The desire to fly is not natural. Nearly all people
are fascinated with
flight but they really don't want to fly anything and if offered the
chance, scramble around finding a bunch of reasons (or excuses) for
staying earthbound but it all comes down to most people don't want
to fly. If you are among the very small percentage of those that
want to join us in one of life's greatest adventures, read
Reasons not to fly: You want instant gratification. You don't want to have to think. You don't want to work to learn new skills perfectly so that you can comfortably react in a dynamic environment. You don't want to be the only one responsible for your actions. You don't want to fly. Most people can. Few want to. That's about it.
"It looks so neat but it has to be dangerous".   -- WRONG!!
Do I have to take lessons? What is the quickest way to learn?
Is there some weight restriction?
How old do you have to be to fly?
Am I too old to fly?
How much does a glider cost?
How many lessons will it take?
How hard is it to learn?
Do I need some kind of license?
What is the cheapest glider that I can get?
How dangerous is it?
Do you need a mountain to fly from?
How do hang gliders go up?
The infamous, "What happens if the wind stops?"
How can I avoid all the lessons?
Let's talk about some of those standard questions.
Hang Gliding and hang gliders have been portrayed by the uninformed and sensation loving "media" as a dangerous sport/occupation whose practicioners have
a death wish. Nothing is further from the truth (yes, in the '70s, pilot and designer enthusiasm and ignorance did take its toll but that was about 30 years ago).
What should be true is that you are taking far greater risks driving
to a flying site than in flying. Whether that is true or not is up to
When flying a hang glider, I am more in control of my fate than at any other
time that I am in motion. I can state that "I will not have an accident flying a hang glider" with the same certainty that I can say "I will not
break my neck walking down the stairs". I am in a fantastic environment where my behavior is the only thing that counts. How can I make such rash statements?
There are only 4 criteria - what we call a TCL- that have to be met
for safe flight (good equipment is a "given"):
You can launch perfectly (a learned skill).
You can make the glider go where you want it to (a learned skill).
The conditions are well within your envelope of safety (learned
with guidance and caution).
You can land well, safely, consistently (a learned skill).
That's it. No mysticism, no magic just learned, solid skills and the wisdom to fly in predictably safe conditions and yes, you can really,
actually pick them. There are almost no hang gliding accidents that are caused
by the hang glider.
Virtually all "accidents" (bad events) are due to pilot error and the common errors are rooted in the pilot feeling that the rules don't apply to them. Very often a new pilot feels that they don't need to "waste time" developing impeccable launches and landings, good approaches, comfortable control of the glider. They think that they can learn basics after they are flying instead of building on good basics. A sinister enemy is competition. Competition can make an
otherwise good pilot, become "optimistic" about what they can do safely. That optimism can often take a pilot outside the safety envelope and it becomes a matter of odds as to whether there is an "accident" or a survived flight. The quality of the pilot's decisions will determine the safety and the nature of that quality is chosen by the pilot.
Bear in mind that today's hang glider has fantastic potential. There
is one 400 ft. site near here that regularly lets us get to cloudbase. We have had some great cross country flights from there. Alegra
(my wife) got to over 12,000 ft. in New York a year or two ago,
(which is probably a record for the East
coast). Out West in many places, pilots fly with oxygen as altitude
gains regularly put them higher.
Hang gliders are not toys. They are really neat sophisticated aircraft.
If you weigh anywhere between 75 and 400 lbs. there is a glider manufactured
that can take you up to the clouds -- a glider that is easy to launch,
to fly and to land. That package that you can carry on your shoulder
can take you up there. Almost a miracle.
If someone truely wants to fly and is willing to go to the effort
of learning the necessary skills to fly a hang glider with confidence and competence,
they too, can join us in the sky, looking down at the earth-bound who,
not understanding the joy of flight, call us "crazy".
What is involved in learning to fly a hang glider?
Good instruction, a lot of flying and work are the key ingredients to learning to fly a hang glider.
Good hang gliding instruction: Sure, we taught ourselves over 20 years ago and a lot of us paid a high price. Man, were we lucky. Things like proper "hang checks" were developed after watching someone launch while not properly hooked in. The need for building various physical responses as conditioned reflexes was learned as we cleaned the dirt off our harnesses and faces.
The need for understanding micrometereology was discovered after watching someone get pounded into the ground by an unanticipated rotor. The list goes on. A little knowledge would have been great and if it had been available and used, there would probably be three or four times as many pilots enjoying hang gliding today.
A good instructor is an active hang glider pilot. Their rating is not as important as their ability to "get into your head" and find the best words to generate the most complete understanding of what you are supposed to do and why you are supposed to
do it. A good hang gliding instructor is a cost effective investment.
"But I want to get in the air fast and don't want to be bothered with a bunch of things that the lessons will waste time with".
