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Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

I began my journey with hang gliding shortly after completing my military flight training. Slipping the surly bonds in a jet was a great adventure as I whisked through the cloud layer on a grey day, only to break through the clouds to bask in the sunshine. This in itself has always reminded me that when things seem grey or difficult, just a few thousand feet above through the clouds is a brilliant blue sky and abundant sunshine. This drove me to fulfill dreams that were continuous as a child, to fly like a bird.

Naturally, hang gliding was the next step as a young officer full of piss and vinegar. Not to have my ass strapped to two jet engines, but fly through the sky in silence.

I recommend that you begin your adventure into the world of hang gliding with a seasoned instructor as the consequences of failure can be severe, if not fatal. It is called tandem hang gliding. The question that I would have for your instructor or the place where you learn is how many accidents have you had (I would ask this same question if you want to learn to skydive as well). The best answer is zero, I might accept one if they have a long track record.

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A hang glider is made of an aluminium alloy or composite frame covered with synthetic sailcloth that are woven polyester fabrics, and composite laminated fabrics. There are generally two types of gliders, topless gliders (no kingpost) and Rigid wing gliders that have a king post that supports the wires that are supporting the wing. Speeds in a glider are generally between 20 – 80 MPH (miles per hour) with a good glide speed at about 35 MPH.

One of the measures of performance of the glider that the pilot should be aware is known as the glide ratio, for every X feet (meters) of vertical height the glider will fly Y feet (meters) lateral; 1:15 means for every foot of altitude, the vehicle (glider) will glide 12 feet laterally. Today 1:15 and 1:20 are more common and rigid gliders have a better glide ratio.

When you hang glide, you fly in a harnesses that supports your body. There are a few different types of harnesses from the pod harness (like a jacket with the leg part behind the pilot). There is a cocoon harness is slipped over the head and lies in front of the legs during launch; a knee hanger harness, and a seated (supine) harness.

The A frame of the glider is called the triangle control frame (TCF) and consists of the down-tubes (left and right bars extending from the point above your head) and the horizontal bar known as the control bar or base bar.

Generally your hang gliding skills are built incrementally as your confidence builds. If you are already a pilot, learning is generally much quicker. You will begin with moving around with the glider on flat ground. When you pick up the glider, you balance it on your shoulders (with the down bar resting on your upper arm where it meets the shoulder) and your hands about 1/3 up from the base bar.

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Next are basic launch skills. After you can balance the glider, you must learn to accelerate (walk, jog, run) you run and maintain the proper angle of attack (position of the nose relative to the ground (relative wind), for the engineers and pilots out there it is the angle between a reference line on a body (often the chord line of the airfoil) and the vector representing the relative motion between the body and the fluid (air) through which it is moving). You want to lead with a forward step (on the balls of your feet) and your shoulders. As you accelerate you allow the glider to lift up and the harness line connecting your body to the glider will tighten. In general a light touch is a good thing (like flying a jet). Your grip is normally like you are holding a grape vine (grapevine grip). You allow the glider to support some of your weight as you take longer strides. You want to have a target to aim for in the distance (like having a reference point on land when you are surfing). As you want your head up for Situational Awareness (SA for a pilot is crucial). You will learn to steer the glider as you run on the ground in a straight line toward your target as you shift your weight.

Next you need to learn to flare by pushing the down-tubes forward and up until your arms are fully extended (with open palms for a loose grip), at this point your nose is pointed closer to the sky. Now it is time to go the baby hill and get a feel for basic flight.

There are a few types of launches techniques that include foot-launching from a hill, tow-launching from a ground-based tow system, aerial towing (behind a powered aircraft), powered harnesses, and being towed up by a boat. I have heard of drops from hot air balloons, but I have never observed one.

Normally you will launch on a hill or on a platform extending from a hill. You launch into the wind just like an airplane. Launching with a ramp is the best, but ramps are not as common and you simply have the drop-off of the hill.

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Not being in control of the hang glider close to the ground is among the most challenging of situations. Shortly after lift-off you will put your feet and slip your body in a bag helps minimize drag. Drop down low and swing your hips, shifting your weight, use your forearms to control the airframe (TCF)

A glider in flight is continuously descending. To achieve an extended flight, the pilot must seek air currents rising faster than the sink rate of the glider. You need the updraft of the mountains or the thermals of flat surfaces in warmer climates. The thermal rises until it either forms into a cumulus cloud or hits an inversion layer. Once the pilot locates a thermal, he circles within the area of rising air to gain height. There are a 3 general lift with which you should be familiar.

Ridge lift occurs when the wind encounters a mountain, cliff or hill. The air is pushed up the windward face of the mountain, creating lift. The area of lift extending from the ridge is called the lift band. Providing the air is rising faster than the gliders sink rate, gliders can soar and climb in the rising air by flying within the lift band and at right angle to the ridge. Ridge soaring is also known as slope soaring. Mountain waves or lee waves occur near mountains. The obstruction to the airflow can generate standing waves with alternating areas of lift and sink. The top of each wave peak is often marked by lenticular cloud (spaceship) formations. Convergence results from the convergence of air masses, as with a sea-breeze front.

Today most gliders have an instrument called a variometer (a very sensitive vertical speed indicator) which shows visually (and often audibly) the presence of lift and sink.

After you have gained some altitude and you want to accelerate, you normally pull the base bar toward your stomach in order to increase your speed.

You can perform aerobatics with serious practice or glide cross-country for hundreds of miles. Today hang gliders have parachutes that can deploy if you get into a spin or out of control situation. A glider will probably cost $4,000 - $5,000 for a basic beginner glider and the higher tech rigid gliders can be closer to $20,000. The altitude record is over 38,000 feet and the distance record is over 475 miles.

