Home Page URL--- "http://www.tekflight.com"
This is sort of a standard (forever evolving) letter for those
getting into or wanting to get into hang gliding. It answers questions that
we get fairly often, so if it seems a bit disjointed, it's because we are
always tacking in little pieces. If it goes into things that you don't care
about, I apologize OR maybe you should care about them.
You have probably already read
"http://www.tekflight.com/allabout.html". It has a brief description of what
is involved in learning to become a hang glider pilot -- a summary of what is
in the following. You can get some good data from the pages of a couple of our
pilots by going to:
"http://www.geocities.com/Pipeline/Ramp/3328/" Bruce Stobbe's Hang gliding page
"http://members.tripod.com/~FalconFlyr/index.html" Peter Perrone's Hang
Those pages can MAYBE give you a glimpse of where you will be
headed if you decide to put in the time and effort to become a good pilot.
Words and pictures can never really give a picture of it all. Just a couple of quick
comments to start things off ----- safety in hang gliding is strictly in the hands
of the pilot. Fear of hights (normally fear of falling) such as not liking to be
on a ladder, high in a tree, on the edge of a cliff is quite reasonable. It
does not need to transfer to flying. Once you learn/discover that a hang glider
is totally in your control by virtue of the skills that you have learned and the
designed stability of the glider, you will look at altitude as a friend. Someone
could be deathly afraid of hights but would have no fear of taking a step up
onto a broad stone step up to a door. As your learning is step by step, reasonable
fears should disappear.
Within fairly broad constraints, anybody who is willing to work and
who has maturity and ability to think ahead can fly. I know pilots who are on
crutches and have virtually no use of their legs. For those who were born
to fly, all was summed up most beautifully by a girl/lady/woman (to hell
with politically correct) who could not say that she regretted the accident
(on horse?) that had lost her the use of her legs but which had put her in
the right place at the right time such that she learned to fly hang
gliders. She said that she would not trade the joy of flying for anything.
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. I have flown, much
to my sorrow with jets above and below me. That is a situation that I now
avoid. Hang gliders are not toys. They are really neat, sophisticated
aircraft. Weights from about 70 to over 400 lbs can be accommodated by
today's gliders. All the glider needs is a pilot that wants to fly and is
willing to take the time to gain the skills to work with nature safely.
First, about lessons.
Do you really need them? Well, to put it bluntly, ignorance can kill
you. You might or might not survive teaching yourself. We see pilots of
other aircraft including military and commercial, make really basic mistakes
flying hang gliders. It's a different world. A second factor is that most
hang gliding sites require that the pilot is member or United States Hang
Gliding Association (USHGA) or some foreign version and that they have
some minimum pilot rating. Liability is a primary concern. Most important
from my personal perspective is that I would not casually give a rating to
a pilot who I did not know had various skills and the ability to handle a
broad variety of conditions and situations. If we hadn't taught them, it
would take a bunch of witnessed flying to see that the skills were there.
You might as well take lessons.
The cost of instruction varies greatly from school to school.
Our prices are in fact, too low. We are somewhat saved by the fact that we
get nothing but great students. I would love to have somebody tell us how
we could prepare a pilot for the (essentially) infinite variety of things that
nature can toss at them in 5 or 10 lessons. Think about that before you
take a quickie mountain course.
An absolutely critical aspect of hang gliding lessons is that you are
allowed a progression rate that keeps you always within your competence
level. At each step of the learning process, you must be able to know, if
you go through a mental check list of what will be required of you in the
upcoming flight, that you have the competence to do it. You must have
confidence in your competence. Determine, before you sign up for lessons
with any school that this will be allowed. In our "Spectrum" course, where
there is no finite number of lessons before a student's first mountain
flight, we will see mechanical competence in roughly half of the number of
lessons that the pilot will ultimately take before they go for their first
mountain flight. WE think that they are ready but THEY don't feel totally
competent. If they were to get the "go-for-its" and take that flight
sooner, they could (either) always have a residual fear / lack of
confidence that would cost them enjoyment in the long run (and probably
slow their growth as a pilot) or they would be flying with blissful
ignorance of things they might encounter. It might cost them
injury. The great majority of new pilots have a more conservative view of
their competence than their instructor does. Before they fly a
mountain----- and then--- it can often switch to over confidence, where
an ignorance of possible hazards coupled with the rapture of high
altitude flight can cause the new pilot to pull things that turn the
instructor's hair gray.
