A Comparison of Hang Gliding to Paragliding

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A comparison of advantages and disadvantages of hang gliding and paragliding

Hang Gliders Paragliders
Glide Ratios Thumbsup.jpg For a given height, hang gliders can fly much further than paragliders due to their superior glider ratios. Modern beginner gliders can now get over 9:1 glide ratio. Older beginner gliders 7-8 to 1 glide ratio. Advanced gliders 13-17:1. Competition rigid wings 20:1 Beginner gliders 5-7:1. Advanced gliders 8-9:1
Sink Rates Thumbsup.jpgHang gliders have superior sink rates, which is the rate at which they glide down in still air, measured in feet per minute (fpm). The lower the sink rate the easier it is to stay up. Beginner wings 200-220 fpm. Advanced wing 160-180 fpm. Rigid wing 140 fpm. Beginner wing 220-240 fpm.
Speed range Thumbsup.jpgBeginner wing 14 mph to 45 mph. Advanced wing - 16 mph, to over 100 mph which has been clocked in speed gliding competitions Speed.jpg

(Photo by Jeff O'Brien)

Beginner wing 13mph to 22mph. Advanced wing - 14 mph to 35mph
Turbulence Thumbsup.jpgHang gliders handle turbulence very well since they have extremely strong internal frames. Hang gliders are certified to 6 G's positive. Some have tested up to 10 G's. Compare this to a 747 jumbo jet which is only rated to 3.5 G's before it folds up. Reserve deployments for non-aerobatic recreational hang gliding flight is extremely rare. Aerobatic pilots constitute the vast majority of reserve deployments in hang gliding, due to a blown loop or poorly execute aerobatic maneuver. The vast majority of HG pilots will never experience a deployment. Warning.gifPeople new to the sport often assume paragliders must be very safe because they look like parachutes. This is a false assumption. Paragliders are prone to collapse in strong turbulence, and can even occasionally collapse in light turbulence, which is why they carry a reserve parachute and wear large airbag like back protectors as a last resort when collapsing low to the ground. A collapse is sometimes irrecoverable, in which case he/she must throw their reserve parachute. Most wings will eventually recover on their own even without pilot control input, but a collapse can require up to 300 feet of recovery before the wing opens back up and starts flying again. Collapses can be mild or very violent events, which in the extreme case, can gift wrap you inside of your wing. Reserve deployments in paragliders occur at a much higher rate than hang gliders due to collapses.
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It is risky to fly paragliders in strong thermic conditions or high winds and should be avoided.
Wind penetration Thumbsup.jpg Excellent wind penetration due to their pitch control. An advanced hang glider can dive away from dangerous clouds and approach speeds near 80 mph. While in turbulent air, slower dive speeds are recommended. Be warned though, even with a good speed range, poor pilot decision making can get you close enough to a dangerous cloud to make escape impossible. Due to their poor wind penetration, paragliders can not fly in high winds, and if caught in high winds, can be put into a dangerous situation. Powerful clouds can create cloud suck which can take a pilot past 30,000 feet, where temperatures can drop to negative 40 degrees, and air becomes too thin to breathe. Several pilots have died because of this. With a poor speed range and lack of pitch control, escaping extreme weather can be prove very difficult in a paraglider. Winds can also blow paragliders backwards into trees or into the lee side of a mountain where they can be caught in dangerous rotor. Greater care must be exercised when choosing the weather you will be flying in with a paraglider.
Durability Thumbsup.jpg Hang gliders are typically made of thicker dacron based materials and can easily last over 10 years. The material is also subjected to less folding than paragliders, further prolonging life. The semi-rigid fram allows a set up hang glider to be oriented to cast the smallest shadow and minimize UV exposure. Made of thin nylon which suffers from UV damage quicker than a hang glider. Unlike a hang glider that rests on its control frame when setup, paragliders are laid out on the ground where they suffer from abrasion and take maximum UV light. Paragliders typically last for 4 years or less, depending on how much you fly.
Spin and Spiral dives Thumbsup.jpgSpins and spirals are a dangerous condition that can occur in most aircraft. Because a hang glider's internal frame provides washout at the wing tips, modern day hang gliders are extremely difficult to spin and require special technique and knowledge to initiate a spin. Spins almost never occur by accident in a hang glider, with advanced rigid wings being the exception to the rule. Hang gliders naturally come out of spiral dives, you have to constantly force a hang glider to stay in a spiral dive. With no built in spin resistance, paragliders are far more likely to enter a spin. Turbulence or incorrect input can initiate a spin in a paraglider. Paragliders can also enter a locked spiral dive which can be difficult to recover from.
Maneuverability /Control Thumbsup.jpgHang gliders can roll faster left and right, can dive using their pitch control, and slow down and climb using momentum. Directionally speaking, paragliders basically only have left right control. They can hit their brakes to slow down, but typically fly near their top speed. With the addition of a speed bar, they can speed up a little more. Because hang gliders are faster and can often react quicker(especially with pitch inputs), paraglider pilots often break the right of way rules and force the hang glider pilots to fly around them.

