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Hang Gliding


The Basics

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 miles.

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 you farther.

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.

Pilot Rating

  • 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 75 feet.

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.


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 like birds.

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 bird.

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 questions.
  • 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 it often.
  • 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.

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