Hang Gliding for Beginners

by Colby Stream
Professional hang gliders can glide for several miles.

Professional hang gliders can glide for several miles.

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Hang gliding, an airborne sport, allows a rider to sail through the air with two wings and a basic frame. A beginner hang glider glides between 14 and 45 mph, and some advanced gliders have been known to glide for hundreds of miles. If you're considering taking up the sport, you should get to know the basics first. This will help you choose the right hang glider for you and acquaint you with the basics of gliding.

Wing Types

Hang gliders come in three types. The first is the flex wing. These have wings made of sailcloth strung along a tubing frame. The sailcloth is molded into it's aerodynamic shape by aluminum battens. They come in "beginner," "intermediate" and "advanced." The second is the rigid wing. They look a lot like airplanes and generally fold up. They are built with carbon fibre and epoxy. The third are called ultralight sailplanes. These look a little like rigid planes, but cannot be launched or landed by foot. They have a cockpit and wheels for landing and takeoff. They are the most expensive type and the hardest to transport.

Getting Airborne

Contrary to common thought, hang gliders don't become airborne by simply jumping off of a cliff. Rather, a glider has two options for getting into the air. The first is by foot. The glider, you, runs and creates enough upward draft to become airborne. Gliders are usually in the air before ever reaching the edge of a cliff. The second way, which shouldn't be attempted by beginners, is to be pulled behind a car until becoming airborne. As a beginner, you should find and use an official launching site for the safest start.


A glider controls their hang glider by shifting their weight. Leaning forward, into the flight, causes the hang glider to move faster, while leaning back slows it down. This ability to control speed allows the glider to land without the rider needing to run on touchdown. Leaning to the left or right turns the hang glider that way. Additionally, hang gliders are built in a way that decreases the chance of rolling or spinning. Except for advanced rigid wing hang gliders, it's almost impossible to spiral by accident. This is because the frame provides a time of washout near the wing tips, returning the hang glider to normal stability.


When compared to paragliding, and even airplanes, hang gliders are considered much safer. Hang glider frames handle turbulence up to six G's positive, while a 747 Jumbo Jet can only handle about up to 3.5 G's positive. Additionally, the basic design of a hang glider keep it stable, preventing it from spinning out of control. The pitch control, or ability for a glider to lean forward and dive quickly, also allow the glider to maneuver around thick clouds easily. Still, hang gliding can be dangerous if you don't land slowly enough or put the glider together correctly.

Photo Credits

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