How Hang Gliding Works

How Hang Gliding Works

Think about flying thousands of feet in the air like a hawk. Despite the air being a little chilly, the view is amazing and the isolation is soothing. You look for air currents to keep you airborne so you can savor this sensation for a long time. This is what hang gliding is like.

The wing of a hang glider, also known as a delta wing or Rogallo wing, is a result of 1960s kite and parachute research by NASA engineer Francis Rogallo. The wing was Rogallo’s suggestion for bringing spaceships back to Earth. The delta-wing parachute was incredibly agile, lightweight, and strong. Later, the Rogallo wing was transformed into the contemporary hang glider by John Dickenson, Bill Moyes, Bill Bennett, and Richard Miller, launching an enormously well-liked sport practiced by millions of people worldwide.

The hang glider is essentially a flexible wing composed of nylon or Dacron fabric that has been converted into a triangle-shaped airfoil. The triangular shape is intended to allow air to flow over the surface and cause the wing to raise. It is maintained by rigid aluminum tubes and wires. Modern, high-performance hang-glider designs dispense with supporting wires by using a solid wing with rigid aluminum struts inside the fabric to give it shape.

Although the two activities are very distinct from one another, hang gliding and paragliding are sometimes mistaken. For further information, read the paragliding article.

We’ll talk about the sport of hang gliding in this article. We’ll go through the specifics of the aircraft, the necessary gear, how to operate it, and how to become a licensed hang glider.

Table of content:

Flying a Hang Glider

In order to have air moving across the wing at around 15 to 25 miles per hour during takeoff, the pilot must descend a slope quickly (24 to 40 kph). Lift, the force that overcomes gravity and maintains the glider in the air, is produced by the air moving over the wing’s surface. Once in the air, gravity (the hang glider’s weight plus that of the pilot) pulls the craft back toward Earth and drives it forward, causing air to continuously flow over the wing.

Hang gliders can gain lift from rising air currents in addition to the horizontal movement of air, such as hot air columns (thermal lift) or air that has been forced upward by terrain such as mountains or ridges (ridge lift). Air molecules are struck as the hang glider and pilot travel through the atmosphere. The glider is slowed down by drag, the frictional force brought on by these collisions. The quantity of drag increases in direct proportion to the hang glider’s airspeed: the faster the glider travels, the more drag is produced.

How a pilot maneuvers a hang glider

The balance of these three forces (lift, drag, and gravity) determines how high, how far, and how long a hang glider can stay in the air, just like with soarplane gliders. The glide ratio (lift/drag ratio), or the proportion of forward distance traveled to vertical distance dropped, governs a hang glider’s performance and the distance it can cover. In contrast to soarplane gliders, hang gliders lack a tail and adjustable wing surfaces that can be used to steer the craft and change its airflow. Instead, the pilot controls the hang glider by moving his or her weight (changing the hang glider’s center of mass) in the direction of the intended turn while being suspended from the hang glider’s center of mass via a harness.

The angle that the wing makes with the horizontal axis (angle of attack), which affects the hang glider’s airspeed and glide ratio, can also be changed by the pilot. The glider accelerates if the pilot pushes back on the controls, tucking the nose down. The glider slows down or possibly stalls if the pilot pushes forward, tilting the nose up. Since there is no airflow across the wing when stalling, the glider cannot fly.

Hang-gliding Equipment

The glider itself, the harness, and a helmet make up the essential hang-gliding gear. Some pilots also have emergency reserve parachute and equipment.

Hang Glider

Hang Glider
Hang Glider
  • The following structures make up the fundamental flexible wing hang glider:
  • The skeleton of the glider is made of aircraft-grade aluminum tubing.
    • Leading-edge tubes (2) combine to form a triangle.
    • The triangle’s forward angle (nose) is divided in half by the keel.
    • The crossbar, which is securely connected to the keel and the leading edges, is positioned back from the nose and offers stability.
    • The pilot controls the glider using the control bar, a smaller triangle-shaped tube linked at a right angle beneath the keel and behind the crossbar.
  • The flying surface known as a sail is often constructed of Dacron or nylon.
  • Kingpost: a support for the glider’s top wires that is fastened to the keel on the opposite side of the control bar.
  • Steel wires of aircraft quality support the glider’s varied weights and strains.
    • Two nose wires join the nose to the control bar.
    • Connect the control bar to the keel’s back using the rear wires (2).
    • Front wires (2) – join the control bar to the intersection of the crossbar and leading-edge tubes.
    • Connect the kingpost to the nose, the back of the keel, and each crossbar leading-edge junction with landing wires (4).
    • Insert plastic battens into the sail’s pockets to stiffen certain areas by doing so.

