Frequently asked questions
Q: How long can you fly for?
A: The short answer is "as long as you want"! Ridge lift (the type of lift created when a wind blows over a hill) is consistent, so all the time the wind keeps blowing, you can stay in the air. However most people get tired after a period of flying the ridge and either land or choose to fly cross country, using thermic lift to stay aloft. In this case the answer is "as long as you can"! Most flights last an hour or two, but on a really long cross-country, when setting a record for example then pilots might be in the air for up to 8 hours or more.
Q: How far can you fly?
A: Modern Hang Gliders can fly incredible distances with the world distance record standing at 764 km (475 miles), in perspective this is equal to flying from London to Geneva! The world record was set in America where there is a lot of land to fly over and away from busy airspace. In the UK we do not have as much room before we arrive at the coast or have to avoid airspace so the longest flight in the UK is 340km (211 miles). This was achieved by Carl Wallbank from the middle of Wales to North Norfolk. These long flights are obviously difficult in many ways including getting get back to your car! Therefore, some hang glider pilots are now completing flights with the aim of landing back at their start point, these are called closed circuit flights. The longest closed circuit flight is 300km (186 miles), the record in the UK is once again held by Carl, who in fact holds all the main distance records in the UK. If you start learning now then maybe in a few years you'll be able to take some of Carl's records!
Q: Is it dangerous?
A: There is an element of risk in flying a hang glider. That said, it is a lot less dangerous than the general public perception. Hang glider pilots are mostly by nature cautious, considering risks due to weather conditions, the site, their equipment and their own ability prior to flight. Exact levels of risk are hard to quantify and statistics are skewed by the relatively small number of pilots compared to other activities. However it is fair to say the risk is of a similar level to other adventurous activities such as climbing, riding a motorcycle, riding a horse or playing rugby. To a large extent, as a pilot you can choose to take the level of risk you feel comfortable with by choosing where, when and how you fly.
Q: Do you have a parachute?
A: Yes. It is very strongly recommended that you always fly with an emergency reserve parachute. This is packed in your harness and is released by pulling a handle. It is attached to your harness and sized to support both you and the glider so you don't need to jump free of the glider or anything like that. Using a reserve is not without risk, so it is something that is only used in a real emergency. The vast majority of HG pilots have never had to use one.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: The transition from hill-gawper to fully qualified cloud-fancier includes the purchase of:
-Lessons at a BHPA registered school, for example EP+CP currently (Dec21) costs £1650 with Airsports Sussex (if you complete the 2 courses in 10 days total).
-A good beginners glider (see https://hanggliding.co.uk/glider/ for cost options) £1000ish
-A harness. Simple pod type harnesses are in the region of £100 or less from flypureair.co.uk
-An EN966 rated helmet (available from Pure Air or avianonline.co.uk, typically less than £100)
-Large basebar wheels which might feel dorky but they pay for themselves on the first botched landing for around £50 or less on eBay
-BHPA membership (£124 per annum by direct debit, concessions available). This includes 3rd party insurance cover for your flying in the UK and abroad.
-Local or not so local flying club membership (anywhere from £10-£50 per annum per club depending on the club).
-Reserve parachute, these cost about £600 and last for 10years so £60/annum
So a total of just over £3600 for your first year’s flying, then around £260 per year for parachute depreciation, BHPA and club membership. Glider maintenance and repairs are not that expensive if you are careful(!). avianonline.co.uk are an excellent source of glider spares and repairs. If you want to upgrade to a more advanced glider in the future, your old glider should retain most of it’s value when sold on. This figure will get you fully qualified and flying within a club environment. After that you might want to add instruments, cameras etc. but this is the bare bones of what it costs to become a club pilot.
Q: How do you transport and store a hang glider?
A: A hang glider folds into a roll between 3.6m and just over 5m long by about 30-40 cm diameter, weighing 20-35kg, depending on the model. They are normally transported on a car roof. If your car roof is much shorter than the glider then you'll need a front support, most people make these themselves. An old ladder can also help support the glider. A larger car is an advantage, and 4WD can be handy for accessing some sites but any car will do, plenty of pilots have small city cars like a Toyota Yaris and manage fine with these.
Getting a hang glider wet is not problem but it should never be stored wet, trapping moisture in it will cause it to degrade rapidly. So the best option if you have it is to store it in a garage. However a lot of people keep them in their houses, they are long but narrow so can fit in hallway, on the stairs or suspended in the ceiling. Also they can be kept outside in a suitable container. Large diameter waste water pipes are ideal for this, but be very sure that you allow some ventilation and don't allow moisture to be trapped in there.
If you fly at an aerotow or winch club then these generally provide glider storage at the airfield for those that wish to leave it there.
Q: How do competitions work?
A: Competitions tend to take place over a number of days. Each day a course is set and pilots gain a number of points depending on how well they fly each of the courses and then the points are added up at the end of the competition. Courses are designed to test a hang glider pilots skill at climbing (thermalling) and gliding. The courses are usually 100km long (typicall 2-3 hours) depending on the weather forecast. The points are assigned relative to how quickly they complete the course compared to the other pilots. Some competitions have over 100 pilots all flying the same course. Obviously the weather can often be unpredictable so if nobody manages to fly the entire course then the person who flies the furthest gets the most points. At the end of the competition all the points are added up and whoever has the most points is the champion!
Q: What happens if you land away from where you started?
A: If you are lucky enough to find a thermal and climb to cloudbase and then are unlucky not to find another thermal you will 'land out'. This is a term of landing in a suitable field away from where you launched. The challenge is then to get back to your car. The hang gliding community are a friendly bunch and what tends to happen is one of the other pilots would volunteer to pick you up and bring you back to launch. People have also been known to walk, catch public transport or even hitch hike back to their cars. Some have even caught ferries when they have landed on the Isle of Wight! However, most pilots realise that next time it could be them landing out so they are often happy to help a fellow pilot out.