Hang gliding is an air sport in which a pilot flies an unpowered and light foot-launchable glider aircraft known as a hang glider. Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminum- or composite-framed fabric wing which lacks moving control surfaces. The pilot is mounted on a harness hanging from the airframe and exercises control by shifting body weight.

Although it started out as simply gliding down small hills on low performance manned kites, hang glider technology has evolved the ability to soar for hours, gain thousands of feet of altitude in thermal updrafts, perform aerobatics, and fly cross country over large distances.


For competitive purposes, there are three classes of hang glider:

In addition to typical launch configurations, a hang glider may be so constructed for alternative launching modes other than being foot launched; one practical avenue for this is for people who physically cannot foot-launch.


The first recorded controlled flights in a hang glider were by German engineer Otto Lilienthal, who published all of his research in 1889, influencing later designers. The hang glider lost in importance through the introduction of wing warping by the Wright brothers in 1902 and subsequently of aileron control by the French.

In 1948 aeronautical engineer Francis Rogallo invented a self-inflating wing, which he patented in 1951 as the flexible wing, also known as the Rogallo wing. The flexible airfoil was tested by NASA as a steerable parachute for space capsules returning to Earth. Some images of these tests were published in the early 1960s by NASA and by some aviation magazines. Rogallo's wing simplicity, ease of construction, capability of slow flight and its gentle landing characteristics did not go unnoticed by hang glider and ultralight glider enthusiasts, like aeronautical engineer Barry Palmer, who in 1960-1962 pioneered foot-launched Rogallo hang gliders; he built several versions and up to four different control methods including swing seat and control bar among others, founding the Rogallo hang glider movement in the world. Later, in 1963, an Australian John Dickenson fashioned a water ski kite airframe on a Rogallo airfoil; the pilot sat on a swinging seat and made use of a well-known Spratt and flat-kite control frame to push/pull for enhanced weight-shift control. Dickenson's water ski kite eventually did some free-flight releases and thus became a hang glider. Further refined, and by the early 1970s, the shapes of the Palmer and Dickenson hang gliders were copied by homebuilders and manufacturers across the world via published plans and creative innovative advances. The extreme nature of foot-launched hang gliding appealed to the freewheeling culture of the late 1960s across America more as an expression of freedom and the sudden commercial availability of water ski hang gliders starting in 1969, revolutionized hang gliding into a popular airsport.


Training & Safety

Hang gliding has traditionally been considered an unsafe sport, ever since its inception. Otto Lilienthal died of a fractured spine from a glider crash after a gliding career lasting only five years. Modern hang gliders are very sturdy when constructed by HGMA, BHPA or DHV certified manufacturers using modern materials, though they remain lightweight craft that can be easily damaged, either through misuse or by continued operation in unsafe wind/weather conditions. All modern gliders have built-in stall recovery mechanisms (such as luff lines in kingposted gliders). Nevertheless, the inherent danger of gliding at the mercy of unpredictable thermal and wind currents, has resulted in numerous fatal accidents and many serious injuries over the years, even to experienced pilots, and the resultant adverse publicity has affected the popularity of hang gliding.

As a backup, pilots carry a parachute in the harness. In case of serious problems the parachute is deployed and carries both pilot and glider down to earth. Pilots also wear helmets and generally carry other safety items such as hook knives (for cutting their parachute bridle after impact or cutting their harness lines and straps in case of a tree or water landing), light ropes (for lowering from trees to haul up tools or climbing ropes), radios (for calling for help) and first-aid equipment.

An aspect that has dramatically improved the safety of the modern hang glider is pilot training. Early hang glider pilots learned their sport through trial and error. Many of those errors have led to effective training techniques and programs developed for today's pilot, with emphasis on flight well within safe limits, as well as the discipline to cease flying when weather conditions are unfavorable.


"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."    — Robert A. Heinlein

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