I don't really want to go around the world hanggliding different areas. I really just want to learn to hangglide and feel that feeling at least a few times in my life. Once I really start doing it, I may become addicted, who knows. But at this point, really I just want to fly. So I'm going to take a several weeks over a summer and learn to do it.
To Do List
- Obtain Hang 1 Rating
- 5-10 lessons
- Obtain Hang 2 Rating
- 5-10 lessons
- Obtain Hang 3 Rating
- 5-10 lessons
- Purchase a glider so I can fly whenever I want
Find a School at the USHPA - US Hanggliding & Paragliding Association
HOW DID HANG GLIDING BEGIN? WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE SPORT?
Modern aviation traces her roots to the foot-launched gliders of Chanute, Lillienthal, Montgomery, and other aerial pioneers of the late 19th century. Many people falsely think that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly. They weren't; they were the first to succeed at MOTORIZED flight. People were flying in the precursors to modern hang gliders many years before the Wrights took to the sky and changed aviation forever. During the late 1800's, aviation pioneers flew foot launched gliders. These early gliders were made of bamboo and plastic sheeting; these eventually evolved into our modern aluminum and Dacron flying wings of today. In the late 1960's, daring pilots tried to recapture those early years by flying huge flat kites, with marginal success and minimal control. These gliders were usually towed behind boats, since water tends to be more forgiving than rock in a bad landing. At the same time, a retired NASA engineer, Francis Rogallo, was experimenting with a controllable toy kite based on his steerable recovery system designed for the Gemini Space Program. Word got around and a man-sized version of Rogallo's kite was developed; this was the birth of the modern-day "hang glider". Since then, hang gliders have evolved from the early bamboo and plastic models, into a highly sophisticated, aluminum, Dacron, and Mylar flying delta-wing. The sport has grown into a safer, less expensive, self-regulated form of aviation which allows us to fly and soar like the birds!
WHAT EXACTLY DOES A HANG GLIDER LOOK LIKE?
The image below shows a typical hang glider for solo flight. Whether flying a glider which is designed for more advanced pilots, or a more simple training glider, most of the designs are relatively similar. Hang gliders are "delta wing" aircraft, i.e. a single, triangle-shaped wing, which consists of an aluminum frame, constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum tubing, and a Dacron sail, which is mounted on the frame. The pilot is suspended below the wing in an enclosed fabric harness. This harness is supports the weight of the pilot, and hangs from the wing's center of gravity ("CG") - hence the name "hang glider". It is a common misconception that the pilot has to support his weight within the glider with his hands and arms. This is not true. The harness supports all of the pilot's weight. The pilot is suspended from the center of gravity of the wing, and hangs within the hang glider's triangular control frame. Hang gliders are flown and controlled by weight shift; the pilot shifts his weight within the control frame in order to maneuver the glider within the air.
The image below shows a typical tandem hang glider. Tandem gliders are used to put two people in the air at once, usually an instructor and a student. This method of "hands-on" training with an instructor by your side is the fastest and safest way to learn how to fly. As with an ordinary glider, a tandem glider is also a "delta wing" aircraft made of aircraft aluminum tubes and a Dacron sail. Below the wing hang two fabric harnesses which support each pilot. The pilots are again suspended within the glider's control frame, which allows the pilots to shift their weight in order to steer and maneuver the glider through the air.
WHO MAKES HANG GLIDERS?
There are not many manufacturers of hang gliders. Here is a list of some of the more well-known makers:
IS HANG GLIDING THE SAME AS PARASAILING OR PARACHUTING?
No, it is not the same as parasailing. Parasailing is what you do at a beach. You are in a modified parachute tied to a boat. You get dragged around the harbor by the boat. You do not "pilot" a parasail.
No, it is not the same as parachuting. Parachutes are designed to be deployed during free-fall from an airplane and to then descend to the ground. By contrast, the hang glider is designed to be foot-launched from a gentle hillside. Hang gliders are much more aerodynamic and are designed to go up rather than down.
HOW IS HANG GLIDING DIFFERENT FROM PARAGLIDING?
A Hang glider has a rigid frame maintaining the shape of the wing, with the pilot usually flying in a prone position. The Paraglider canopy shape is maintained only by air pressure and the pilot is suspended in a sitting or supine position. The Hang glider has a "cleaner" aerodynamic profile and generally is capable of flying at much higher speeds than a Paraglider.
