Hang Gliding Frequently Asked Questions

What strength is required to fly?

Almost anyone can fly a hanglider. While flying does not require great strength (since the straps - not the pilot's arms - hold the pilot up), long duration flights in turbulent conditions require a moderate degree of upper body endurance. This typically develops as the pilot progresses through training to these longer flights.

Do pilots need to be of a certain age, gender, and weight or size range?

Hangglider pilots range in age from teens to octogenarians. The limits are more mental than physical. If someone is sufficiently mature to make decisions significantly affecting their safety and has sufficiently good reflexes to make such decisions promptly, then they probably are of a reasonable age for flying. Since flying depends more on balance and endurance than on brute strength, woman and men make equally good pilots. While the fraction varies regionally, about 10 - 15 % of the hanglider pilots in the US are women.

Do pilots need to be licensed to fly hanggliders?

Not really, but a program analogous to FAA licensing exists and is administered by the USHGA (US Hanggliding Association). This program consists of a specific set of flying skills corresponding to a series of pilot proficiency ratings (Beginner through Master) each of which carries a set of recommended operating limitations. Beginner rated pilots, for instance, should only fly from hills under 100 ft in height in mild winds and under the guidance of an instructor. While these ratings don't carry the force of law in quite the same way as FAA pilot's licenses do, the majority of flying sites in the US require that pilots hold some specific USHGA rating to be allowed to fly solo.

How high/far can a hangglider go?

This depends a lot on the conditions in which it is flown, but flights in excess of 300 miles in length and altitudes of well over 20,000 ft. MSL have been recorded. More typically, pilots in the summer frequently achieve altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 ft AGL and fly for over 100 miles.

How long do flights last?

Again this depends on conditions, but a high altitude flight is frequently several hours in duration. On good days, pilots don't have to land until the sun goes down.

Where can gliders launch and land?

Pretty much any slope that is relatively free from obstructions, is steeper than about 6 to 1 and faces into the wind can be used to foot launch a hanglider. The pilot just runs down the slope and takes off when the air speed reaches 15 to 20 mph. Alternatively, when no hills are available, towing by trucks, stationary winches and ultralight aircraft allows gliders to get into the air. Where a hangglider can be landed depends somewhat on the skill of the pilot. An experienced pilot should be able to put a glider safely into any flat spot bigger than about 50 by 200 ft and clear of obstructions. This area requirement can vary somewhat, though, depending on wind conditions and the surrounding terrain.

How do you steer?

Hanggliders are controlled by shifting the pilot's weight with respect to the glider. Pilots are suspended from a strap connected to the glider's frame (hence the name "hang" glider). By moving forward and backward and side to side at the end of this strap, the pilot alters the center of gravity of the glider. This then causes the glider to pitch or roll in the direction of the pilot's motion and thus allows both speed control and turning.

Are lots of winds necessary to launch/fly/land?

Hanggliders can be launched, flown and landed in winds from zero to about 30 mph safely. When winds get above about 40 mph, the associated turbulence makes all aspects of flight substantially less comfortable. Generally, ideal winds for launching and landing are from 5 to 20 mph depending on the flying site. Wind speed is less important in flight since the pilot controls the air speed of the glider whatever the wind speed may be.

What range of temperatures are encountered in flight?

Hanggliders are flown in sub-zero conditions in the winter and in the hottest deserts in the summer. Since the air temperature typically falls by about 4 degrees (F) for every 1000 ft gain in elevation, however, high altitude hangglider flights are frequently cold. Pilots expecting to fly over about 12 - 14,000 ft in the summer will generally wear warm clothing to protect against exposure.

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