Many people admit to a bit of confusion regarding the difference between hang gliding and paragliding. A paraglider is a free-flying, foot-launched aircraft wherein the pilot sits in a harness suspended below the fabric wing, whose shape is formed by the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing.
The pilot is suspended in a harness from the glider at its center of gravity. Move your body back and the glider climbs. Move forward and it descends. Shift your weight to the side and the glider banks and turns. It's that simple.
It's a combination of adrenalin rush and a stress-relieving sense of freedom from being earthbound. Hang gliding is a three-dimensional sport which gives it an extra kick. Like wind-surfing or skiing, there is a rewarding sense of focus and control. You are aware of your surroundings in a new and profound way.
It is the motion of the glider moving through the air that supports you, not the wind. Pilots with the proper skills take advantage of wind or thermals (upward rising air) to turn a gliding flight into a soaring flight that can last for hours.
A remarkable number of advanced pilots say they are afraid of heights! Thanks to careful, progressive steps when learning to fly, and the security of a good glider and harness, pilots take to the air without any of that feeling you get on the edge!
Hang glider pilots range in age from teens to octogenarians. If someone is sufficiently mature to make decisions significantly affecting their safety and has sufficiently good reflexes to make such decisions promptly, then they probably are of a reasonable age for flying. Women and men make equally good pilots. Pilots of virtually any size can fly but most hang glider pilots weigh between 90 and 250 lbs. Specially designed tandem gliders are available, however, and may be used for extra heavy pilots.
Not really, but a program analogous to FAA licensing exists and is administered by the USHGA (U.S. Hang Gliding Association). This program consists of a specific set of flying skills corresponding to a series of pilot proficiency ratings (Beginner through Master) each of which carries a set of recommended operating limitations. Beginner rated pilots, for instance, should only fly from hills under 100 ft in height in mild winds and under the guidance of an instructor. While these ratings don't carry the force of law in quite the same way as FAA pilot's licenses do, the majority of flying sites in the US require that pilots hold some specific USHGA rating to be allowed to fly.
The USHGA certifies hang gliding instructors and schools. All students should learn from a certified instructor. The time required for training varies considerably with the student's innate skills and with the type of training conditions. Typically, though, a student will spend 5 - 10 lessons to obtain each of the first two USHGA pilot ratings (Beginner and Novice) - a process which generally takes from 3 to 6 months.
Progression to more difficult flying conditions continues from then on under the supervision of more experienced pilots or Observers/Advanced Instructors.
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