The paraglider folds up into a 30 lbs. backpack in about five minutes and can be easily transported – people commonly carry their paragliders to the top of peaks in the Cascades, Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The hang glider, due to its weight and rigid frame, is transported on a vehicle with a roof rack and requires about 30 minutes to set up and again to take down.
Because hang gliders fly faster, they can cover greater distances more easily. But paragliders, which have advanced rapidly over the last few years, can now cover distances almost as great and, due to their tighter turning radius, can often stay aloft in light lift when hang gliders can't.
It's somewhat easier to learn to fly a Paraglider. Paragliding has a faster learning curve than hang gliding due to the paraglider's slower forward speed and more forgiving design. Your launches are not "committed" with a paraglider; if you want to stop your launch, you just stop running and the canopy floats down behind you. By contrast, once you start your launch in a hang glider, which weighs anywhere from 60 to 100 lbs., you are committed.
HOW DOES A GLIDER GET INTO THE AIR?
There are several ways to launch a glider into the air. The most common method is foot launching. In this case, the pilot runs down a hill or mountainside on foot, carrying the glider on his shoulders, until enough speed is attained for the wing to fly, lifting the pilot and the glider into the air. Another launch technique is towing; this can be done using a variety of methods. In order to tow a hang glider, the glider is attached to a length of rope and is then pulled into the air with a stationary winch, boat, truck, or ultra light aircraft, such as the one pictured on the right. The ultra light is frequently referred to as the "tow plane" or "tug."
HOW DO YOU CONTROL AND STEER THE GLIDER?
Hang gliders are controlled by weight shift. The pilot is suspended in a harness within the glider's triangular aluminum control frame, at the glider's center of gravity (or "CG"). If the pilots shifts his weight back by pushing the triangular control frame out, this causes the glider to climb and slow down. If the pilot shifts his weight forward by pulling on the control bar, the glider will speed up and dive. Turns are performed by shifting your weight within the control frame in the direction of the turn. That's all there is to it! In free flight at altitude, pilots lay prone (just like Superman) in a secure fabric and webbing harness, suspended from the central balance point of the wing. In a typical foot launch, takeoff and landing are done by rotating upright within the harness, with the landing gear (your legs) down. In order to launch, the pilot runs down the launch slope with the glider on his shoulders until, at the right speed, the pilot and glider float into the air. In order to land, the pilot sails across the landing field, then quickly rotates the wing up, stalling the wing, and allowing the pilot to settle gently on his feet. In a good landing, a pilot may take no steps, alighting on the ground like a giant bird!!
HOW DOES A GLIDER GAIN ALTITUDE?
Glider pilots look for rising air or "lift." The most common types of lift used by hang glider pilots are ridge lift and thermal lift. Ridge lift occurs when wind hits an obstruction, such as a seaside ridge, a cliff, or a stand of trees. As the wind hits this obstruction it is deflected upward. Hang glider pilots are able to use this rising air to gain or maintain altitude, often allowing them to fly without power for many hours. Often, ridge lift creates a "lift band" on the windward side of a ridge and pilots gain altitude by circling back and forth through this band. Thermal lift is created when the ground is heated by the sun; the warm earth then radiates this heat into the surrounding air, which then rises. Hang glider pilots again take advantage of this rising air to gain or maintain altitude, for many wonderful hours of unpowered flight. Thermal lift on usually starts at some local "trigger point" on the ground and then rises as a column or bubble of warm air. To gain altitude in a thermal, pilots will circle in this cell of rising air. Thermals are often marked by cumulus clouds and you can often see hang glider pilots circling under these clouds, soaring in the thermals. It is important to remember that a hang glider literally makes you light as a feather relative to the wind. Therefore, very little lift is required to hold a steady altitude or even to gain altitude; much like a feather or a dandelion seed bobbing along in the breeze.
HOW HIGH AND FAR CAN A HANG GLIDER GO?
This depends a lot on the conditions, but flight distances in excess of 300 miles and altitudes of more than 18,000 feet have been recorded. The thermals in the summer in the western United States are particularly powerful and pilots can often reach altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet and fly over 100 miles.
HOW LONG ARE YOU IN THE AIR?
