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Hang Gliding

Hang gliding, since its inception in the 1970s, has developed into a practical and relatively safe sport, using simple yet sophisticated machine built of aluminium, carbon-fibre and high-tech sail fabrics. Manufacturers, both in the UK and overseas, build examples that are respected the world over.

What exactly do you do?

Hang glider pilots, suspended from their gliders by a special harness, launch from hills facing into wind, from winches on flat ground or by being towed aloft from an airfield behind a microlight aircraft. The objective is always to stay airborne in lifting currents of air and - for many - to undertake long cross country flights. The UK record for distance currently stands at over 250km and for altitude at an astonishing 16,000ft.

Do they cost a lot?

A top-of-the range competition hang glider can cost over £4,500 new, although sports machines with only slightly less performance cost £2 - 3,500 and second hand ones much less. A full training course will cost around £900, much less for a shorter introductory course. Pilots also need a harness, helmet, flying suit, boots, etc; additional bits of equipment such as instruments may be required as you progress.

How do you make it go where you want?

The pilot launches his or her machine by running to accelerate it to flying speed, then relaxes into the comfortable prone harness while controlling the glider by moving their weight in relation to the control bar. Flying a hang glider is a little more demanding than flying a paraglider and not quite as easy to learn, but the machine is capable of much higher speeds and better gliding performance and can be flown in stronger winds.

Where do you fly them from?

Pilots fly from hill and tow sites controlled by one of the numerous BHPA clubs dotted around the country. The accent is on hill flying but tow operations and aerotow facilities are normally in lowland locations. Competitions are held at club, national and international level and the 'Brits' have often led the way in competition at World level.

And where to?

Circling up to cloudbase on a summer's day and setting course on a long cross-country flight over patchwork fields is one of the wonders of the modern world. Landing out after a long flight using only the natural power of the atmosphere and your accumulated knowledge of the sky gives a hang glider pilot an unsurpassed feeling of accomplishment.

Hang gliding has joys in store outside of the challenge of cross-country flying. In the long summer evenings pilots often congregate after work to soar a nearby hill, united in the pursuit of an hour or two's soaring in the face life's pressures - and the setting sun. To be aloft on the breeze seems to them a rare privilege made more precious by the fact that so few of the teeming millions seem to know about it. It's not really a secret; come along and share it with us!

Learning to hang glide

It normally takes around ten days of flyable weather to train a would-be pilot to Club Pilot level, although two-day 'taster' courses are offered and a limited Elementary Pilot certificate is also available.

Your instructor will show you how to rig and inspect the glider before you have your first short flight down a gentle slope. First flights in tow training are conducted using a very gentle winch pull, keeping you close to the ground. For the first day or two the glider will be restrained by tether ropes until you become adept at steering and controlling airspeed by moving your weight. You'll then graduate to higher and longer flights, and when the weather's not so good retire to the classroom to learn basic flight theory, meteorology and air law. Towards the end of the course you'll progress on to a more sophisticated glider than the first one you first flew, and subject to a good assessment from your instructor and a pass in the simple exam you'll receive your Club Pilot rating, allowing you to fly on club sites and begin your progress to more and more rewarding flying.

For more information on learning to fly, finding a training school, BHPA membership & insurance etc. see the Learn to Fly section.


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