What is Hang Gliding?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hang gliding is an outdoor sport popular around the world, especially in California and the Western United States. It is a type of unpowered flight similar to paragliding, although it involves more technical complexity. Solo or tandem, hang gliding is an exciting and invigorating experience, and a variety of companies offer lessons and tandem flights to allow inexperienced individuals to experience the magic.

Hang gliders don't have engines, and instead use gravity to stay in flight.
Hang gliders don't have engines, and instead use gravity to stay in flight.

This sport can be dangerous, and should only be performed under proper supervision or by someone with technical experience and training. Several professional associations exist around the world to assist in the education and certification of hang gliders and instructors, and are happy to refer interested parties to certified schools. To accomplish this sport safely requires a thorough knowledge of weather and geographic conditions, and should not be attempted in unsafe situations.

Hang gliding is accomplished by suspending an individual from a wing or kite in a harness which is rigged to the kite for stability and safety. The flier grips a control bar with which she or he can cause the kite to turn, rise, or fall, taking advantage of thermals and ambient weather conditions. When ready to land, the kite is stalled, so that the pilot can land upright.

The kite is a type of airfoil, suspended across a rigid tubing system. This tubing can be broken down, allowing the kite to pack into a relatively small space and be reassembled. When ready for use, the kite is assembled and the flier straps in using a harness system. Use of a helmet is also advised. The pilot takes a running start, enabling the kite to get enough lift for takeoff, and the hang gliding experience begins.

Once the hang glider is in the air, it is kept in motion by the constant pull of gravity, which pulls the glider forward, causing air to flow around the wing and keep the flier aloft. In addition, pilots can take advantage of thermal currents and topographically caused air currents to stay aloft. When ready to land, the pilot pulls the glider upwards into a stall and floats back to Earth.

Because hang gliding is dangerous for the inexperienced, many states restrict it to certain areas, and require pilots to sign logs and display credentials. These areas also have designated sites for landing so that bystanders are not injured. While it can be accomplished almost anywhere, staying in these safe areas will probably result in a more pleasant experience, along with help in the case of emergency.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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