This varies with the weather conditions, as well as a pilot's skill and experience, but a high altitude soaring flight in good thermal conditions can last for several hours. Most pilots can soar for over an hour after about a year of flying experience. On the best days, gliders don't land until sunset. In calm air, without thermals, an aerotow flight to 2500 feet can still last a good 15 to 20 minutes. Generally, training flights are performed in the early morning or late afternoon and evening when thermals are absent and the air is smooth and calm. Smooth air is best for learning to fly hang gliders, and allows the student pilot to gain skills the fastest.
WHERE CAN A GLIDER TAKE OFF AND LAND FROM?
Pretty much any slope that is relatively free from obstructions. such as poles, bushes, trees and so on, is steeper than about 6 to 1, and faces into a steady wind can be used to foot launch a hang glider. The pilot simply runs down the slope and takes off when the air speed of the glider reaches 15 to 20 mph. Alternatively, a variety of towing techniques can be used to get hang gliders into the air when no hills are available. Hang gliders can be towed by stationary winch, boats, trucks, or ultra light aircraft. Towing usually requires a large open area, such as a small airport. Hang glider landing sites are somewhat dependent on pilot skill and experience. An experienced pilot should be able to put a glider safely into any flat area that is larger than about 50 by 200 feet, as long as it is clear of obstructions. This "runway requirement" can vary somewhat, though, depending on wind conditions and the surrounding terrain.
HOW SAFE IS IT TO FLY A HANG GLIDER?
Hang gliding has a safety record that is superior to commercial aviation. Like any form of aviation, hang gliding can be dangerous if pursued foolishly, and any form of aviation has associated risk. Hang gliding is like most popular outdoor sports: it must be performed with the proper training, safety considerations, and within the limits of the equipment and pilot. Gliders in the United States are certified for air worthiness by the Hang Glider Manufacturers Association (HGMA). Hang gliding instruction has been standardized and students learn from certified instructors using a gradual training program. Despite these advances, people still make judgment errors and accidents can occur. The majority of pilots fly their entire careers without sustaining an injury. State-of-the-art gliders, advanced instruction techniques, and the United States Hang Gliding Association "skills rating program" have all helped to reduce the accident rate. Hang gliding safety is improved by the use of good equipment, proper instruction, practiced skills, and good judgment. Respect your abilities and know your limitations. Respect your equipment and know it's limitations. And most of all, respect the sky and the wind and pay careful attention to your flying conditions.
HOW COLD DOES IT GET WHEN YOU REACH HIGHER ALTITUDES?
Hang gliders have been flown in sub-zero conditions in the mountains in the winter and in the hottest deserts in the summer. Air temperature typically falls by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 foot gained in elevation. Therefore, high altitude hang glider flights are frequently cold. Pilots expecting to fly over about 12,000 to 14,000 feet in the summer will generally wear warm winter clothing to protect against exposure. Even on a hot summer day, anything over 2,000 feet might be more comfortable in a sweatshirt. Keep in mind that an average airspeed for a glider is about 30 mph and therefore you have a constant 30 mph wind-chill-factor upon you.
DO YOU NEED A LOT OF WIND TO FLY?
This is one of the more difficult concepts for beginning pilots to understand, and it is one of the easiest concepts to grasp once you have flown. The motion of the glider moving through the air, holds you up, NOT the wind. Pilots with the proper skills take advantage of wind or thermals (upward rising air) to turn a gliding flight into a soaring flight that can last for hours. Hang gliders can take off, fly, and land safely in winds from zero to about 30 mph. Generally, ideal wind conditions for launching and landing are from 5 to 20 mph, depending on the flying site and the skill of the pilot.
HOW PHYSICALLY DEMANDING IS IT TO FLY?
Almost anyone can fly a hang glider, and individuals from the age of 13-90 have learned to fly. If someone can jog while balancing a 50 to 70 pound weight on their shoulders they can easily learn to fly. The advent of modern towing methods has made learning to fly even easier. People can learn to tow a glider and never have to set foot on the ground at all. Paraplegics and amputees can successfully fly hang gliders, particularly with the use of aerotow techniques for launching and using a "belly slide" on wheels in order to land. Flying does not require great strength, since the harness and hang straps - not the pilot's arms - hold the pilot up within the glider's control frame. However, flights of long duration flights in turbulent conditions do require a bit of upper body stamina. This typically develops naturally as the pilot progresses through training into longer flights in more turbulent conditions.
