This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
A hang glider and a sailplane are two different things that will give you different experiences. This is your complete guide to hang gliding vs sailplane.
To take to the skies, you need the help of something. Unfortunately, we can’t just flap our arms and head up into the air like birds, even though I sure wish we could! While many of you that come to this site know what a hang glider is, you might not know what a sailplane is and how the two differ. So consider this your number one resource in finding out everything about the two activities.
Hang gliding and sailplane gliding are considered the two most leisurely extreme air sports, focusing on soaring through the air and taking in the views. That said, sailplane gliding is far more expensive and requires more extensive training than hang gliding does.
So you want to go gliding but you're not sure which type is for you? In this article, we will compare hang gliding and sailplane gliding, two of the most popular types of flight. Hang gliding is a sport that has been around for centuries, while sailplane gliding is a newer sport that has gained in popularity in recent years. Both have their pros and cons, so let's take a closer look at each one!
Flight Notch is a site dedicated to gliding and diving enthusiasts, and every piece of content that we publish is written by similar enthusiasts (just like me!). So when you come here, you’re not just getting run of the mill content. You’re getting first-hand experience, extensive research, and the opinions of other experts from all over the place. This way you can get the best content imaginable in this space.
Hang Gliding Vs Sailplane Gliding: A Complete Guide
Hang gliding is an extreme air sport that’s usually thought of as the most relaxing of the major similar sports. While hang gliding, you’re attached to a big glider (basically a giant kite) that soars through the air thanks to lift and the movement of the air. It’s great for getting breathtaking views and taking in the beauty of the world, while also being plenty exciting at the same time.
When it comes to relatively leisurely extreme air sports, sailplane gliding is right up there with hang gliding. In essence, the two sports are the same thing — gliding with an unpowered aircraft, focused on taking in the views and enjoying the skies. The difference is that with a sailplane, you’re seated in an actual plane-like glider instead of suspended beneath a big wing.
The biggest difference between the two — besides the actual aircraft itself — is the launch. Both aircraft can be launched via aerotowing, but that’s the main way that sailplanes are launched. This involves being towed behind an airplane and then released. The most common way that hang gliders are launched, on the other hand, is from the ground by running downhill and then pulling up.
Safety & Risks
Hang gliding and sailplane gliding are both fun sports, but they also both come with inherent risks. Since the sports are so similar on a macro scale, many of the risks associated with each one are similar.
The main risks involved with hang gliding include:
- Falling: One of the biggest risks when hang gliding is falling. This can happen for a number of reasons, such as losing control of your glider or hitting turbulence.
- Collisions: Another common risk when hang gliding is colliding with another object, whether it be the ground, a building, or another person.
- Extreme weather conditions: Hang gliders are susceptible to extreme weather conditions, such as high winds and thunderstorms. If you're caught in bad weather while flying, it can be very dangerous.
- Equipment Failure: This can involve the glider itself, your parachute, or anything else that you use while flying.
The main risks associated with sailplane gliding include:
- Low altitude flying: Sailplanes fly much lower to the ground than hang gliders do, so there's a greater risk of colliding with something on the ground.
- High winds and Bad Weather: Sailplanes are also susceptible to high winds, which can make flying difficult and dangerous.
- Collisions: Just like with hang gliders, it’s essential to always be aware of any other aircraft or objects that are flying through the air.
How Are These Risks Mitigated?
The risks associated with hang gliding and sailplane gliding can both be mitigated by taking proper safety precautions and forcing yourself to stay focused at all times. For example, while hang gliding, you should always wear a helmet and other protective gear to reduce the risk of injuries if you fall. Additionally, it's important to only fly in safe weather conditions, and to never fly near airports or other populated areas.
When sailing, you should always fly in good weather conditions and avoid flying near power lines or other obstacles. Additionally, make sure you know the area you're flying in and stay well away from airports.
Basically, the same precautions should be taken for both sports to mitigate the risk of running into any detrimental issues. Check your equipment, make sure the weather is suitable for flying, and remain focused from take off to landing.
In order to start hang gliding, you need to take lessons. A basic lesson package starts at $150+, and you’ll probably want to do at least 5-10 training lessons total before you fly solo. Then, if you decide that hang gliding is something that interests you, then the next thing you’ll want to do is pick up your own equipment. The average beginner wing costs around $1,000 to $3,000 used or $5,000+ new.
The cost to start sailplane gliding is more expensive than hang gliding and it also requires more time in training and practice, especially since you’ll need a Glider’s Pilot License. The average cost of a sailplane is around $8,000+ to purchase used, and the price skyrockets up to $100,000 to $300,000 or more for a brand new sailplane.
Also required are some extra costs such as the trailer and hangar necessary for towing your glider around and storing it when not in use. Trailers can range anywhere from $500-$2,000 depending on what kind it is and hangars can cost you hundreds of dollars per month. You of course also have to pay to have someone perform the aerotowing needed to get you into the sky.
The cost for training depends greatly on how much time the student pilot wants to spend learning before they feel comfortable flying solo, although this choice is often made by their instructor due to safety concerns rather than just personal preference. Getting licensed typically costs anywhere from $4,500 to $8,500 or more.
All told, sailplane gliding is far more expensive to get into than hang gliding in every aspect. To fly a sailplane, you have to be licensed since it’s regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which can cost thousands of dollars. The sailplane itself is also more expensive than a hang glider is.
Which One Is Harder To Learn?
This is a question that many people have asked and there is no easy answer. Both sports are challenging in their own ways, but it really depends on the person’s individual interests and abilities. Sailplane gliding can be more difficult to learn if you are not used to flying aircraft, while hang gliding can be more difficult if you are used to flying normal types of planes.
Overall, sailplane gliding may require a bit more patience and discipline than hang gliding because there is often a longer learning curve before pilots can start flying solo. Additionally, as mentioned a couple of times earlier, you have to actually earn a Glider Pilot’s License (GPL) to really get out there and fly solo. This is not required for hang gliding, and earning hang gliding ratings is much easier than earning your GPL.
All told, you can learn how to do both sports over the course of a few months and be plenty proficient in flying. Although sailplane gliding might take more time on average than learning how to hang glide, hang gliding requires a bit more mental and physical toughness. This is because you have to constantly be in control of the aircraft while simultaneously battling the elements.
Hang Gliding Vs Sailplane Gliding: Which Is Better?
A lot of people enjoy hang gliding because it’s cheaper and easier than sailplane gliding, but if you want to fly long distances and stay up in the air for as long as possible, then a sailplane might be for you! Sailplane pilots typically travel farther than their hang-gliding counterparts. That said, the experience is entirely different, and hang gliding offers a much more raw experience as you really get to feel the wind in your hair.
So, if you’re looking for a relaxing day out flying through the sky with beautiful scenery all around you, sailplane gliding might be better. But if you want to feel like a bird, experience the thrill of soaring and want to save money at the same time, then hang gliding is the better option.
Personally, I think hang gliding is quite a bit more fun, and it’s also far easier and cheaper to get started with. So if I had to choose one, I would without a doubt pick hang gliding. But you should give both sports a fair shot and see which one you enjoy the most!