Hang Gliding Facts: All You Need To Know About This Sport | Kidadl


Hang Gliding Facts: All You Need To Know About This Sport

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Hang gliding is a recreational flying sport quite similar to paragliding.

A hang glider is an unmotorized, heavier-than-air, foot-launchable flying vehicle that can carry a passenger hanging underneath the aircraft's massive wings. To launch a hang glider, the hang glider pilot takes off from a high point like a cliff or hill into the air and gradually descends.

The origin of modern hang gliders can be traced back to the late 18th century when English inventor Sir George Cayley came up with the design of a hang glider. He took his first successful hang glider flight in 1804, and by 1853, Cayley had devised a functional human glider flight that could be launched several hundred feet into the air. After Cayley, the next significant milestone in the history of the modern hang glider was achieved by German inventor Otto Lilienthal. He built several controllable gliders and took over 2,000 flights, leaving behind a legacy that inspired successive generations of inventors.

With the turn of the century, America also witnessed innovations in hang gliders, with engineer Octave Chanute demonstrating his biplane hang glider from the Indiana dunes. His biplane hang gliders played a critical role in the groundbreaking invention of the powered flight by the Wright brothers. Earlier hang gliders were designed in a way that the hang glider pilots would hang from the armpits beneath the wings of the vehicle. The glider pilots' hip and leg movements would control the flight.

The most significant innovation of the modern hang glider was in 1948 when Americans Francis and Gertrude Rogallo designed a kite-like, flexible wing called the para-wing. The para-wings were simple in construction, assumed a firm shape by the wind in flight, were capable of slow flight, and could land gently. Rogallo's kites even inspired NASA to design spacecraft parachutes that were used up to 1967. These innovations were a build-up to the first true hang glider built by American engineer Thomas Purcell in 1961. It was an aluminum frame Rogallo glider with wheels, basic control rods, and a passenger seat. Two years later, Australian engineer John Dickenson developed a basic hang glider inspired by the NASA Gemini space capsule recovery wing, a design extensively used in modern hang gliders.

Types Of Hang Gliding

Modern-day hang gliders are constructed using aluminum alloy covered with sailcloth made of woven polyester such as mylar or dacron. The hang glider pilots remain suspended in a harness and the pilot's shifting body weight against the control frame maneuvers the vehicle. Hang gliders are of three types based on the control used.

The three types of hang gliders used in flying competitions are Class 1, Class 5, and Class 2.

Class 1 is the flexible wing hang glider where shifting the pilot's weight controls the flight. However, the flexible wing hang glider is not the same as a paraglider. The Hang Gliders Manufacturers' Association generally rates all Class 1 hang gliders sold in the USA. The next type of hang glider used for recreational purposes is the Class 5 category. Also known as the rigid wing hang glider, it has special devices called spoilers attached to the wing's top surface to control the flight. Spoilers work by reducing the lift of the wings in a controlled manner. The pilots fly by hanging beneath the wing in both the Class 1 and Class 5 types of hang gliders. Then there's the Class 2 hang glider where the pilot remains attached with the wing. Class 2 hang gliders are the most expensive and the best-performing ones.

Safety Measures To Observe While Hang Gliding

While hang gliding offers a thrilling experience, you can never be too careful of dangers and accidents. Regardless of whether you are an experienced pilot or a beginner, safety is paramount while hang gliding. Check out these safety measures to observe while flying a hang glider.

Do not go hang gliding when the weather is bad, or there is a forecast of storms or other weather disturbances. Since gusts of winds can travel for miles, you could be in severe danger if caught in turbulent weather during flight. Likewise, it's best not to launch a hang glider when the winds are too weak.

Do not fly by yourself and always have a support crew with you. Even if you are a seasoned pilot with excellent hang gliding skills, it's safest to have support on-site in case of any unforeseen danger.

Next, carry out a thorough inspection of your glider and the flying gear before taking off and check whether they are suitable for flight. Do a hang check with your harness, tighten any loose fits, and study all the vital parts of the glider, including the ropes, bolts, and wingtips. In addition, use a good quality parachute and helmet. Be ready to take off only when you find all parts and equipment steady and secure.

Finally, when you are ready to take off, ensure that your launch platform is fairly steep and free of rocks, trees, people, or any kind of obstruction. For the best take off, gain substantial momentum by running hard towards the brink of the slope. Too slow a speed may cause the wingtip to drag, resulting in an inefficient launch.