HOW CAN I LEARN TO FLY?
Instruction from a USHGA certified flight school is essential. You will learn the right skills faster from a qualified instructor. Most people need about 10 lessons to master the basic flying skills associated with foot launching and landing. Other methods of flight, such as aerotowing, are somewhat more complicated and require more pilot skills and training, and therefore often require more instruction or lessons prior to solo. Certified schools design their programs around the USHGA Skills Rating Program. Each level requires that new skills and knowledge be learned, mastered and demonstrated by the pilot, prior to a moving to the next rating. No one launches from a mountain top on their first day of instruction.
- The Beginner Rating (Hang 1) is acheived through your first few lessons. You learn the basic skills of ground handling, launching, straight and level flight, and landing.
- With a Novice Rating (Hang 2), you will begin to experience the real challenges of flight. This is where you progress to longer flights, learning turns and spot landings.
- After accumulating the necessary hours, flights, and skills, you can earn your Intermediate Rating (Hang 3) from a USHGA Observer or Advanced Instructor.
- The Advanced Rating (Hang 4) is achieved through time and experience, as well as the demonstration of advanced skills. A Hang 4 is certified to fly any rated site in the world.
- The Master Rating (Hang 5) is a special honor for those pilots whose skills, contributions, and experience place them among the sport's best.
WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE FLY HANG GLIDERS?
Participation in the sport is as varied as it is with any other adventure sport. It is a significant misconception to view glider pilots as a band of hippie-like, adrenaline-junkies in Colorado mountains or along the California coast. This stereotype is very inaccurate. Pilots tend to be safe and responsible people who are in love with the act of flying like a hawk on the breeze. Everyone from doctors to computer designers to construction workers to schoolteachers are glider pilots. Pilots are represented on the national level by the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA). The USHGA provides a forum for pilot issues, defines training programs and pilot proficiency requirements, sets policy for the sport, provides the tools and support to open and maintain flying sites, provides liability insurance coverage for individual pilots, sites, and events, sanctions competitions and records, and serves as an ambassador to the general public, the government, and the world hang gliding fraternity. Due to the professionalism of our organizations and the responsibility of individual pilots, hang glider pilots have retained the privilege of self-regulation.
DO GLIDER PILOTS NEED TO BE OF A CERTAIN GENDER, WEIGHT, AGE, SIZE, OR HEIGHT RANGE?
Hang glider pilots range in age from teenagers to grandparents. The limits are more mental than physical. If someone is sufficiently mature to make decisions that could significantly affecting their safety and has sufficiently good reflexes to make such decisions promptly, then they probably are of a reasonable age for flying. Since flying depends more on balance and endurance than on brute strength, woman and men make equally good pilots. While the fraction varies regionally, about 10 - 15 % of the hang glider pilots in the United States are women. While pilots of virtually any size can fly, the limits here are mostly dictated by available equipment. Heavier and lighter pilots require bigger and smaller gliders. Since most hang glider pilots weigh between 90 and 250 pounds, however, it may be difficult to find equipment for pilots outside of this weight range. Specially designed tandem gliders are available, however, and may be used for extra heavy solos pilots. While height does not determine who can fly, again, equipment tends to be designed for people between about 5 and 6.5 feet tall. Harness and glider modifications may be necessary for individuals outside this range. Pilots come in all sizes and all levels of athletic ability and fitness. Gliders come in sizes to match your weight, from 90 to 250 pounds.
DO I NEED A PILOTS LICENCE TO FLY A HANG GLIDER?
You need a United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) rating to fly at most sites, which is similar to an FAA pilot's license. This program consists of a specific set of flying skills corresponding to a series of pilot proficiency ratings (Beginner - Novice - Intermediate - Advanced - Master) each of which carries a set of recommended operating limitations. Beginner rated pilots, for instance, should only fly from hills under 100 feet in height in mild winds and under the guidance of an instructor. While these ratings don't carry the force of law in quite the same way as FAA pilot's licenses do, the majority of flying sites in the United States require that pilots hold some specific USHGA rating to be allowed to fly at that site.