Another thing that I would insist on, is learning launches on a shallow
slope that trains you to have an invariably fast launch; a launch that
demands perfect behavior or you don't get in the air. Good landings are
easily taught if the glider is trimmed properly. Next is learning to feel
the glider and to build into yourself a sense of air speed using sound or
feel or both so that you could know when you have proper air speed with
eyes closed and hands off the control bar. The list goes on but those
things are critical.
(Our "TCL") After basic skills are imbedded in you, whenever you
stand at launch you will want to know absolutely that:
1) You will have a good, safe launch,
2) Your control of the glider will be perfect,
3) The conditions are within your capability
4) That your landing will be good.
It is all about building good habits and judgment.
You don't want any qualifications on those things. If you have any fear/anxiety
about flying, it will be a sign that there is something wrong and that it is best
not to fly. Yes, you can have feelings of anticipation as you take your small
steps upward in acquiring new skills and flying new places but never fly with
fear or anxiety. Those things are tools that are used to tell you that something
is wrong and must be corrected or to have changed before you fly. Use that
tool. As you gain experience, your confidence and comfort increase but you
always pay heed to the butterflies.
As we taught ourselves 25+ years ago and since no one knew
what they were doing anyway, none of those things were built into us
and many of us developed bad habits. I hate hearing one of our former
students tell me that "you have a fast launch when you have to". What
that means is that I get lazy if conditions allow it. No good!!!! I would
not tolerate that behavior in one of our pilots. Not safe. You see, I built
a bad habit into myself and I only change my behavior with conscious
thought. Almost anyone can learn to become a good, safe pilot. It just
takes work to condition yourself to behave invariably correctly.
When talking to people interested in getting into hang gliding,
I often forget how, 25 years ago, my wife Alegra showed me someone hang
gliding on TV and said "Wouldn't that be great?". I said "Eenh, sure dear".
I wasn't interested. Then we saw someone actually fly and we thought we
saw them go up. !*$~! Wow!! We couldn't eat or sleep until we had obtained
two gliders and proceeded to start flying. For the vast majority of people, this
desire is never triggered. Don't expect friends to join you in your enthusiasm.
The desire to fly is "abnormal". Most don't have it and that's ok and maybe
As for our school, our lessons are by appointment. You sign up
for a lesson on a particular day and then, YOU CALL THE NIGHT BEFORE
(at ~8:30 PM ) to confirm it. We'll discuss what is expected for conditions.
If the weather is questionable and you want to chance it, we try to get out
on the hill but the emphasis is ground school and simulator work. If you
don't fly, you are owed the flying which will get scheduled for a future date.
All lessons after the first are still scheduled by appointment and are still
subject to the weather so as all lessons, they MUST BE confirmed by phone
the night before. We do prefer to have the flying done on that first day.
The day is: Ground school, simulator work, ground handling/practicing
on flat ground and then to the hill. At the end of the lesson, once you have
flown, you decide what course you wish to take and the course fee is due
at that time. See "http://members.tripod.com/~tekflight/index.html" which
will lead you to our lesson options. We supply all necessary equipment
but if you have a good helmet that you like, bring it. Also if you normally eat
lunch, bring it with you. Do not wear shorts unless you have knee protectors.
Plan on spending the whole day here -- from 9:00 AM until dark.
We have 2 different simulators that we use. One is static
and is used initially to teach the new pilot how to use their body to control the
glider. The second is a "V.R"/Video simulator that was not previously used
until the pilot was ready for the "B" hill but which we have found can help
on first lessons. The simulator will be a situation much like a tandem
flight but without the extra mass, where the pilot can see what effect their
inputs have on the glider. They can play in the air, practice approaches and
get comfortable flying the glider. It is a neat tool where we can see how a pilot
will behave in situations where they get surprised and it can help build in
responses before the pilot actually gets into a glider.
Again, If, at the end of the first day there has been no flying and the
student/pilot still doesn't know if they really are up to it, they can come
back some other day when we are teaching and get off some flights. The
total cost to that point would be for a single lesson. Your first few times
out on the hill, you will develop aching muscles where you didn't know
you had muscles. People normally don't run down hill with a glider and
we are working at building an impeccable, fast launch into you----an
unbreakable habit.. As soon as those muscle groups are developed, you
could fly every day if the weather gods permitted it but generally allow a
week between your first two lessons.
There may be as few as one student or as many as 6 working
a hill. We have 3 launches/hills here that we use. We teach 7 days a week
but our scheduling works around the first person to sign up for a day i.e.
if we have too many pilots here, we won't be getting someone off a
mountain or if we are scheduled to get someone off a mountain, we may
not be teaching here. Alegra and I are the primary instructors here but we
have 3 others that we can call on as needed and as available.
