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Since its inception in the 1970s, hang gliding has developed into a practical and relatively safe sport, using simple yet sophisticated machine built of aluminium, carbon-fibre and high-tech sail fabrics.
What exactly do you do?
Hang glider pilots are suspended from their gliders by a special harness, and launch from hills facing into wind. Hang gliding is not however limited to upland environments. In the flatlands, hang gliders can also be towed aloft by a land based motorised winch, or behind a microlight aircraft.
Whichever launch technique is used, the objective is always the same, to stay airborne in lifting currents of air.
Some pilots are content to soar the hill they launched from, whilst others prefer to search out rising pockets of air, known as thermals, and use these to undertake long cross country flights.
The UK record for distance currently stands at 277km (172 miles), whilst that for altitude stands at an astonishing 16,000ft.
How do you control a hang glider?
The pilot launches his or her machine by running to accelerate it to flying speed, then relaxes into the comfortable prone harness while controlling the glider by moving their weight in relation to the control bar. Flying a hang glider is a little more demanding than flying a paraglider and not quite as easy to learn, but the machine is capable of much higher speeds and better gliding performance, and can be flown in stronger winds.
Are they expensive?
A new top-of-the range competition hang glider can cost over £6,000, although sports machines with only slightly less performance are available for around £3,500 - £4,500, and second hand ones for much less. You will also need a harness, helmet, flying suit, and boots. Later, as you become more experienced, you may also want to purchase additional items, such as an emergency parachute, and a GPS.
Where do you fly them from?
Pilots fly from hill and tow sites controlled by one of the local BHPA recreational clubs that can be found throughout the UK. The emphasis is usually on hill flying, but tow or aerotow operations can frequently be found in the more low lying areas of the country.
What can you do with one?
Circling up to cloudbase on a summer's day and setting course on a long cross-country flight over patchwork fields is one of the wonders of the modern world. Landing out after a long flight using only the natural power of the atmosphere and your accumulated knowledge of the sky gives a hang glider pilot an unsurpassed feeling of accomplishment.
Hang gliding has joys in store outside of the challenge of cross-country flying. In the long summer evenings pilots often congregate after work to soar a nearby hill, united in the pursuit of an hour or two's soaring in the face life's pressures - and the setting sun. To be aloft on the breeze seems to them a rare privilege made more precious by the fact that so few of the teeming millions seem to know about it. It's not really a secret; come along and share it with us!
How about competitions?
Hang gliding competitions are held at club, national and international level, and the 'Brits' usually do well in international competitions.
Forthcoming national and international hang gliding competitions are listed in our competitions & events calendar, and our competition structure page outlines the competitions structure within the BHPA, and provides links to dedicated websites for major British hang gliding competitions.
Learning to fly a hang glider
It normally takes around ten days of flyable weather to train a would-be pilot to Club Pilot level, the minimum standard required to fly unsupervised with a recreational club.
Your instructor will show you how to rig and inspect the glider before you have your first short flight down a gentle slope. For the first day or two the glider will be restrained by tether ropes until you become adept at steering and controlling airspeed by moving your weight.
Then you'll graduate to higher and longer flights, and be introduced to a limited amount of flying theory. This will usually be fitted in around your practical flying instruction, when the weather's not so good. Once you've completed the appropriate tasks and passed a very simple theory exam, you'll receive your Elementary Pilot award. This is the first step on the ladder of the BHPA Pilot Rating Scheme.
You'll then progress onto a more sophisticated glider to continue your training, and a further 4 - 6 days of instruction should see you well on your way to completing your Club Pilot tasks. As things fall into place you'll learn to soar, and stay up in favourable winds so you can make longer flights.
Then, subject to a good assessment from your instructor and passing a simple theory examination, you'll receive your Club Pilot rating. This will allow you to start flying with your local recreational club, and progress towards more and more rewarding flying as your experience grows.
A full training course at a BHPA registered school will cost around £1,000 - £1,300. If you're not sure about committing to a full course of instruction, most schools offer a one day taster course. Charges for a taster day vary, but are usually around £150. Some schools will also allow you pay by the day when you sign up for a full course. Charges will again vary, but you should expect to pay around £150 for a day's tuition.
For further information about learning to fly a hang glider, please visit our learn to fly page.