The USHGA certifies hang gliding instructors and schools. All students should learn from a certified instructor. Lists of certified schools can be obtained from the USHGA on their web page at http://www.ushga.org. The time required for training varies considerably with a student's innate skills and with the type of training conditions. Typically, a student will spend 5-10 hill-based lessons to obtain each of the first two USHGA pilot ratings (Beginner and Novice) - a process which generally takes from 3 to 6 months. At the end of this primary training process, the student is usually flying from moderate altitudes (several hundred to a few thousand feet) in relative mild conditions.
Other, non-hill-based methods of training are also available, such as tandem aerotow instruction. Since aerotowing is somewhat more complicated than foot launching from a hill, most students require 12-18 lessons before they are ready to solo. All of this instruction is done in a tandem hang glider, with an instructor by your side in the glider throughout the training process. By the time a student solos via aerotow, he or she usually has attained a Hang 2 rating. Although this method of training is somewhat longer and more intensive, the student pilot will usually have gained significant flying skills by the time they solo using this method of training. Progression to more difficult flying conditions continues from then on under the supervision of more experienced pilots or Observers/Advanced Instructors. The sport is self-regulated, in that you do not need a FAA or other government license to fly a hang glider.
The USHGA is the private organization that manages our sport. A rating is issued with your membership that corresponds to your level of skill and experience. Your first levels are issued through an instructor. Advanced levels are issued by volunteers of the USHGA (Observers) or Advanced Instructors. Flying sites across the world are managed by local hang gliding clubs, and you will need a rating to fly at their sites. Your rating will give the local pilots and administrators of the site an idea of your skill level and ability.
WHAT IS A "TANDEM FLIGHT" OR A "TANDEM GLIDER?"
During a tandem flight, you and your instructor are BOTH flying in the same hang glider together. The DFSC's tandem flights are done using aerotowing. Much like flying a child's kite, in order to tow a hang glider, the glider is attached to a length of rope, which is then attached to whatever towing device you are using. The glider is then pulled into the air. There are several towing methods: static line, payout winch, stationary winch, boat towing, truck towing or aerotowing.
In modern aerotowing, the hang glider is towed into the air with an ultra light aircraft, similar to the way sail planes are launched. The most commonly used ultra light is the Bailey-Moyes Dragonfly. This aircraft was specifically designed to tow hang gliders and is the type of aircraft used by the DFSC. In order to aerotow a hang glider, the glider is placed on a specially designed dolly or launch cart. This dolly has castered wheels and is designed to smoothly launch the hang glider. The hang glider is then attached to the Dragonfly by a 250' rope and both aircraft take off. The Dragonfly will usually tow the hang glider to a height of 2500 feet, at which point the Dragonfly pilot will signal the hang glider pilot to release, or detach from the Dragonfly. At that point, the hang glider will be in free flight!!
HOW MUCH DOES THE TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT COST?
This varies depending upon where you go. To give a good range of pricing, let us take a few examples: If a student goes to a certified school in a large urban area and buys all new equipment at retail prices, learning to fly can cost $7000 or more. If one purchases used equipment, however, this price can easily drop to around $3,500. Whenever used equipment is purchased, however, it is essential that an experienced pilot or dealer familiar with the equipment inspect it thoroughly. Costs can differ a great deal, but as of 1999 figure on:
Training & Instruction: $600 - $1,800 (This depends on method chosen. Foot launch training will be cheaper, but takes much longer to acquire more advanced skills. Aerotow training is more expensive, but is quicker, and the student pilot acquires more skill, experience, and airtime in less time).
- Hang Glider: $600 - $2000 (used) $2800 - $10,000 (new)
- Harness: $50 - $300 (used) $300 - $500 (new)
- Parachute: $200 - $300 (used) $450 - $550 (new)
- Helmet: $80 - $300 (new)
Fortunately, all of this money does not need to be invested at once. Usually instructors will provide training equipment as part of their package through the Beginner or Novice rating, but will expect students to obtain their own equipment beyond this point. Many flight schools and clubs will also rent equipment. The DFSC has a full range of rental equipment available to club members, as does Quest Air and Wallaby Ranch in Florida.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET A RATING AND FLY ON MY OWN?
