Getting into hang gliding is likely simpler than you expect. For many student pilots, the training process consists of:
- Taking a familiarization or introductory flight
- Taking initial lessons, be they foot launched, static towed (with a winch), or towed behind a powered ultralight (or combination of the above)
- Completing your first solo, a highlight of any pilot's career
- Obtaining your Novice (a.k.a. "Hang 2") rating
There is a practical side to getting into the sport, the acquisition of equipment. As a budding pilot in search of your own gear, you will need:
- A beginner's hang glider
- A harness
- A helmet
- A vario
- A rack for your car, truck, or van
Who Can Fly
Hang glider pilots come from all walks of life, and range in age from 14 to over 70. In order to hang glide, you will need to be reasonably healthy and mobile. You will need full use of your hands and arms. There are successful pilots who have physical limitations, including paraplegia.
How long and how much
In the United States, you can expect to spend between $700 and $2000 to go from absolute beginner to your Novice (Hang 2) rating. People have learned in as quickly as four days, while six to 10 days would be an average length of time.
Finding a school, taking an introductory flight
Depending on where you live, getting into the sport of hang gliding can prove to be difficult. If you are lucky, there is an active hang gliding school within a reasonable distance you can go to. Sometimes, there aren't any instructors or schools in your entire state, even though there are flying sites locally. What to do??
Plan a trip to an aerotow park. With aerotowing, you can often get your ratings within just a few days of training. Plan a one week vacation to one of the aerotow parks around the country, and knock out your ratings quickly. Accomodations are often very inexpensive. With aerotowing, you are almost guaranteed to get lots of flight training quickly. Be sure to find out what the best time of year to train is for the particular aerotow park you are researching.
For severely time constrained individuals, this is often a better choice than even going to your local instructor who uses a different form of training which can take longer to complete.
Just as there are different ways to get a hang glider into the air, there are different ways of teaching hang gliding.
This is the original way of learning how to hang glide, and it's still an excellent choice. In this method, after a short period of ground school, the instructor and student start at the top of a shallow hill. While under the instructor's guidance, the student runs down the hill and launches the glider to an altitude of five to ten feet. For the first flights, the student may land the glider either on its wheels, or his feet. As the student gains proficiency, the student starts his launch run from a higher point for longer and higher flights. After the student learns how to make foot landings, turns are introduced, and when the student has demonstrated control of the glider, he is cleared for his mountain solo, and receives his Novice rating, which is also referred to as Hang 2.
This typically takes six to eight days for the average male student. Women of average or above height also usually solo in six to eight days, while shorter women tend to take somewhat longer. The cost of hill training is in the range of $700 to $1100 US dollars, depending on whether the student includes tandem flights as part of their training.
Advantages: Student learns foot launches and foot landings. Typically the least expensive teaching method. Most students successfully fly solo on their first day.
Disadvantages: Can be physically demanding. Flights are short.
Best for: Students who will be mountain launching. Students who want to learn to foot land.
In aerotow training, the student and an instructor are towed aloft by an ultralight airplane, in what is known as a tandem flight. At a predetermined altitude, the pilot releases the tow line, and the gliding portion of the flight begins. In early flights, the instructor does most of the flying, gradually handing off tasks to the student as the student demonstrates proficiency. An average student can expect to take 12 to 20 flights before his first solo, and to spend between $1350 and $2000 US dollars.
Advantages: Learning by aerotow is the least physically demanding of the three methods. Also, aerotow students get the most amount of air time before their first solo.
Disadvantages: Because it isn't practical to foot land a tandem glider, aerotow students do not learn to foot land as part of their training. It is usually the most expensive learning method. Also, students do not get to fly solo until the end of their training.
Best for: Students who have physical limitations. Time constrained students. Students who live in flat areas.
In scooter towing, a modified motor scooter is used as a winch to pull the glider aloft. Unlike aerotow, scooter tow students fly solo from the first day, at an altitude of five to eight feet. The instructor carefully monitors the student's flight, and should anything begin to go wrong, can end the flight by closing the scooter's throttle, which causes the student to glide to a landing. As the student gains proficiency, a more powerful scooter is used to tow the glider to a higher altitude. Training to the H2 level will typically cost between $900 and $1500 US dollars
Scooter towing requires a flat open field rather than a hill.
Advantages: Less physically demanding than hill training. Teaches winch towing skills. Student will get many launches and landings, and can learn to foot land.
Disadvantages: Student will not learn to foot launch.
Best for: Students who will be winch or platform towing. Students who will be aerotowing and want to learn to foot land.
Pilot proficiency, Certification and Rating System
In USA and Canada hang gliding is considered a self regulating sport and does not require any official license as far as the government and law is concerned. Technically that means that nothing is stopping you from taking a hang glider and jumping off a cliff. Practically speaking however almost all flying sites require a pilot to be a member and his skills certified by a national organization in that country. In USA this organization is USHPA and in Canada it's HPAC. These organizations will issue ratings to pilots based on pre-established criteria which takes into account both pilot's experience and skills.
Ratings are issued sequentially:
- H1 - Beginner
- H2 - Novice
- H3 - Intermediate
- H4 - Advanced
- H5 - Master
Flying sites will usually post pilot rating requirements that pilots must have in order to be able to fly there. Practically speaking you gain access fly unsupervised at most sites at Intermediate rating (H3). H5 is mostly a gimmick as no site requires an H5 to fly there.
The requirements for gaining different ratings in the two countries is different, with Canada requiring more then double the experience necessary to achieve certain ratings vs. USA. For list of requirements see the following:
Sooner or later, a hang glider pilot becomes a hang glider owner. Most schools provide equipment up until you receive your Novice (Hang 2) rating, some do not. While there are a few places that feature rental equipment at reasonable rates, they are the exception rather than the rule. Once you have your Novice rating, you will want your own equipment. This will include:
- Glider (Also see Choosing your first wing
- Wheels for the glider
- Harness, which attaches you to the glider
- Instrument panel, which pilots call a vario
And some accessories: