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Before you can enjoy the freedom of hang gliding, you need to be able to launch the darn thing and get in the air! Here’s how to take off while hang gliding.
Maybe you’ve seen videos of people hang gliding around the world where they run down a ramp and seemingly jump off into the vast abyss of nothingness. I know there are a couple like that floating around that just make it look flat-out scary to launch a hang glider. But don’t worry, taking off doesn’t have to be that extreme, no matter how cool it looks in a video. So how do you launch a hang glider?
The three most common ways to launch a hang glider are foot launching, scooter towing, and aerotowing. Once you start hang gliding regularly, the vast majority of your takeoffs will be via foot launching. That said, it’s important to practice scooter towing and aerotowing while training.
Hang gliding is a thrilling experience that can take you to new heights. But before you can enjoy the view from up high, you need to know how to launch your hang glider. In this article, we will discuss three ways to launch a hang glider: by foot launching, scooter towing, and aerotowing. We'll also talk about how hang gliders gain altitude and how to maintain altitude without losing control. Finally, we'll discuss steering a hang glider and whether taking off or landing is more difficult.
Flight Notch was created with the goal of being the number one place for you to get all of your hang gliding questions answered. We want to share our love and expertise with everyone out there that wants to give this sport a try, and everything you read comes from extensive research and anecdotal evidence. So get ready to take off in your very own hang glider and explore the skies after reading this article.
How To Launch A Hang Glider
Launching a hang glider is one of the very first things that you’ll learn when you get started with the sport. Of course you won’t want to launch without having some sort of idea about how to steer or land (duh!), but you won’t really be able to do much else until you’re effectively able to launch the hang glider and get airborne.
There are three main ways to take off while hang gliding — foot launching, scooter towing, and aerotowing. Let’s take a little deeper look at each one so you understand how to launch a hang glider.
Foot Launching A Hang Glider (Hill Or Slope Launch)
The first (and without a doubt the most common) way to takeoff on a hang glider is foot launching. This is the way that you’ll almost always see in TV shows, movies, and YouTube videos, and it involves running down a hill to pick up speed and start to generate lift. Once enough lift has been generated, the glider will naturally want to take off and must provide some upward momentum to allow it to do so.
Even though it’s the most common way to takeoff, especially for experienced hang gliding pilots, foot launching is also widely considered the most challenging way to launch a hang glider. This is because you have to be able to run fast enough with your equipment to generate enough lift for it to work properly and safely. If you aren’t in the physical condition to properly foot launch, then you’ll need to rely on the other two methods of taking off.
Scooter Towing A Hang Glider
The second way to launch a hang glider is via scooter towing. This is a great way for new pilots to get airborne without having to foot launch, and it’s also a good method for those who aren’t able to physically foot launch. Scooter towing involves attaching the hang glider to a special scooter that’s designed for this purpose (although the “scooter” can be just about anything that can haul a glider!). The scooter will then tow the glider up a hill or slope until enough lift has been generated for takeoff.
While scooter towing is considered much safer than foot launching, it does have its own challenges. For one, you need someone to properly control the scooter while also managing the glider. This can be tricky, especially if you’re new to the sport. Additionally, you need a good launch spot that has a decent-sized hill or slope. If there’s not enough space or if the conditions aren’t right, then scooter towing won’t be an option.
Aerotowing A Hang Glider
The third and final way to takeoff on a hang glider is aerotowing. This involves being towed into the air behind a powered aircraft, such as a light plane or even a helicopter. Once you reach the desired altitude (usually around 500-600 feet), you’ll release from the towline and start flying like normal. It can be a bit scary to take off from the air like that, but it’s actually a heck of a lot easier than starting from the ground!
Aerotowing is considered the safest way to takeoff on a hang glider, but it also requires some specialized equipment and training. In order to be safe, both the pilot of the towplane and the person being towed need to be properly trained in how to do this maneuver. Additionally, you need a good spot where there’s plenty of open airspace for you to fly in without any obstacles. There are many types of planes out there, so it’s important to find the right one for the job.
How Do Hang Gliders Gain Altitude?
Once you master the there methods of taking off from the ground, you need to know what to do in order to gain altitude and then stay in the air. There is quite a bit of nuance to this since hang gliders are not powered by any sort of engine like airplanes and other forms of aircraft. Instead, hang gliders rely mainly on three things: lift, the movement of the air (wind), and thermals.
The first thing that hang gliders need to do to gain altitude is to generate lift. Lift is created due to the shape of the hang glider wing itself. Hang gliders are shaped like airfoils, just like wings of an airplane. The top of the wing has slightly more surface area than the bottom, which causes the air to move faster over the top and slower underneath the wing. This causes a decrease in pressure on the top of the wing, which lifts it up. This is similar to the way an airplane wing works.
As I’m sure you know, wind is simply the movement of air from one place to another. When a hang glider pilot flies into the wind, they will gain altitude (for the most part). The opposite is also true; if a pilot flies downwind, they will lose altitude. This is, of course, a great oversimplification of how hang gliding works, but we have other articles that dive into the nitty-gritty details. For the sake of this article, suffice it to know that wind is essential for gliding!
Lastly, hang gliding pilots rely on thermals to gain and maintain altitude during their flights. Thermals are columns of warm air that rise up from the ground. Pilots can find thermals by looking for areas that are warmer than the surrounding air. When a pilot flies into a thermal, they will gain altitude since the warm air is rising more so than the colder air around it.
How Do Hang Gliders Maintain Altitude?
Gaining altitude is only half the battle while hang gliding. Once you’re up there, you also need to be able to maintain and modulate your altitude as necessary. You don’t want to go too high or fly too low, and you also want to be in control so that you can land the glider when you want (or need) to. Maintaining altitude is all about using these same three methods in the opposite way.
If a hang glider pilot wants to maintain altitude, they need to make sure that the air is moving faster over the bottom of the wing than the top in order to produce the necessary lift to stay in the air. As mentioned above, this is naturally done by the shape of the wing on its own. But you can assist the process by flying into a headwind, which naturally generates a bit more lift.
I mentioned above that wind is essential for flying and gaining altitude, but it’s also essential for maintaining altitude. More often than not, the best course of action while hang gliding is to fly with the wind to a certain extent. By that I mean let the wind have at least some control over your flight, don’t try to fight it too much. You always want to be in control, of course, but flying with the wind makes for a much easier, much more relaxing flight!
And of course, thermals are also used to maintain altitude. When a pilot enters a thermal, they will gain altitude. As the thermal dissipates, the pilot will lose altitude until they find another thermal to ride. Just like before, there is certainly much more nuance to using thermals than this, but it can be boiled down to this in its simplest terms.
So there you have it! Now you know everything you need to know about gaining and maintaining altitude while hang gliding.
How Do You Steer A Hang Glider Once Airborne?
To steer a hang glider, pilots manipulate their bodyweight to make turns left or right. This can be accomplished with just one hand on each side of the control bar (or two hands for more precise movements). Pilots must learn how much pressure/force is needed when turning in order not only maintain altitude but also stay balanced while flying downwind — if they lose balance then chances are good that it will result in an unplanned landing!
If you’ve ever ridden something like a motorcycle or a jet ski, then you know exactly what I’m talking about here. Turning and steering is much more about shifting your body weight, or leaning. While you’re hang gliding, you can’t really lean, but you get my point. Trying to control a glider by pushing only on the control bar is not the right way to do it. It’s all about shifting your body weight!