Updated 02/25/05

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Hang Gliding and Hang Gliders

So You Want To Really Fly?

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 on.

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!!

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 the pilot.

      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"):

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.

  1. 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 -------------
  2. 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 Glider Pilot".

  3. 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.

  4. 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 pilot?" 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 and nature.
          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 altitued/oxygen requirements.
  •       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 term.
  •       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 are certain 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
  • Very short video clips of what to expect
    Any more questions?? Well, check out the sites below ----
  • Instruction, hang gliders and accessories Tek Flight Products Home Page
  • Hang gliders and accessories Wills Wing Hang Gliders
  • 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   tekflight@netzero.net   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.

    If you have more questions check out --Our "Form" letter in response to most inquiries.

    The Hang Gliding environment according to Oz.

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    Tek Flight Products home page Tek Flight Products Lesson options Hang Gliding basic information Hang gliding and hang glider information Hang gliding Cross Country Flying basics Tek Flight Products hang gliding Heavy duty hang gliding camera mount Hang gliding camera mount The Falcon X-C hang gliding cross country contest for single surface gliders Tek Flight Products home page Tek Flight Products Lesson options Hang gliding and hang glider information Tek Flight Products products and services Tek Flight Products Lesson information with links to videos. Tek Flight Products lessons Tek Flight Products Hang gliding Cross Country Flying basics Tek Flight Products hang gliding
    If you have more questions check out --Our "Form" letter in response to most inquiries.

    Or is it the beginning?