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British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association

Can anyone Fly? Are hang gliders, and paragliders only flown by supermen or women? No! Nevertheless for paragliding you need to be over 14 and for hang gliding you need to be over 16. Under 18s need parental consent. You should be fit and active; have good co-ordination and an alert, reasoning mind (but you don't need any previous flying experience). Although no medical examinations am required you should be in good health. If you suffer from any medical condition such as epilepsy, fainting, giddiness, high blood pressure, heart condition or diabetes you should ask your Doctor's advice.

Many people may think that flying hang gliders and paragliders is impossible for people with disabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. The message from the free flying community to any people with disabilities is: 'You can fly!' See Flyability - the BHPA's disability initiative - for further information.

Clothing. Cloths are important. In the course of one training day you'll have periods of intense activity - and sometimes you'll sit and wish! You may also have to contend with the chill factor of the prevailing wind, so it makes sense to go properly prepared. Layers of light but warm shirts/sweaters mixed with a windproof on top are much better than just one or two thick heavy garments. Wearing an overall or similar is a good idea; if you have some waterproof overalls or a one-piece ski suit, so much the better. A pair of warm gloves is essential in cooler weather, even if you take them off to fly. For hang gliding they should be made of leather or other suitable material which will not slip on the control bar. And take along a waterproof jacket that you can slip on over everything; you won't train when it's pouring with rain but sometimes low cloud over the hills can have the same effect.

Foot Wear. Apart from all the walking that your feet are going to get, they do need to be kept dry. Good flexible hill walking or jump boots without lacing hooks (they can snag and damage suspension lines and get caught in rigging wires and harnesses) are best, though in summer trainers, preferably with ankle support, are often worn.

Food & Drink. Training is usually conducted far away from creature comforts like warm cafes with loos. On your first day at the school, even if your instructor knows a good tea-shop in the village, don't neglect something to eat and drink to sustain you through your day.

Hang gliding, since its inception in the 1970s, has developed into a practical and relatively safe sport, using simple yet sophisticated machine built of aluminium, carbon-fibre and high-tech sail fabrics. Manufacturers, both in the UK and overseas, build examples that are respected the world over.

What exactly do you do?
Hang glider pilots, suspended from their gliders by a special harness, launch from hills facing into wind, from winches on flat ground or by being towed aloft from an airfield behind a microlight aircraft. The objective is always to stay airborne in lifting currents of air and - for many - to undertake long cross country flights. The UK record for distance currently stands at over 250km and for altitude at an astonishing 16,000ft.

Do they cost a lot?
A top-of-the range competition hang glider can cost over 4,500 new, although sports machines with only slightly less performance cost 2 - 3,500 and second hand ones much less. A full training course will cost around 5 - 700, much less for a shorter introductory course. Pilots also need a harness, helmet, flying suit, boots, etc; additional bits of equipment such as instruments may be required as you progress.

How do you make it go where you want?
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.

Where do you fly them from?
Pilots fly from hill and tow sites controlled by one of the numerous BHPA clubs dotted around the country. The accent is on hill flying but tow operations and aero tow facilities are normally in lowland locations. Competitions are held at club, national and international level and the 'Brits' have often led the way in competition at World level.

And where to?
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!

Learning to hang glide
Not all BHPA schools are in upland areas as winching from flat ground is as effective a method of training as hill flying. It normally takes between eight to ten days of flyable weather to train a would-be pilot to Club Pilot level, although two-day 'taster' courses are offered and a limited Elementary Pilot certificate is also available.

Your instructor will show you how to rig and inspect the glider before you have your first short flight down a gentle slope. First flights in tow training are conducted using a very gentle winch pull, keeping you close to the ground. 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. You'll then graduate to higher and longer flights, and when the weather's not so good retire to the classroom to learn basic flight theory, meteorology and air law. Towards the end of the course you'll progress on to a more sophisticated glider than the first one you first flew, and subject to a good assessment from your instructor and a pass in the simple exam you'll receive your Club Pilot rating, allowing you to fly on club sites and begin your progress to more and more rewarding flying.

Powered hang gliding
 Powered hang gliders that take-off and land on wheels are classed as microlights and are outside the scope of this guide. Lightweight, foot-launched versions, powered by a small 2-stroke engine, offer the pilot the ability to take-off from a relatively small, flat field and climb away to find the lifting thermals that all glider pilots rely on to make cross-country flights. Alternatively, the pilot can cruise around, sightseeing, or fly to a destination using much less fuel than a microlight and retaining the uncluttered view that the hang glider pilot enjoys. The power units cost around 3 - 4,000, to which you need to add the cost of a new or second hand hang glider.

Compared to the simplicity of para-motoring these devices are heavier and more cumbersome, but they offer something extra to the keen hang glider pilot. Like the paramotor, the engine can be detached and the glider used to soar without power; this flexibility is in itself an attraction, as is the leisurely flying speed, short rigging time and relatively small packed-down size that these machines offer.

Although their main appeal at the present time is undoubtedly to the already experienced hang glider buff, interest in these machines is growing rapidly, particularly in areas where there are no hills. To learn to fly one you'll need to first learn to fly a hang glider, and the same degree of background knowledge of air law, flight theory, meteorology, etc, is required.

 

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