Paragliders do however typically have a superior turn radius, and control of glide slope

Flying position Thumbsup.jpgHang gliders typically fly prone, head first. With the wing above you, and nothing below you, there is nothing blocking your flying view. You can look directly below you in a hang glider. The prone flying position is also aerodynamically far superior than the seated position which increases performance, especially as speeds increase.

A number of hang gliding harnesses also allow a supine flying position like that of a paraglider. Thus there is greater choice in flying positions for hang gliders.

Paragliders fly seated in their harnesses feet first. Their own body obstructs the view directly below them and it is difficult for them to look directly behind them. Their view of what is above them is, however, superior to that of a hang glider, as their wing is much farther from them and obstructs less of their view above. A number of Hanggliders use transparent or semi-transparent sails to remedy this relatively minor inconvienience.
Price Thumbsup.jpg2007 prices: Falcon 3 $2700. Due to their durability, hang glider costs per year are lower. Costs for Hang Gliders and paragliders vary greatly depending on their origin and intended pilot skil. There is a large overlap in price range between the two types of wings (Price source Rob McKenzie) 2007 prices: Ozone Buzz glider $3100 (Price source Rob McKenzie)
Landing Landing a beginner hang glider is easy, but still not as easy as a paraglider. Advanced wings require even more precise flare timing. Because of their superior glide ratios, hang gliders require more room to land in, this disadvantage can be minimized through the use of a drogue chute. Some gliders also include a flap system to further reduce this disadvantage. However, their superior glide ratio also gives them the ability to reach more landing zones. Thumbsup.jpg Very easy to land due to their slow speeds. Paragliders can land in smaller landing zones than hang gliders, but have less ability to reach as many landing zones as hang gliders due to lower glide ratios and poor wind penetration.
Storage/Transport Hang gliders typically fold up into a tube that is about 1 foot in diameter, and 18 feet long. They weigh anywhere from 45 pounds for a small beginner wing, to 80 pounds for a large advanced wing. Typically they are stored in a garage or at the flight park in rented glider storage. Some pilots store their gliders in giant plastic irrigation tubes they purchase at Home Depot/Lowes. Hang gliders require a hang glider rack be built for your vehicle to transport them. Typically off the shelf yakima racks in the rear, and a custom made "goal post" attached to the front for additional support.

A number of hang gliders can be folded up/stored in smaller packages of only 6-7' long, such as the Wills Wing Falcon 3, and Finsterwalder (Fex) gliders, for those concerned about storage space.

Thumbsup.jpgParagliders package up into something that resembles a huge backup, you can easily store in a decent sized closet. Paragliders are easier to transport, requiring no special racks, simply throw them into the back of a car. Paragliders weigh as little as 25 pounds for an extra small wing, up to 63 pounds for an extra large wing.
Setup/break down Time to set up and break down hanggliders varies considerably. Some pilots are able to set up and tear down beginer wings in under 10 minutes, and advanced ones in under 15, other pilots may take twice as long Thumbsup.jpgParagliders are very easy to setup and temporarily breakdown. Time needed is highly variable as well, especially if lines are tangled or not. The following times can be reasonably acheived by a paraglider pilot: 5 min setup, 2 min break down, 15 min packing up to take home

Other voices

Here are two articles from California hang gliding and paragliding instructor Rob MacKenzie, on the difference between hang gliding and paragliding. From the perspective of a hang gliding pilot wanting to learn paragliding: Hang gliding to paragliding And from the perspective of a paraglider pilot learning hang gliding: Paragliding to hang gliding

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