If you have ever thought of trying hang gliding though did not know so much about it, or where to go to learn to hang glide, you are not alone.
Hang gliding can be dated back to the days of Leonardo da Vinci, whose sketching’s portrayed his desire for human flight. Through fact and fiction, silent aviation has played a major role in man’s dream to soar with the birds.
Trying to describe the feeling of flying a hang glider is almost impossible. It’s everything you think it would be (and probably more). Some have even said that once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you long to return.
What does it take to fly a hang glider? Beyond the desire to fly, there are two areas of skill that require focus and concentration during your initial training hill foot launching practice sessions. First, one must learn to run down a hill without looking down the hill. It’s kind of like rubbing your belly and patting your head. You probably have not spent much time running down steep hills, but if you have, you probably didn’t try to look out, you probably naturally looked down the hill. A smart move if you are concerned with where you are ultimately headed. But the wing will eventually, upon reaching the magic speed, redirect your path more forward than downward, so looking out is critical for steering purposes.
Second, you must be relaxed. Easier said than done, but being comfortable with the task at hand, and flying with a relaxed grip, is essential to the learning curve.
Some questions you may have:
How do you steer?
Hang gliders are controlled by shifting the pilot’s weight with respect to the glider. Pilots are suspended from a hang strap connected to the glider’s frame (hence the name “hang” glider). By moving forward and backward and side to side at the end of this hang strap, the pilot alters the center of gravity of the glider. This then causes the glider to pitch or roll in the direction of the pilot’s motion and thus allows both speed control and turning.
How high/far can a hang glider go?
This depends a lot on the conditions in which they are flown, but flights more than 300 miles in length and altitudes of well over 17,999 ft. MSL have been recorded. More typically, pilots in the summer in the western US will frequently achieve altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 ft. AGL and fly for over 100 miles.
How long do flights last?
Again, this depends on conditions, but a high-altitude flight is frequently several hours in duration. On good days, pilots don’t have to land until the sun goes down.
How safe are hang gliders?
As safe as the person flying them. Like any form of sport aviation, hang gliding can be dangerous if pursued carelessly. Gliders in the US are now certified for airworthiness by the Hang Glider Manufacturers Assn. (HGMA). Also, hang gliding instruction has been standardized and students learn from certified instructors using a thorough gradual training program. Despite these advances, people still make judgment errors and aviation is not very forgiving of such. Most pilots fly their entire careers without sustaining a serious injury.
How much wind is necessary to launch/fly/land?
Hang gliders can be launched, flown and landed in winds from zero to about 30 mph safely. Generally, ideal winds for launching and landing are from 5 to 20 mph depending on the flying site. Wind speed is less important in flight since the pilot controls the air speed of the glider whatever the wind speed may be.
Is hang gliding physically demanding?
Almost anyone can fly a hang glider. If someone can jog while balancing a 50 – 70 lb. weight on their shoulders they can learn to fly. While flying does not require great strength (since the straps – not the pilot’s arms – hold the pilot up) long duration flights in turbulent conditions require a moderate degree of upper body endurance. This typically develops as the pilot progresses through training to these longer flights.
Do pilots need to be of a certain age, gender, weight or size range?
Hang glider pilots range in age from teens to octogenarians. The limits are more mental than physical. If someone is sufficiently mature to make decisions significantly affecting their safety and has sufficiently good reflexes to make such decisions promptly, then they probably are of a reasonable age for flying.
Flying depends more on balance and mental acuity than strength. Woman and men make equally good pilots. While the fraction varies regionally, about 10 – 15 % of the hang glider pilots in the US are women.
While pilots of virtually any size can fly, the limits here are mostly dictated by available equipment. Heavier and lighter pilots require commensurately bigger and smaller gliders.
How does a student go about learning to fly?
The USHPA certifies hang gliding instructors and schools. All students should learn from a certified instructor. Lists of certified schools can be obtained from the USHPA
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
La Jolla, California
Salt Lake City, Utah
This is just a few to give you some ideas!