A normal/reasonable question is "How many lessons will I need?" I can
only say, "As many as it takes". Everybody is different and progression rates
differ. We have started a "new" variation of our Spectrum course such that we
now get someone off a mountain quite a bit earlier than we would have in the
past but bring them back here for more/continuing controlled work (still the
same course). We would be even more picky about conditions for that first
mt. flight than normal as, from our point of view, the student is not ready
to "graduate". The pilot feels alright about the whole thing as they know
that they can handle the abnormally good conditions that we are letting
them experience and they know that they will be going back to work on the
learning business here the next time out. The cycling between here and the
mountain seems to promote an accelerated learning curve.
I mentioned ratings a bit back. The USHGA has established a rating
System whereby pilots are given ratings that should relate to the skill that they
have demonstrated as in integral part of their being. The rating all by itself
means little. You could launch in a smooth 10 mph wind, let the glider fly
and land it in these conditions, really would not mean that you could launch
in calm or variable conditions, control the glider in active conditions and land
it in a no wind or cross wind situation. Solid skills take time and repetition to
develop and you would not be done a favor to be given a "by the book" rating
for minimal skills .
Lesson progression here starting at Day 1 goes as follows: After ground
school and work on the static and "v.r." simulator learning how to
control the glider, you are out to our "A" hill where you learn impeccable
launches, control for acceptable air speed and good landings. You won't get
much altitude--a few feet probably--if you get higher, you are probably
flying too slowly. The primary purpose is to teach perfect behavior in
proximity to solids. Once launches, good air speed control and good
landings are perfected we move to our "B" hill (where you get as much as 60
feet in the air and flights of about 1/10 mile) and progress from simply
maintaining a relatively straight flight path, correcting for nature, to
following pre-planned flight paths of increasing difficulty and varying the
plan as nature throws curves at you. From the "B" hill we move to the "C"
hill (about 200" vert.) for a bit of altitude and perhaps stall recovery
experience but mostly just to learn that altitude is a friend. Most of a
pilot's work is done on the "B" hill. The "C" is mostly just for fun. How
fast from "A" to "B" to "C"? I would hope that by the end of a four day
course a pilot was on the "B" hill and a "Hang 1" (beginner rated) pilot
BUT everyone learns at different rates so, where we once said "You'll be on
the "B" hill on your second day", now we say that you will get there when
you are ready. You will know when you are ready and so will we. Some of our
best pilots have spent a lot of time on the "A" hill.
Part of the message of this discussion of lesson progression is intended
to say, and it doesn't matter whether you take lessons from us or someone
else: if you are using senses for instrumentation and are working in a
dynamic environment, lessons/training must prepare you in a controlled
environment for what you will encounter. The learning process is a bunch of
steps and YOU must insure that you master each one. You may look good but
you have be good and know you are good. Your entire flying career (and ours
too) is comprised of steps. We just keep on climbing higher and getting
Ok, you made it over to the B hill and may even take a flight off
The C hill shortly thereafter. You work, flying on the B hill until you are
comfortable flying, your airspeed sense is impeccable, you practice doing
different approaches, spot landings and getting kicked around with a bit of
thermal activity and handling it without feeling that you were just lucky that
you survived -----knowing that you are truly in control. Now you are ready
for your first mountain flight.
Your first mountain flight is almost anticlimactic. You will fly
In very mellow conditions. It is easy. You have 5-10 minutes with almost
nothing to do except enjoy. We are in radio contact so that we can tell
you how well you are doing, to coach and to help you set up your approach
and have a flawless landing in a monstrously large landing area. Are you
through with us? NO!!! You have a whole lot more to learn. We have
fulfilled our basic obligation but WE need to work together a whole lot
more before you have enough experience to be safely on your own. Our
help is always available but it is on an informal basis. You are at our mercy.
For those who want a more dedicated instruction, we offer the "Spectrum
Plus" course (an additional $250.00) where one of our instructors will blow
a portion of their flying Day(s) with the specific purpose of getting you off
the mountain and working with you in the air for your first 10 mountain
flights and starting you on your way towards your H-3 rating. The same
help is available free (you get it whether you want it or not) but again, it
is at our mercy/whim/convenience.
