gliding has come a long way since the early days. Today's hang gliders
are carefully designed, safe aircraft, and the pilots understand the air
better than ever before. But what about the thrills? Well, some pilots
do work up adrenalin in aerobatics or speed gliding, and in August, 2000
a hang glider pilot flew 555km for a new World Record. Others simply enjoy
the serenity of floating in a silent sky, or flying with friends.
The basic hang glider was pretty much invented by an Australian engineer,
John Dickenson, in 1963. He first built a kite based on a NASA Gemini
space capsule recovery wing, with all the basic features of today's wings,
including the triangular control bar. Australian kite fliers soon introduced
Dickenson's design to the rest of the world, and suddenly recreational
hang gliding began its boom.
What's a hang glider?
The days of the old delta-wing kite-style hang gliders are long gone.
Although most modern hang gliders share the same basics as older designs,
they don't look a lot like them. There are three basic types.
FLEX WING hang gliders are the most closely related to the original
early 1970's hang gliders. They have a basic tubing frame and a flexible
wing made of sailcloth, stiffened into an aerofoil shape by aluminium
battens. They are usually wire-braced, and controlled by shifting the
pilot weight. "Floaters" are designed for new pilots or for
those who want an easy to fly, light, and simple machine. They're great
for just getting out and having a great time, no matter what your experience
level. "Intermediate" gliders provide better performance for
the advancing pilot, but are a little heavier and require more skill.
"Advanced" wings tend to be heavier still, with excellent performance,
but require extra pilot skill and judgement to fly safely. Many of the
most recent advanced wings use cantilever composite structure, and use
RIGID WING hang gliders resemble aeroplanes without tails. Although
they fold up into a transportable package, they are built from carbon
fibre and epoxy for strength and light weight. They generally have better
performance than flex wings, and though designed to be launched and landed
on foot they have a very good glide. Although expensive, this sort of
hang glider is gaining popularity very quickly.
ULTRALIGHT SAILPLANES can't be foot-launched or landed, as they
usually have a cockpit and normal wing layout like full size gliders,
plus wheels for takeoff and landing. They also have the best performance.
However, they are expensive and more difficult to transport.
Getting Into the Air
gliders fly from cliffs, they don't "jump", despite what most
people think. The pilot runs with the glider and flies off - most launches
allow the pilot to be in full flying control by the time they reach the
edge. Many launch sites have been modified to help safe launches, and
help minimise impact on the local environment. Hang gliders can also be
towed behind a car using a tow rope and tension meter, and ultralight
aircraft have also been used to tow gliders to a height where they can
"pin off" and fly free. Lightweight engine and propeller units
are also available for self-launching soaring.
Hang gliders depend on rising air, called "lift" to stay aloft.
Sea cliffs provide lift when there is an onshore breeze, and inland thermals
provide abundant lift for high flying. Although pilots say: "lift
is where you find it", experienced pilots learn to read terrain and
weather clues to predict where the next thermal is. The landscape, cumulus
clouds, and soaring birds all offer clues to lift.
How a hang glider is controlled
Most hang gliders are controlled by shifting the pilot body weight either
to the side, front or back. This gives very good control, and because
a hang glider is very pitch stable (it returns to normal speed by itself)
and neutrally roll stable (if you turn, it will tend to stay turning until
you straighten things out) they are easy to both fly and land. In fact
with practice, you can land and stop without even having to take a step.
Basically, you shift your body in the direction you want to go. To go
faster, you move forward; to slow down, backward. Also, the design of
modern hang gliders includes features that automatically recover normal
flight if you hit turbulence. In general, hang glider pilots can be assured
that as long as they fly in sensible weather conditions, their wing will
handle anything the air may throw at it.
hang gliding first became popular there were plenty of accidents, things
have changed dramatically. Early equipment was basic and training often
non-existent. Since the early 1980's the accident rate has dropped markedly,
mostly because pilots are required to be trained. Also, today's equipment
must be certified for both strength and stability in a wide range of conditions.
Plus all hang gliders carry emergency parachutes. These are designed to
bring both glider and pilot down together in the event of a structural
failure or mid-air collision.
All hang glider pilots are required qualify through an accredited flying
school. Over the course - usually a week - you will be taught the basics
of ground-handling, launching, flying and landing. There is also an exam
on basic hang gliding theory. Many different approaches are used for teaching.
Some schools offer tandem tow flights, others use mainly hill-based training.
It's always a good idea to ask what sort of reputation your proposed school
has. Later, as you progress in skill level, you can obtain endorsements
for alpine flying, towing or auxiliary powered flight.
As well as a hang glider ($1000 second hand to $4000 new) you'll need
a harness (up to $1000 new), a parachute (about $600) and instruments
(from about $400). Beware of old and/or obsolete bargains in Trading Post-type
Who can Fly?
Anyone. You can legally fly a hang glider when you are 14 years old, and
some pilots are still flying well into their 70's, so age is no barrier