Gravity has a way of dealing with mediocre pilot skills.
and so -------------
Work: The only way to become a good hang glider pilot is to fly and
fly and fly in controlled/supervised conditions so that you generate the proper habits that make it virtually impossible for you to behave incorrectly. These
"habits" are both mental and physical. Every one of us is unique and learns
in somewhat different manners. Hang glider pilots fly using senses not
instruments and each of us take different amounts of time to develop the
use of and coordination of those senses to become a safe/good pilot. Nature
does not care about us at all, so we have to take the time to learn how
to deal with what she (p.c.?) may throw at us and learn how to make sure that
we are always in a manageable environment. It doesn't take magic. It just
takes work. The rewards fulfill the soul of that unique breed--the "Hang
The neat thing is that this work involves flying. The down side is
that the work may not seem proportionate to the immediate reward if you
are seeking instant gratification---like being at cloudbase on day 1, day2, day 3.
The ultimate reward however, is beyone description.
What about the cost of gliders? Here we get into a very sticky
area. We have older gliders that are very inexpensive that we would love to
get rid of. Would we be doing you a favor selling one of them to you?
What is the better investment, a glider that you can fly easily and that
will safely take you up to the clouds or one that is stiff handling,
hard to land and that leaves you white knuckled every time you get
hit by some little thermal? Sure, you are smart and good and can overcome
all the little problems that will arise. Sure you are. My bet is that
if you were to get one of these treasures, you would quit wanting to
fly and so--------
The proper hang glider for you is one that
you can have fun flying. Many pilots have stopped flying hang gliders
because they were hyped into buying a glider that did not fulfill
their dream of flight (or because "It was cheap and all I could
afford" while they went out and blew their money on video games or 5
days of vacation or beer).
Just because someone's article or some dealer felt that a particular
hang glider was the ultimate flying machine, does not mean that it is fun to
fly-- for you. I have found that I tend to stay up twice as long in the
winter, when I am test flying a glider that we are selling to one of our
new pilots as opposed to flying some "hot damn" super ship. For some reason
I don't seem to get cold as fast. So which is more fun?
And now, the $$$$ -- You can get a brand new glider that is the same as I fly 90% of the time (with over 25 years of experience and a bunch of gliders to chose from) for $3075.00 plus shipping and tax. Sound like a lot? Well, think about it. The glider will take you up to the clouds, last for years with virtually no maintenance, requires no fuel to operate and is undiluted fun to fly. You can spend more to get more speed, you can spend less to get ----- well, there will be a bunch of trade-offs. Glider condition may be one of them. Handling and landing characteristics will be critical factors and one of them may be why the glider is being sold. Look well and think before going cheap. Something that is not fun for you to fly is worse than worthless as it will nudge you out of hang gliding simply because the flying although managable, is not fun.
People invariably ask "How long does it take to become a hang glider
That is about the same as asking "How long will it take me to learn to play a guitar?".
You will probably be flying and be a pilot the first day on the hill. How
soon you will be able to be on your own, properly evaluating conditions,
responding properly to the varying conditions that you encounter in flight
varies with each individual. It helps to fly as often as possible. The more
you fly, the better you get and the closer you get to that first mountain
flight. Just remember that if you jump ahead of your competence/confidence
level, you may either hurt yourself or, (possibly worse), start to fear that
fantastic world we live for---flight with nothing getting us high but our skills
Before you chose an instruction source, consider that the quick way may not be the best. I'd love to find out how to prepare a pilot well for all that can be tossed at them by an infinitely variable nature in 5 (or so) lessons. You will invariably see the better trained new pilot getting many times the hours of airtime of the "We'll get you off the mountain quickly" pilot. Often it takes the pilot that took the shortcuts years to catch up -- if they ever do.
Do you need some kind of license? Most hang gliding sites require that
the pilot is a member of the United States Hang Gliding Association
and that they have a certain minimum proficiency rating. Particularly
the first two ratings are task and skill oriented so having the ability
to demonstate the skills consistently is not a burden to the pilot. The
instructor/school that the new pilot goes to can issue the rating. The
only government requirements are that the hang glider pilot adhere to FAA "VFR"
restrictions/regulations which include behavior near controlled airspace and
Do you have to be a certain age to fly a hang glider? Well, on the "young"
end of the spectrum, the pilot has to have enough maturity and judgment
to think ahead and plan for what might happen if nature throws a curve at
them. At the upper end of the age spectrum, there is really no limit as long
as the pilot is in reasonable physical condition. Learning foot launched
flight will be work and it would not be wise to ----- well let's say the pilot
has a slow launch so that they can only launch safely if the wind is blowing
in at 10 mph or more. That would not be safe. Either the pilot works to develop
a fast launch or they should not foot launch. Yeah, maybe they could get away
with windy cliff launches but "get away with" is not an acceptable hang gliding
Towing (aerotowing in particular, has become quite popular) can be an option
for those not fleet of feet (or without hills)
as the pilot and glider can launch from a towed dolly on flat land but there
inherent dangers that are associated with mechanical force applied to
you when you are close to solids. The whole system becomes more complex.