Lessons start as soon as the weather warms up and the ground thaws
and dries up---generally in April and they stop when weather turns too cold
or snowy. That can be anywhere between Nov. and Jan. When you come for your
first lesson, you don't have to decide what lesson package you are taking until
the end of the day BUT you have to be prepared to pay for the course at that
time. We don't allow everybody to take the "Spectrum" course as some people
are just too hard to teach. That doesn't mean that they cannot learn to fly,
it simply means that, for us, they would be an economic disaster. You are
welcome to come here to "check things out" but again--by appointment.
One question that very, very occasionally gets asked is "What liability
do you have?". My first answer is "None" and my second answer is that "We will
do our best to teach you to behave properly but comes the moment of truth, it
is up to you to behave correctly. This is a truly beautiful world where we
(the pilot) control our own fate". My final comment to those who are fixated
about "liability" is, "Go somewhere else and do something else where you can
blame someone else for your mistakes".
Ah yes, why not get a cheap old glider, teach yourself and be off and up
to the clouds? We have discussed the instruction a bit. Just what is so bad about
getting that 15 or 20 year old design that was a certified glider and flying it?
Ok, the thing will fly if it is in good condition which is something that
you would of course check well --- if you know what to check for. The major
reason to consider getting a fairly current design is that you will learn
faster and more safely. Why struggle and go down when you could go up with
relative ease? Believe it, you will get more than 20 times the return in
performance and ease of learning in a current $3000.00 glider as opposed to
a 15-20 year old $150.00 glider. And then there is the safety aspect as a
bonus. We are currently seeing our new pilots get flights on their third or
fourth mountain flight, get flights and airtime that it took us years to
get when we started flying. And so --------
My attitude towards the best glider to sell to a new pilot has
changed a lot in the last two years. You can get safe, used gliders from
about $500.00 on up. The major issue is just how much fun you will have
flying them and how fast you will "grow" flying something that you have to
adapt to in order to fly and land it. Many pilots have quit flying hang
gliders over the last 10-15 years because they ceased having fun or got
scared and a primary reason for this is that they got into a glider that
didn't suit them--the performance was great but the handling sucked etc.
(The other main reason is that somewhere, they skipped something in the
learning process so they were never comfortable in the air and were
unwilling to "go back" and cure the problem.)
Up until two years ago, I used to try to sell new pilots gliders
that "you can grow into". With the advent of the Wills "Falcon", after
seeing the growth of new pilots that got them, after discovering that I
have a lot of fun flying all sizes of them and tend to stay up longer in the
winter before the cold registers if I'm flying one, it's my number one
choice for a new pilot. It is also my first choice for myself if I just
want to go out and play in the air particularly if its rowdy. They are fun,
they handle sweetly and I can put them in a landing area that I wouldn't
dare try and land many other gliders in. It is a glider that will NOT scare
someone out of flying and would get a lot of "retired" pilots back into
flying if they flew one.
One nice thing about hang gliders is that maintenance is virtually
nothing. IF the glider is cared for and suffers no transportation abuse,
the only enemy other than "Man" is ultra violet light which degrades dacron
and most synthetic fabrics and polymers. This isn't a severe problem in the
East and gliders can still be good and safe after 15 years and hundreds of
hours of air time. It all depends on the care taken to insure no damage
In order of my preference--gliders to buy (used gliders for light
or very heavy pilots are scarce):
1) Wills Falcon---cost -- new-- list $3075.00 + ship and tax---
used --very few and most have suffered school abuse. Price and condition
2, 3, & 4) Wills Eagle (new 5/2000), --cost new--list $3475(base) + ship
and tax. It boasts a higher speed than a Falcon and a super sink
rate. Just not quite as easy to "get into". They are a great glider that
has not gotten the hype they deserve.
Light Dream--- no longer made and there are some around used for
$800-1500 depending on condition. Not made w/ 7075 tubing so relatively heavy.
Wills Skyhawk-- not current. Somewhat comparable to "Dream". About
the same price range.
5) Gemeni, Pulse
6) Vision. There are some used ones around for prices that range
$300 and up depending on condition. I am not in love with the way
that they are designed and built but many pilots love them.
7) A bunch of stuff from $500 on up. Some ok, some terrible that
would scare you out of flying.
High Energy Tracer $610 made to your measurements. (That is our
Knee hanger and stirrup harnesses about $200.00
Many used cheap ( maybe not the most comfortable but still safe)
harnesses should be "around" for about $25.00 on up.
Chutes: New--$500+ depending on size and features: used--about
$300.00 when you can find them.
My advice is get at least the glider from an active dealer who
knows the glider and how to work with you to get you flying it well. We
have seen many pilots quit flying because they got a glider that their
buddy, who was a great pilot, said they should get it and when the new
pilot had trouble "getting into it", they couldn't or wouldn't help them.
