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Hang Gliding

Flying through the air while hanging from a hang glider.

Hang gliding is an air sport. It is both a recreational and competitive sport closely related to paragliding and gliding (flying sailplanes), but using a much simpler and less expensive craft consisting of an aluminum- or composite-framed fabric wing, with the pilot mounted on a harness hanging from the wing frame and exercising control by shifting body weight.


Broadly there are two classes of hang glider. A flexible wing hang glider, having flight controlled by a wing whose shape changes in virtue of the shifted weight of the pilot. This is not a paraglider. The second class is a rigid wing hang glider, having flight controlled by spoilers, typically on top of the wing.

In both flexible and rigid wings the pilot hangs below the wing without any additional fairing. A third class of hang gliders exists (officially called Sub-Class O-2 by the FAI) where the pilot is integrated into the wing by means of a fairing. This offers the best performance and is the most expensive. All types of hang gliders can be foot-launched, while landing some class-2 hang gliders is only possible on wheels.


The early experiments with gliding flight were made throughout the late 19th century by pioneers such as Otto Lilienthal. These craft would now be considered hang gliders.

Modern hang gliding was invented, or at least strongly influenced, by the NASA technician Francis Rogallo in 1948 with the invention of the Flexkite. This device was considered as a possible landing system for the astronauts return to earth. From there, much of the development of hang gliders occurred in Australia, where the first hang glider manufacturing firms were established. Hang gliding then became popular world-wide, with the peak in the 1980s. An alternative to hang gliding is Paragliding since the gear is more easily transported, although it offers lower performance.

The first notable hang gliders to abandon the Rogallo wing were Icarus I and Icarus II, built in 1971 and 1972 respectively. These were rigid biplane flying wing designs by Taras Kiceniuk, Jr.. Icarus V was the precursor to the modern hang glider. It was essentially a monoplane version of the previous Icarus designs. All of the hang gliders in the Icarus series had hand-controlled rudders, and the pilot flew in a reclining position (rather than a prone position as with other hang gliders). Although many Icarus II and Icarus V gliders were built from plans sold by Kiceniuk, they were never commercially produced.

In the late 1990's the first commercially successful rigid wing hang glider came on the market (the "Exxtacy") with a leading edge of carbon fiber, which does not deform. The nose angle and wing span is a little higher, and the sail is rather stiff.


Launch techniques include foot-launching from a hill, tow-launching from a ground-based tow system, aerotowing (behind another powered aircraft), and powered harnesses. Other, more exotic launch techniques have also been used successfully, such as hot-air balloon drops for very high altitude launches. In flight, conditions can be either soarable or not soarable (flights in non-soarable conditions are referred to as "sled runs"). Soaring flight can be sustained generally through thermals (caused by solar heating of surface air) or ridge lift (caused by wind rising over geographical features), or both. Flights powered by ridge lift are generally confined to the vicinity of the ridge (which can be very high and long in mountainous regions) or coastal cliff. Thermal flights can extend over great distances and reach thousands of feet in altitude over mountains and flatlands.


While hang gliding has traditionally been considered a highly unsafe sport, the gliders themselves are as safe as any other aircraft when constructed by HGMA, BHPA or DHV*-certified manufacturers using modern materials. All modern gliders have built-in stall recovery mechanisms (such as luff lines in kingposted gliders) and are designed and tested for as much stability as possible, depending on the performance characteristics desired. Pilot safety is, as in all other forms of aviation, a matter of training (through certified instructors) and self-discipline.

As a backup, pilots carry a parachute with them in the harness. In case of serious problems, the parachute is deployed (thrown by hand) and carries both pilot and glider down to earth. The size is typically 30 m2 and the related sink rate should not exceed 6 to 7 m/s (but can be less, depending on the state of the glider). This is still sufficient to break some bones, so pilots are encouraged to climb into their control frame after a parachute deployment to allow the frame to absorb some of the impact energy. Some pilots have used rocket-assisted (pyrotechnic or compressed air) parachutes to increase the chances of a successful parachute deployment, but these systems proved unreliable enough that carrying a hand-deployed backup parachute was deemed necessary, so most just carry a single, hand-deployed system. Many hang gliding clubs hold regular parachute deployment clinics to practice this emergency technique on the ground and to encourage regular inspection and re-packing of parachutes.

Pilots also wear helmets and generally carry one or more other safety items such as hook knives (for cutting their parachute bridle after impact or cutting their harness lines and straps in case of a tree or water landing), light ropes (for lowering from trees to haul up tools or climbing ropes), radios (for calling for help), and first aid equipment.

Another issue that has dramatically improved the safety of the modern hang glider pilot is training. Early hang glider pilots learned their sport through trial and error. Much of that very error has lead to effective training techniques and programs developed for today's novice pilot. While the pitch and roll stability built into modern hang gliders helps prevent high altitude problems in flight, these features require altitude to take effect. If a stall or slipping turn happens while close to the ground or other obstacle, the glider will not have the time to self correct. This has placed the prevention of accidents during launch and landing as the main priority of early training.


Records fall into nearly the same categories as those for sailplanes and are authorized by the FAI. The current world record(s) (as of 2005) for "free distance" is held by Manfred Ruhmer with 700,6 km in 2001, but Mike Barber has flown an uncertified distance of 704 km (437 miles) on June 19th 2002 in Zapata Texas.


Competitions started with "flying as long as possible" and spot landings with increasing performance cross-country flying replaced them. Hang gliding competitions are like a 3d boat race in the sky where the clouds act like gas stations. Usually two to four waypoints have to be passed with a landing at a goal. In the late '90s low-power GPS units were introduced and have replaced the photographs completely. Every two years there is a world championship.

Related sports

The two related sports are: gliding, in which the gliders have full control surfaces and an enclosed cockpit, and paragliding, where a sophisticated kind of parachute is used

Source: Wikipedia

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