It depends on your ability to learn the skills needed to earn your ratings. When learning to fly tandem with an instructor, the average amount of flights needed before a person solos is about 15 to 20. Some people can do it in 12 flights. Others need as many as 30. The most important thing to remember is that you need to be capable, confident in yourself and sure of your ability, and have the necessary flying skills to fly safely. In general, most instructors will not allow you to solo until you have the necessary skills. As with anything else, you will learn best if you can take a few days to do all of your training at once, instead of spacing it out over several weeks or months. Long gaps of time between training will only reduce your learning curve and make it take longer before you are ready to solo.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FLY?
Perhaps the feeling was best summarized by a quote which many hang glider pilots have come to love. Ironically, the quote is from a man who never had the chance to experience the joy of flight first-hand... Then again, maybe he did:
"Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return." - Leonardo da Vinci
CAN PEOPLE FLY IF THEY'RE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS?
Yes. The progression can be slow enough that the fear of heights can be easily overcome with each lesson. A surprising number of pilots are afraid of heights. Flying is so different from being out on the ledge of a building or on top of a roller coaster, that many people who fear heights aren't the least bit afraid of piloting a hang glider.
ONCE I HAVE A RATING, CAN I FLY ANYWHERE I WANT TO?
If a site has the proper terrain and you have the permission of the landowners, you can fly anywhere your skills will allow you to. Any USHGA site will require that you have a rating adequate to fly at their site. Some sites are more challenging than others and it is important for a pilot to have the proper skills to launch and land there.
WHAT IS "TOWING" AND HOW DOES ONE "TOW" A HANG GLIDER?
Much like flying a child's kite, towing consists of hooking the glider up to a length of line and pulling it into the air. There are a number of different ways to tow, including static line winch, payout winch, stationary winch, boat towing, truck towing or aerotowing. In aerotowing, the hang glider is towed into the air behind a motorized ultralight aircraft; this is similar to the way sail planes are launched.
HOW DOES THE PILOT LAUNCH WHEN TOWING?
There are as many ways to launch as there are methods of towing. The pilot may foot launch - if the tow is a winch on the ground. They might platform launch or dolly launch the glider - this means laying down in flying position and being pulled into the air and letting the dolly drop away once the glider is airborne. Or, they might even launch the glider from floats on the water.
DOES IT TAKE SPECIAL TRAINING TO FLY A GLIDER BY TOWING?
Yes. A hang glider is somewhat more difficult to fly under tow than in free flight, and the pilot must also be aware of the various things that can go wrong while on tow in order to react appropriately. There are many flight schools throughout the United States who provide towing instruction. The DFSC provides aerotow instruction to club members, and this is our primary method of launching gliders in the (generally flat) state of Michigan. The DFSC has USHGA-appointed Tow Administrators who can also rate people for towing. These individuals are also instructors and can train people to tow safely.
IS TOWING MORE DANGEROUS THAN A FOOT LAUNCH?
No. It all depends upon the conditions you are flying in. Most pilots would agree that a tow in calm conditions is much safer than foot launching off of a mountain in 30 mph winds. As towing is more sophisticated than foot launching and more equipment is involved, there is more room for error and mechanical failure. Towing is the primary launch method at many sites across the United States and many pilots rarely launch any other way. With the proper training and skill development, towing is a safe and reliable launch method. However, it is important to remember that towing is another flying skill and should be learned under the guidance of a USHGA certified instructor.
WHERE CAN I BUY A HANG GLIDER?
Your instructor can help you with that once you are ready to make the investment. Many instructors are also certified dealers and can sell you a new or used glider. As a safety check in the sport, you must get new equipment from a dealer. None of the glider manufacturers will sell a glider directly to a customer because, being a self-regulated sport, everyone involved in the gliding community wants to make sure that only properly-trained individuals can purchase a glider. In fact, there is actually a Federal Aviation Regulation (SOP-12-1: Part 100 : Subpart C) which makes it illegal to sell a glider to an individual who "has not demonstrated the ability to use the glider safely." After all, you can't just walk into a store and buy an airplane. A hang glider is an aircraft like any other and requires a certified person to own and operate one. The DFSC provides both instruction and Cloud 9 Sport Aviation offers mail order sales of equipment.
CAN I BUILD MY OWN HANG GLIDER?
Considering the inability of most people to set a VCR timer, this is not a good idea. Seriously, glider manufacturers use sophisticated CAD design and automated workshops to produce precision airfoils. Glider designs undergo extensive flight testing. Like any aircraft, home building is not a simple or quick solution for the inexperienced engineer. And in addition, "kits" are not commonly available for gliders anymore.