They slowly decide that flying isn't much fun.
` If you can't find a dealer, instructor or school near you, let us know
and we'll find some in your general area or at least your state or for a
list of schools and instructors you can go to the USHGA site at
http://www.ushga.org and I apologize in advance for the scarcity of
Blue skies, Ben & Alegra Davidson,
A post script: For one, it is a waste of time and possibly
dangerous to try to talk anyone into flying. People either want to fly,
are willing to take the time to learn well or they don't. Many of the
accidents in hang gliding have come from people who thought that
it was "cool" to fly but weren't motivated enough to learn well.
As for accidents. We have had 7 in the last 15 years. The cause in
three of them was the pilot got surprised and ceased paying attention to
the flying they were supposed to do. Results----cut jaw, broken heel,
broken arm. The fourth could only have been avoided if we had never
accepted the student as they were so mechanical that they could never apply
desired action from one situation to another. The fifth accident was
possibly a communication failure on our part. We had instructed a new
pilot to change their behavior on launch (to hold a lower angle of attack)
without anticipating that they would be carrying over some of their
previous behavior (they had been working hard to keep the angle low in
order to have an acceptable launch). (They had had quite a few good flights
previously). Result---they ran into the ground breaking an arm. The sixth
was due to the student having some entirely different plan for the flight
than what was discussed prior to launch, combined with unwillingness to
"just let the glider fly". Result---broken arm. The most recent one was with
a new pilot on their second or third flight where they had a great flight and
got so wrapped up in it that they forgot about that thing called "landing" and
when it came time to land, did nothing but put their feet out in front of them
which they had expressly been warned not to do after a previous flight
where they appeared to have that propensity.
Are accidents likely? No! Can they occur? Accidents can always
happen if you don't behave well and/or get optimistic. I have dislocated an
ankle jumping off a tractor. Three times. Blame it on the tractor? In
short, things happen. On a national level, virtually all accidents had odds
of occurring before launch i.e. flying in poor conditions, pilot doing
aerobatics, failure to do a "hang check" prior to launch, or simply pilot
personality by which I mean---- the pilot feeling they would always "get
away with" something which could range from some poor habit which they knew
they had but were unwilling to take the time to break, to feeling that
nature would not beat them.
Yes, you can kill yourself BUT you have to do it. The gliders
manufactured today are great. They fly most wonderfully. The gliders won't
hurt you. All you have to do is take the time to learn to use them well,
anticipating nature and being comfortable and knowledgeable in a dynamic
environment. The first is quicker to learn than the rest--or you are an
optimist who will (probably) not have a long flying career.
A fair number of recent accidents have been while towing. There you
have an additional factor. Mechanical force on you while in proximity to
solids. It can be done with fair safety BUT you will always have that one
factor ready to bite you.
We just got a letter from someone who wanted to design and
build their own glider and also teach themselves. Although it becomes a
bit redundant to add it on, the message is important so here is our answer---
Good letters deserve an answer ---
I hate to stomp on creativity. The problem with teaching
yourself and designing your own glider is that there are too many
tiny little things that can really hurt you if you screw up just a little.
A hang glider is a weight shift controlled aircraft which means that
your control comes from controllable instability. If it is totally "stable",
it just can fly straight. The evolution of gliders has been truly
amazing --- that we can have the performance that we have and have
it safely is the result of much work and a certain amount of art..
Way back before glider certification I had a glider that would
spin irrecoverably and I managed to live through it. I've had other gliders
that had some really interesting handling characteristics that if you tried
to teach yourself with one, you would almost guaranteed hurt yourself.
Most of us that taught ourselves had experiences where it was only luck
that kept us in one piece if in fact, we didn't get hurt.
No matter how much you read, you will still be learning by trial
and error and the errors can hurt/kill you. We have a bunch of gliders that
we would love to get rid of that would be great for somebody working on a
training hill. If we sold one of these $100.00 gliders to somebody who was
teaching themselves we would in effect, be selling a loaded gun with a
hair trigger that would always be pointed at that person. There would be
real odds that the person buying it would hurt themselves.
Yes, you can maybe design and get in the air with something
that you built but you would be gambling every time that you flew and life
with flying is too sweet to play with odds.
We have taught many pilots that had a really great aviation
background -- who have built and flown their own stunt planes, flew
fighters, flew airliners, taught military pilots. All will tell you that
teaching yourself is equivalent to betting your body on coin tosses.
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