If I were a young man today, I would probably be into flying with jet powered hang gliders and wing suits; who knows maybe someday if I am bored, I will give it a go.

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Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

I would love to try something like this, to be honest I didn't know hang gliding was still a thing I thought it had gone the way of windsurfing. I mean I've seen the videos of the guys in wingsuits and the motorized one. Got any instructors or places to learn that you would recommend?

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

This sounds amazing, but doesn't it cut into your "puttering around the house" time? I have a feeling you have a large jar of rubber bands at your house that have not been sorted by size and color as they should be. Not to be judgemental, but priorities, dude!

“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.”

Carl Jung

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

real keen on doing wingsuiting myself, a bit unrelated, found this crazy as motor powered paragliding as a mean for backcountry transport, one day....


Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

When I was in Rio a couple of years ago me and my friends where so determined to try that, but instead we ended up shit-faced every night, in a barfight..... Anyway, still havnt tried hanggliding but I have done paragliding which was awesome. How similar are they?

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

I bet they're way different just judging from body positioning

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

Quote: (04-12-2016 12:55 PM)Razgriz Wrote:  

I would love to try something like this, to be honest I didn't know hang gliding was still a thing I thought it had gone the way of windsurfing. I mean I've seen the videos of the guys in wingsuits and the motorized one. Got any instructors or places to learn that you would recommend?

I have not hang glided that often in the past decade like I did in the 80´s and 90´s; it really is a question of time, and carrying a glider around is not the most practical thing on a sail boat. When I learned it was in North Carolina near Kitty Hawk and most of my experience was with a lot of thermals in the continental U.S. and some in Hawaii. My mountainous experiences are less developed. If you guys are abroad, consider Rio as it is excellent for hang gliding. There are a number of hills around the 1500 foot elevation which is enough and gliding around and landing on the beach is very cool. Another place that I enjoyed hang gliding was Costa Rica.

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

Would you need like a permit or something to do this? Or could you just jump off of any cliff on public property thats steep and high enough?

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”

― Hunter S. Thompson


Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind


I recommend that you begin your adventure into the world of hang gliding with a seasoned instructor as the consequences of failure can be severe, if not fatal.


Today hang gliders have parachutes that can deploy if you get into a spin or out of control situation

What approximate height above ground level is needed to have use for the parachute? How much would someone need to screw up in order to get into a situation with severe or fatal consequences where a parachute can't be used for rescue?

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

I never needed a permit in the past in the U.S. but who knows know with all of the craziness today. Overseas, there should be almost none. The consideration would be local ordinances and airspace requirements. I would not recommend hang gliding if you are in a metro area where there are many obstacles or aircraft. You could have issues depending on your altitude and FAA airspace regulations.

As for the height above ground to open your chute; the higher the better. One of the three most useless things for a pilot is the altitude above you (the others are the runway behind you and the fuel in the storage tank). The reality is you normally open your chute when you realize you are out of control and you cannot recovery in a reasonable period; I would say 1,000 feet if you want a number. If it happens below a few hundred feet you will probably end up with something broken, if it is between 50-150 feet, the probability of a fatality is higher. A chute was often deployed when you begin to do acrobatics (so you had altitude) or you had a strong gust of wind, especially near a hill, mountain or rock face, and the pilot would over-control or execute improper inputs and go outside of the envelope.

In my judgment, you would need to screw up a lot for a beginner. This would probably be due to over-confidence and putting yourself in a situation where you did not belong due to lack of experience. The same is also true of aircraft pilots when they have a few hundred hours and think they are the ¨Ace of the Base¨ and put themselves and their aircraft in a precarious predicament.

Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

I would love to get into this, but safety is a huge concern.

My house is right by Dillingham Airfield, which is probably where you hang glided in Hawaii, NASA Test Pilot. That's where a lot of people go, and tour and rental companies are located.

I see at least one ambulance a day go out there. Granted they do skydiving there too. On the weekends and holidays I've seen maybe 5 a day.

Have you ever been seriously hurt doing this? If so, are you just screwed and pay out of pocket, or does your insurance cover you?


Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

I did AFF1, the first course to get your parachute license. It was like 8 hours, 7 1/2 of which were what to do if your chute malfunctions.

It was awesome. I didn't do the rest because I didn't have the money.

I want to learn this

One of these would be amazing


Hang Gliding - Surfing the Wind

I have never been injured hang gliding (or flying for that matter) in all of my years, surfing yes with reefs, fins, you know the drill Kona. I think that it may be because I was a pilot first and even when I start young I had a healthy respect for gravity. I started on hills that were maybe 75 feet high, which is nothing and slowly built up over time. I would glide on days with modest winds at first and then increase the difficulty, but never with sheers or strong gusts. So it was incremental, just like learning the basics on the land beforehand. I do not glide in bad weather conditions, just like I would not fly into a storm. I do not care in I am in and F-18 and can climb over 50,000 per minute, I just do not do it, there is no reason to take that risk. Other risks are worth taking. I think that this becomes the deeper question, what risks are you willing to take? I wanted to fly like a bird and nothing was going to stop me; delay me…perhaps, but it was going to happen, I was going to hang glide. Being at a location with smaller hills, modest winds as well as having a good instructor while taking a steady path is the way to begin from my perspective.

I was at Kaneohe Bay. At Dillingham Airfield, I think that they flew a lot of sail planes and did skydiving, but if they have that many accidents now, there is a problem with their location, instructors and/or curriculum. My guess is that the location is a challenge for novices as the wind there for the launch is perpendicular (cross wind) for a hang glider and is moderately strong and gusting. Powered hang gliders would be better as they could use the runway and launch into the wind.

Oahu, in generally, is more of a challenge due to wind and elevation for beginners. A great place to hang glide used to be Makapu'u, but not for beginners, not quite like Pipe, but you get the idea.

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