The aluminum tubes are hinged to make it simple to build and fold the glider for transportation. Basically, the glider is unpacked, the control bar is put together, the crossbar is opened up, the sail is stretched out, the various wires are rigged, and the battens are inserted.


Just behind the control bar, the glider’s center of mass is where the harness is attached. It suspends the pilot from the glider in a way that permits unrestricted movement. There are numerous different types of harnesses that hold the pilot in a prone posture. Some are specifically insulated for flights at high altitudes.

Safety Equipment

The helmet, which guards the pilot’s head, is the most fundamental piece of safety gear. Goggles for eye protection and glare reduction (similar to ski goggles) and a reserve parachute, typically for high-altitude flights, are other examples of safety equipment (several-thousand feet up).


Some pilots are equipped with tools like an altimeter, which measures the glider’s altitude, and a variometer, which measures the glider’s rate of ascent or fall. Variometers also offer auditory displays, so the pilot may hear his climb or descent rate without having to glance at the dial. For high-altitude or lengthy (cross-country) flights, variometers and altimeters are particularly crucial.

A Basic Flight

I learned the fundamentals of hang gliding from Kitty Hawk Kites several years ago at Jockey’s Ridge, a sizable sand dune in North Carolina (80 to 100 ft / 24 to 30 m high). Our lesson’s objective was to take off, fly directly down the ridge, and land upright. The instructor checked the glider’s hardware, including the sail, battens, cables, tubes, bolts, and harness connections, before the flight to make sure it was everything in good working order. Next, he made sure our chosen flight path was clear of obstructions and people because Jockey’s Ridge is a public park.

I rushed down the ridge and picked up the hang glider (weighing roughly 65 pounds/29 kilograms) by the sides of the control bar (the instructor ran along side and shouted directions). As I rushed, air began to fill the sail. I felt the hang glider pull me off the ground when the airspeed hit about 17 mph (27 kph). I shifted my hands from either side of the control bar to the base as I was raised.

I needed to keep my speed constant and my direction straight in order to be able to fly.

  1. I needed to monitor my airspeed (no instruments to help me out). I could slow down by pushing the control bar away from me if I was travelling too quickly. I would drag the control bar toward me to accelerate if I was travelling too slowly.
  2. I had to fly straight and level. I had to transfer my weight to the left to get back on course if I deviated to the right. I had to transfer my weight to the right if I veered to the left.

I regularly adjusted my speed and position during the entire flight (beginners tend to over-adjust their speeds compared to advanced fliers). At an altitude of roughly 5 to 10 feet, I descended the sand dune

You must stall the hang glider in order to land it. I extended the control bar as much as I could when I got closer to the earth. This causes the glider to tip up at the nose, slow down, and eventually stall, allowing you to land on your feet.

Of course, not every novice succeeds at each of these tasks the first time. I had to take off, fly straight, and land on my feet three times before I finally succeeded (On my first flight, I veered off to the right, landed on my abdomen and buried my wrist in the sand.).

Flying for hours is possible for skilled hang-glider pilots whether they take off from a gentle slope or a steep mountain top. They seek out micrometeorological changes in order to gain lift and maintain their altitude. These alterations include the rise of hot air columns (thermals) over surfaces like sand or pavement that receive a lot of sunshine. You can frequently find these currents by observing the birds, especially hawks and seagulls. In order to gain additional lift, pilots search for updrafts of air deflected by ridges (ridge lifts). Wave currents, which are upward air currents between two mountain ridges, can also add to lift. An expert pilot attempts to stay clear of things like power lines and big structures, which might slow the glider and make it tumble.

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