You can fly a hang glider in locations with a good breeze blowing against a slope. While the usual practice is a pilot launching the hang glider into the air, you can also tow it using a light aircraft, a boat, or a winch.

Difference Between Hang Gliding And Paragliding

Although hang gliding and paragliding seem similar sports, the two differ in several aspects.

Paragliding is a form of aerosport where the pilots use a parachute to fly. Unlike hang gliding where the wings have a rigid support, the parachute in paragliding inflates while moving through the air. The parachute is called the paraglider and the pilot suspends from it in a harness via lines attached to the parachute's edge. Controlling the lines allows the pilot to maneuver the speed and pitch. Like hang gliding, paragliding is a popular sport across the world. Moreover, the paragliding gear is so compact that it easily fits into a backpack, making it one of the most recreational sports for travelers and hikers.

Paragliding differs from hang gliding in several ways.

Glider shape: The glider's shape and structure is the most obvious difference between paragliding and hang gliding. On one hand, a paraglider consists of a fabric canopy with a harness suspended underneath. On the other hand, a hang glider has a sail cloth stretching over its solid framework. Due to their differing shapes, the mode of operation of a hang glider and paraglider also differ.

Speed: Paragliders are slow-moving structures and can land in small spaces. On the contrary, the streamlined shape of hang gliders imparts higher speeds and better glide ratios. Plus, hang gliders can fly in stronger conditions than their paragliding counterparts.

Portability: Since a paraglider kit weighs less than 50 lb (23 kg), it is pretty convenient to carry them in a backpack or in a vehicle. However, hang gliders are typically heavier than a standard paraglider. Thus, they need to be balanced on the shoulders while carrying or can be transported on a vehicle's roof rack. Being heavier, most hang gliders can carry a weight of up to 200 lb (91 kg).

Set-up: It takes about 5-10 minutes to set up and launch a paraglider since they come in completely assembled packages. However, setting up and launching a hang glider takes longer, about 15-20 minutes.

Physical requirements: Flying a paraglider is easier and more relaxed than controlling a hang glider. Pragliding pilots gently pull on the cables connecting them to the fabric canopy to change the wing shape, pitch, and direction of flight. On the other hand, hang glider pilots remain attached to the aircraft and change direction by moving their body weight. Therefore, pilots lacking good core strength may easily tire on long hang gliding flights.

Hang gliding is a popular sport in top tourist destinations of the world.

World Record In Hand Gliding

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the global governing body for aerosports sanctions hang gliding records. Below is a list of some prominent world records in hang gliding.

On July 4, 2012, Dustin Martin hailing from Texas, USA, broke a 12-year-old hand gliding straight distance record by covering a distance of 475 mi (764 km) on his Wills Wing T2C.

On June 20, 2020, American hang glider pilot Owen Morse set an out-and-return flight world record by flying 222.2 mi (357.6 km) on his Wills Wing T3.

Also, British hang glider Judy Leden holds the altitude record for balloon-launched hang glider. She achieved a record altitude of 38,800 ft (11,826.2 m) on October 25, 1994, at Wadi Rum, Jordan. She also holds the gain height world record set in 1992.

Did You Know...

While the normal speed range of hang gliders is 20-30 mph (32.2-48.3 kph), they can achieve speeds of more than 80 mph (128. 7 kph).

An entry-level hang glider can cost somewhere around $4,000 USD. The price of used gliders ranges between $1,800-$3,000 USD.

Gliding, also known as soaring, is a recreational and competitive air sport where soaring pilots fly unpowered, fixed-wing aircraft known as glider. The gliders use the natural currents of rising air masses in the atmosphere to remain in flight. Student glider pilots who wish to fly solo can do so at the discretion of a FAA-Certified Flight Instructor for Gliders (CFIG) with a certificate permitting the solo flight. Generally, a student pilot must complete 30-40 flights with a CFIG in order to undertake a solo soaring flight. It is equivalent to approximately 10-12 hours of flight time.

Written By
Moumita Dutta

<p>A content writer and editor with a passion for sports, Moumita has honed her skills in producing compelling match reports and stories about sporting heroes. She holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management, Calcutta University, alongside a postgraduate diploma in Sports Management.</p>

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