Hang Gliding FAQ
- Rumors and Myths about Hang Gliding
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do you get in the air?
- How high can you go?
- How long can you stay up?
- How do you control the glider? Is it difficult?
- What happens if you stall?
- What if you fall?
- How much does it cost?
- Do I need any kind of rating or certification?
- Where can I go to try hang gliding?
- Where can I get more information?
Rumors and Myths about Hang Gliding
Hang Gliding is a rush
Hang Gliding takes place high enough in the sky that the ground doesn't look like it is moving very quickly. There are very few close fly-by's, fast breaks, or tight maneuvers. Hang Gliders cruise around 30mph, and bank at about 30 degrees. The forces are less than what you feel merging onto the highway in a car. In general, it is very relaxing.
The exception is speed gliding. Speed gliding is like a slalom in 3 dimensions. The pilot launches a glider from a ramp, and races down the mounting while passing through "altitude control gates." These gates are like the flags in a slolom, but the glider must pass underneath of them as well as between them. This involves flying and diving at speeds 100 - 140kph (60 - 80mph).
Hang Gliding is dangerous
Hang Gliding is about as dangerous as riding a bike. Very few accidents happen, mostly because it is very hard to crash into anything 2000 feet in the air. Hang gliders fly at relatively low speeds when compared with motorcycles, scooters, or even a downhill bike ride. Accidents primarily occur during takeoff or landing, and seldom harm the pilot (although they may harm the glider!).
Proper safety precautions such as helmets, parachutes, pre-flights, and hang checks keep the odds of a serious incident low. Hang Gliding is a social sport, and should never be done alone. Most hang gliding accidents occur when a pilot fails to have the proper safety equipment or flies without other pilots nearby.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you get in the air?
A hang glider can be foot launched from a hill or cliff, or towed behind plane.
How high can you go?
Most flights remain below 1350 - 1800 meters (4000 - 6,000 feet). The real limitation is the pilot: Above 3,000 - 4000 meters (10,000 - 13,000 feet) you will need oxygen.
How long can you stay up?
An intermediate pilot can soar for several hours. Hang Gliders remain aloft by using ridge lift (rising air deflected by a mountain) or thermals (rising air created by the sun warming the earth). An advanced pilot may choose to fly cross-country (XC) and fly many miles to "land out."
Cross-country (XC) records are often hundreds of miles, and the world record for soaring is over 24 hours!
How do you control the glider? Is it difficult?
Hang Gliders are controlled by "weight shift" much like motorcycles, skis, or skates. Much like balancing a bicycle, it takes practice at first, but will become second nature with practice. The key to controlling a hang glider is not strength, but balance, endurance, and a light touch.
What happens if you stall?
A stall happens when the glider is not moving fast enough to maintain lift and flight. A minor stall can make the glider difficult to control, while a full stall can result in a loss of 0-100 feet of altitude. Stalls are not dangerous at high altitudes, and are often a good teaching tool, and loads of fun. Stalls are dangerous when the glider is near the ground, since losing altitude can cause the glider to crash. When landing a hang glider, always maintain your speed.
What if you fall?
The hang glider pilot is tethered to their glider by a strap capable of holding over 10 times the person's weight. Falling out of the glider is not likely. Gliders themselves do not fall unless they suffer structural damage, or are not properly assembled. Glider damage is caused by improper glider maintenance, or performing aerobatic stunts that stress the glider. Hang Gliders are very sturdy, usually composed of aircraft aluminum.
How much does it cost?
- Lessons: $70 to $120 per lesson, including equipment rentals
- Older gliders as cheap as $300, are not recommended since they are difficult to fly or repair
- Quality used gliders start around $1500
- Beginner gliders start at $3000
- Intermediate gliders start at $4000 and run up to nearly $10,000
- Equipment: Helmet, harness, etc. will run another $500 to start
Never buy any hang gliding equipment without first consulting with an instructor!
Do I need any kind of rating or certification?
Hang Gliding is a self-regulated sport, so no official certifications are required by law to own or operate a hang glider. However, most launch sites and landing zones appropriate for hang gliding require a certification by the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA). Failure to follow site guidelines can result in sites being shut down, angry pilots, and legal action. Always check site guidelines before flying.
The USHGA has pilot proficiency system that consists of 5 levels, Hang-1 through Hang-5. Certified USHGA instructors can witness your flight, administer a short written test, and provide you with a rating. Filing fees are around $30, and provide a pilot with instant insurance and international recognition of their skills. Here is a brief summary of each rating:
- The pilot can safely setup/breakdown a glider and perform straight and level flight at varying airspeeds.
- This allows the pilot to fly training hills without an instructor.
- The pilot can control the glider in turns and has more advanced launch and landing skills in a variety of flying conditions.
- This allows the pilot to fly most mountain sites and tow parks, under supervision by an observer.
- The pilot has 10 hours of air time, understands right-of-way rules, wind and site conditions, spot landings & approaches.
- This allows the pilot to fly nearly all mountain sites and tow parks.
- Must have significant experience with extended flights and thermals at a variety of intermediate sites.
- The pilot has years of experience and their mentoring skills allow them to be an observer.
- Pilot is probably a competition pilot, with tandem flights, cross-country flights, and all special skills sign-offs.
- The pilot is likely an instructor with a decade of experience.
Where can I go to try hang gliding?
You can experience flight on your first try by taking a tandem flight. In the Maryland/DC/PA/VA area, you can go to Highland Aerosports. For foot launch instruction, The Maryland School of Hang Gliding has the best reputation on the east coast. More links are available on my main hang gliding page.
Where can I get more information?
The United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA). as well as local city and state organizations would be the best resources. They can give you first-hand experience with local flight parks and instructors. You can try the Capital Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association or the Maryland Hang Gliding Association as well as my main hang gliding page