you will try your hand (or feet)
at launching. You will learn to launch, fly and land.
This is really the hardest
part of learning to hang glide, lugging the 50 lbs. training
glider back up the hill. This may be the most frustrating
and exhausting point. But once you get your first taste
of flight, you'll be hooked.
Similar to a regular plane,
the glider needs to be moving at a certain speed before
it will lift off. A plane will race down the runway. Hang
glider pilots will run the glider down hill. You don't
actually need wind to fly. As the glider moves through
the air it creates it's own wind.
It won't take long before
you're hooked and learning to fly. Your first few flights
will be at an elevation of a few feet. As you progress
the altitude will as well, increasing to heights of around
It's important to go at
your own speed. The worst thing you can do is to move
ahead of your competence and confidence levels. You run
the risk of hurting yourself, but also of becoming scared
of the sport.
To pass this Student stage
and move on to a Hang 1 rating, you will need to demonstrate
your knowledge of wind and weather conditions and its
effects on the glider. You will also need to show your
ability to fly your glider independently. This includes
preflight checks, proper launch, control while flying,
and landing. It should take about 6 days of classes to
get to this stage. You need to go at your own speed though,
so it may take you longer.
The Hang 1 rating allows
you to fly at an altitude of 150 feet in winds up to 15
mph. Your next goal is to get to the Hang 2 rating.
The Hang 2 rating should
take approximately 15 additional hours of instruction.
At this stage you'll work on greatly improving your glider
handling skills. You'll also be able to begin applying
your knowledge of the wind to your flying.
In order to achieve your
Hang 2 rating, you'll have a written test and a practical
test. At this level you'll be allowed to fly at an elevation
of 300 feet in winds up to 18 mph.
A Hang 3 rating is your
next step. This usually takes quite a while, even up to
a year requiring lots of flying time. A Hang 3 pilot is
a very experienced pilot. It takes a minimum of 90 flights
and 30 flying days. It also requires a complete understanding
of all elements of flying, including stalling, thermals,
spins and turns. Additionally the pilot must demonstrate
proficiency in landing. You'll need to prove this by landing
within 50 feet of a chosen spot. With this rating the
pilot is allowed to fly in winds up to 25 mph.
Micrometerology is the
study of weather in a small localized area, usually around
hills or valleys. Controlling your glider was your first
level of training. To become a proficient pilot you must
now become an expert in the weather. You must learn the
nature and behavior of winds as they relate to the mountains,
valley and other types of landscapes. You'll learn to
find lifts and thermals and avoid areas of turbulence.
NEVER COMING DOWN
The goal of the Hang 4
(Advanced) and Hang 5 (Master) pilots is to literally
never come down. Their flights consist of always looking
for the next lift. Reading and mastering the wind to fly
There are stories of hawks
joining gliders in their flight pattern, soaring wing
to wing. The beauty of gliding is the ability to fly without
noise and soar like a bird. You feel the freedom of a
As an expert hang glider
pilot your control moves become second nature. You feel
one with your equipment.
- Don't just follow someone's
lead, educate yourself on every aspect of hang gliding
and paragliding, the correct procedures, equipment,
etc. This is a solo sport. You'll only have yourself
to count on.
- Don't be afraid to ask
- Don't buy any equipment
on a whim. Know exactly what you want and need.
- As in most sports stay
cool, calm and collected in the face of all issues.
- You'll go through lots
of temperature changes during your flight. It's important
to dress appropriately and be in good physical condition.
- Don't wear polarized
sunglasses. They make reading your controls difficult
and can make it difficult to see horizontal powerlines.
- Make conservative decisions.
Think with your head, not your ego.
- Make sure your reserve
parachute is packed correctly and in good shape. Check
- Your glider should be
equipment with a paraswivel. This will ensure that a
spinning broken glider doesn't foul your reserve parachute.
- Certain medicines and
health conditions maybe effected by the altitude. Consult
your doctor before you take any medication and fly.