HOW MUCH DO HANG GLIDERS WEIGH?
Gliders typically weigh from 40 to 80 pounds. Training gliders are the lightest. They are very awkward at first, but during training, we use wheels to move them from the landing area back to the launch site. Plus, with the DFSC, the launch is by aerotow off of a wheeled cart, so gliders are generally moved from place to place on the wheeled launch dollies!
WHAT SIZE IS AN AVERAGE GLIDER?
The average weight is 60 pounds. They have approximately a 32 foot wing span (width) and a 12 foot long keel (length) when set-up to fly. The sail is about 7 feet long from nose to tail. When folded, for storage or transport (which only takes 15 minutes or so to complete) it fills a bag 12 inches (30 centimeters) in diameter and 14 feet long.
HOW DO YOU STORE AND TRANSPORT SOMETHING THAT LARGE?
A way can always be found, although it may not be a simple thing to do so. Pilots manage to get wings into upstairs apartments, hallways, even into converted PVC irrigation/drain pipes installed under the eve of a house, if they don't have a garage. Many shops and clubs often offer storage for those who really don't have a spot (including the DFSC). As for transporting, rack systems have been created for all sorts of vehicles, from Volkswagen Beetles to Ford F-150's, even a trailer for towing a glider behind a motorcycle! Often, pilots use ladders or PVC tubes atop vehicles to carry gliders.
CAN I RENT THE REQUIRED EQUIPMENT?
It depends upon where you are flying. During training, most people rent equipment and this is usually included in the cost of instruction. A few people will buy all new equipment and then use it for training as well. Once you can solo and you have your rating, if you still wish to rent equipment, the DFSC, as well as some other flight parks, has rental equipment available to club members.
IS IT EASIER TO FLY A GLIDER IF I'M AN AIRPLANE PILOT?
Not as much as pilots usually expect. Flying a hang glider is very different from flying other aircraft. The difference can be equated to learning to fly a helicopter after learning to fly an airplane. Experience will help your understanding of aerodynamics, control theory, flight planning, and the skill of three dimensional awareness. However, the actual control inputs and the way the aircraft responds to your input is so vastly different than having a stick and rudders, that most pilots will need as many lessons as anyone else to master the physical skills.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A "FOOT LAUNCH" AND "TOWING?"
Foot launch is the type of launch that most people are familiar with. It is the sort of launch that most people have seen hang gliders do on television. The term is very self-explanatory: the pilot runs off of a hill or mountainside until the pilot and glider build up enough airspeed to lift into the air. Towing is a different method which is gaining increased popularity within the sport. Much like flying a child's kite, towing consists of hooking the glider up to a length of line and pulling it into the air. There are a number of different ways to tow, including static line winch, payout winch, stationary winch, boat towing, truck towing, or aerotowing. In aerotowing, the hang glider is towed into the air behind a motorized ultra light aircraft; this similar to the way sail planes are launched. During an aerotow, which is the method used by the DFSC, the glider sits on a specially-designed launch cart or dolly and is then towed into the air by an ultra light airplane. The hang glider pilot then releases himself from the tow line at the signal from the tow pilot. This generally occurs at 2,000 to 2,500 feet. At this point, the glider will be in free flight. This exciting and innovative method of launching has opened up the sport to people who live in regions which do not provide adequate terrain to foot launch!
DOES IT HELP TO BIKE, SKI, SKATEBOARD, SURF, ROCK CLIMB, ETC.?
Yes, it can help. Any sport which teaches you gravitational awareness and balance makes it easier to learn hang glider control skills. The more awareness of have of your own body and subtle movements, the better you will be. Like any of these sports, you will find yourself moving from "thinking about every move" to "running on instinct" in a matter of months. Just as a surfer or mountain biker or snow boarder had to concentrate every second and then one day found that their body just corrected their balance by second-nature, the same happens as a glider pilot.
WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION ON HANG GLIDING?
Check out our Links page for other sites that have information on hang gliding. The best resource is The United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) and they have a website you can go to. You can also contact them by mail or phone and they can provide you with a listing of every school, club, and instructor in the country. In addition, they have plenty of books, magazines and other resources to help you find your way around in the sport of gliding.