For those on the flatlands, there is no option but to tow. There are
a host of advantages to have the facilities to do it BUT towing is more
complex than running and flying off a hill/mountain so learn the skill well with
qualified instructors and appreciate, respect and avoid the hazzards.
How do hang gliders go up? On any good active day, hang gliders can get up the the clouds (and sometimes above), subject to FAA restrictions which exist for good reason. So how do they go up? First, all gliders are constantly flying down through the "local" air at rates between ~100 and 200 feet per minute. If the air is going up faster than the glider is going down, you gain altitude. Ridge lift and thermals are the primary source of sustaining air and thermals are the number one source of the 10-15-20,000 ft altitudes that you hear of. The rate of ascent that you will achieve in a thermal ranges from anything that is better than the minimum sink rate of the glider to "drop your socks" thermals, well in excess of 1500 feet per minute. "Simply" core the thermal, sometimes standing the glider on a subjective wingtip to stay in it, go around and around and go up. That "simply" is a developed skill.
"Do you need wind to fly? What happens if the wind stops?" Actually for training we are hoping for the calmest days we can get. The air that the glider sees and the airspeed that gets it flying is created by the pilot's launch (run or tow). It can make things easier if you have a headwind but it is not necessary in order to simply launch or fly. Tailwind launches are a "NO!".
Once the pilot can handle relatively calm conditions then they can graduate to more active conditions. There are a multitude of learned "tools" that the pilot uses to judge the suitability of any day for safe flying. Once in the air you are in much the same situation as a boat in a stream. You are flying in an air mass and you control your airspeed the same way regardless of the wind velocity. The times the wind velocity becomes particularly important are when you are launching, landing, and as the air hits things that disrupt its flow. As the force of the wind/air is proportional to the square of its velocity, higher wind speeds need to be treated with a great deal of respect.
"What is the difference between an entry level glider and
an advanced glider?" Primarily the difference is in the performance of the gliders at higher speeds and the top speeds of the gliders. The "advanced"/faster gliders will go faster but will almost invariably be stiffer handling and harder to land. From my perspcecive, the primary purpose of having a faster glider is to enable you to go further on a cross country flight. Well, look at the results of The Falcon X-C contest where pilots are getting some quite respectable milage with the same glider that you could use to start your hang gliding career.
How can I avoid all that repetitious training that is wasting my time? Somebody just posted a letter on a news group after spending a half day on a training hill, wanting to speed up their training process. The following is an unedited quote of an answer that he received from an experienced pilot:
"Some day you'll be standing on the mountain with the wind in your face and your glider on your shoulders and you will realize that the mountain and the winds don't give a shit about what that USHGA card says in your pocket. What will matter is how good you are and how well you have developed your judgement and that will be a direct result of how seriously you approach your flying."
There are no shortcuts. You practice until you are consistently good. Gravity and solid objects have their way of dealing with those who are too lazy or in too much of a rush to take the time to learn how to do things right every time.
Now, here are some pages where you can find out about the experiences
of some pilots who may just possibly be able to get you to feel what you will experience as
you grow from whatever you are now, into a hang glider pilot. If
you really want
to, you too can do it and join them looking down on the poor
earthbound who will never have the slightest idea of what it is
like to actually fly using nothing but yourself -- the glider will
be a part of you. Peter Perrone's Hang gliding page Bruce Stobbe's Hang gliding page
Information and entry forms for the Falcon X-C Contest
Great prizes, no entry fee. (Apr.-Dec. for the entire world)
Put "hang gliding" as subject.
Note: If your email gets bounced due to spam problems, use   email@example.com   as alternative.
"What is the cheapest glider that you have (because I want to get one
and teach myself to fly)?" is a question that we are getting with increasing
frequency. I can sympathize with the "sticker shock" that people get
when they hear the cost of lessons that will get them off a mountain----
"What is all this cost for something that looks so simple"? So why not
get a cheap glider and carefully teach yourself? You will read all
about it and know the rules and what you have to do and will do it by
the book. Yes, you could teach yourself and you might succeed without
incident. Unfortunately, there are very significant odds that you
would get into an "OOPS?!*" situation from ignorance of one of the
myriad of little things that you were not aware of and which caught
you and planted you hard on the ground or in a tree. Give a single
lesson from a good instructor a chance then decide what you want to
do and how you want to do it.
For a list of the schools in your state, you can go to the USHGA (United
States Hang Gliding Association) page at "www.ushga.org" where I appologize
in advance for the scarcity of instruction.