When enjoyed safely, hang gliding is a fun activity that’s just perfect for blowing away the mental cobwebs. As a result, we’ve put together the beginner’s guide to getting started in this high-flyer sport.
What is hang gliding?
Hang gliding is an active aerial pursuit that sees a pilot fly a motorless, lightweight glider through the open air. Hang gliders are generally launched when the pilot runs quickly with his or her craft, before taking off from a hilltop or peak.
Once elevated, the glider is reliant upon rising air masses to remain in the sky. The glider literally floats on pockets of air, called ‘thermals’, with the pilot steering the craft by shifting his or her weight appropriately. The pilot is harnessed to the glider’s flexible wing, hanging under it with the aid of straps (hence the name ‘hang gliding’).
Although often viewed as a complex hobby to get into, hang gliding only requires 10 days of airborne tuition before the pilot is truly capable of flying solo. With the aid of modern technology and lighter, more versatile materials, hang gliders are now able to rise high above sea level, with thermal updrafts giving them a huge lift. Pilots can also glide cross-country, covering long distances over many hours, or performing acrobatic maneuvers in the sky.
Health benefits of hang gliding
Although not demanding too much physical movement, hang gliding still boasts a number of key health and fitness benefits that include the following ...
- Strengthening arm muscles through hang gliding — Hang gliding clearly places a lot of stress on the arms, with the pilot holding onto the wing above him. Over time this builds up the strength of arm muscles as they adapt to the demands of gliding.
- Improving mental alertness through hang gliding — Although it’s easy to get carried away by the view offered by an afternoon flight, hang gliding does require immense concentration to keep you safe in the sky. So if you’re looking to boost your general mental alertness, hang gliding may well be the sport for you.
- Reducing stress through hang gliding — If you want to rid yourself of daily mental stress, hang gliding could really help you out, with blasts of fresh air blowing cobwebs away.
Basic hang gliding equipment
Hang gliding is certainly not a cheap sport to get into, with short-term costs and lesson fees potentially proving sky high. Nevertheless, its benefits will shine through over time, freeing your mind from the distractions of everyday life and offering truly breathtaking experiences:
- Hang glider — It’s vital that you don’t cut corners when buying a hang glider as it could literally be a case of life or death. Although gliders tend to be made from aluminum, carbon-fiber and flexible sail fabrics, the scope of quality can be great. Top-range models are very expensive when purchased new but the investment should pay for itself after a few unforgettable trips out in the open air.
- Boots — Hang gliding boots should be lightweight and flexible so they don’t load you down during a flight. However, boots also need to have a decent grip, ensuring you don’t slip and slide when launching or landing. Comfort is obviously important but make sure you don’t skimp on the safety aspect.
- Helmet and harness — Ensure you have a good quality safety helmet and a tough but flexible harness before setting off on any hang gliding adventure. You never know when they could come in handy.
- Flying suit — Flying suits cover the whole of the pilot’s body and are generally worn over normal clothing. They provide insulation and comfort, with baggy designs and easily accessible zips. Make sure you invest in one before taking to the skies.
Hang gliding tracking equipment
Once you’ve sorted out the basic hang gliding gear, it might be an idea to invest in some tracking equipment to measure your pace and distance ...
- Radio — Hang gliding pilots often use a radio to communicate their position with other fliers, or people guiding them from the ground. A microphone can be incorporated into the pilot’s helmet, allowing for quick and easy communication.
- Variometer — This device gauges vertical speed, charting the velocity of a glider’s climb or fall with a beeping sound that quickens — or slows down — depending on acceleration. They may appear a noisy way of measuring speed but variometers can prove invaluable to pilots, advising them on when to land.
- GPS — A GPS device enables the pilot to track an aerial route whilst monitoring their flight technique. A GPS can also be useful for people on the ground, allowing them to check on a pilot’s progress through the air.
Learning to hang glide
Before you can enjoy the many benefits of regular solo hang gliding, you’ll have to take some lessons and a fairly simple exam. The general rule is to take a 10 day training course which will grant you a pilot status, but this may vary from country to country due to the many variables at play such as location, weather, etc.
The first of these lessons will see you get to grips with your craft, as a qualified teacher guides you through some limited early flights. Then, once you’ve mastered steering and control, you’ll progress onto longer, higher flights using more dynamic gliders. After 10 lessons, you should be ready for the real thing.
Where to find more hang gliding information
Check if there are any hang gliding clubs in your area that offer more information on the sport, or Google for associations of the sport, as they’ll be the most resourceful.