How Dangerous is Hang Gliding? | Flight Notch

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Flying thousands of feet above the ground with nothing but a hang glider to keep you alive can’t be safe, right? How dangerous is hang gliding?

If you’re on the fence about getting into hang gliding, one of the main things that might be holding you up is how risky it is. No matter how exciting and how freeing it may be, you just might not want to put yourself in a dangerous situation like that. So if you’re wondering how dangerous hang gliding is, this is the article for you.  

Although it can be one of the most relaxing experiences on earth, there are many things that can go wrong while hang gliding. These include poor weather conditions, pilot error & poor judgment, other gliders/aircraft in the sky, equipment failure, and more, that can lead to injury or death.

Hang gliding is a popular sport that can provide an adrenaline rush like no other. However, it can also be dangerous, especially when not done the right way. In this article, we will take a look at some of the dangers involved in hang gliding and discuss why it is considered such a risky activity. We will also explore some of the safety features that are built into hang gliders to help minimize the risk of injury or death.

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Is Hang Gliding Dangerous?

I won’t try to sugarcoat anything here to convince you to join this great sport. Hang gliding can be dangerous. Anytime you’re flying thousands of feet through the air with nothing but a hang glider and your equipment, there are dangers afoot.

What Are The Most Dangerous Things About Hang Gliding?

Let's take a look at each of the aforementioned dangers in greater detail to see how they pose a danger while hang gliding and how you can mitigate the associated risks.

Poor Weather

Poor weather conditions are one of the most dangerous things about hang gliding. A pilot must always be aware of local forecasts, especially when flying in unfamiliar locations or high altitudes such as mountains. At higher altitudes, there is less oxygen available to breathe and more wind gusts that can cause turbulence on your glider, which may lead to loss of control or even collapse.

You should also check for lightning strikes since these can pose a serious threat while flying through thunderstorms or near bodies of water. This is because water vapors and the salt within act like a conduit between the clouds and the earth and will likely create static electricity, greatly increasing the chance of lightning strikes.

Poor weather conditions also include sudden wind changes from calm to rowdy in no time, rain clouds forming overhead with heavy downpours, thermal plumes which affect the way your glider handles, and more.

Pilot Error & Poor Judgment

Pilot error is a big problem when it comes to hang gliding. It can result in injuries or even death if not dealt with. The most common mistakes made by pilots include not checking their lines for twists or snags on takeoff, flying too close to the ground (especially near trees), and turning sharply at high speeds which may cause you to lose control of your glider altogether.

If you do happen to lose control of your glider, don't panic. Instead, stay focused and try to regain your composure as you begin figuring out what to do. One of the key things about hang gliding is that, in the vast majority of incidents, you should be able to regain control and be perfectly fine if you remember your training and don't panic.

Other Gliders & Aircraft

It's important for pilots to always be aware of other gliders and other aircraft in the sky.

The most common areas that hang glider pilots would encounter other aircraft are near airports where there will be plenty of planes taking off or landing. Keep in mind, however, that these locations are heavily regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and you're likely not legally allowed to fly here anyway!

Besides airports, your biggest issue will likely be other hang gliders. In areas where hang gliding is popular, it's not uncommon to see multiple pilots flying around at once. It's important for each pilot to remain vigilant and remember that they're responsible for keeping themselves ( as well as everyone else) safe while in the air.

This includes avoiding collisions by staying focused on what you can control -- how close you fly to other pilots, gliders, and aircraft.

Equipment Failure

Equipment failure is another serious issue that can occur while hang gliding. This includes things like line twists or broken parts on your glider. One of the best ways to mitigate the risk of equipment failure is by always checking your gear before takeoff and making sure everything is in good condition.

Additionally, you should always have a backup plan if something does go wrong. For example,  always carry a knife to cut yourself free from your glider in the event of a line twist, and always make sure you have enough altitude to safely deploy your reserve parachute. This should go without saying, but don't cut yourself free if you don't have a parachute!

How Many Hang Gliding Fatalities Are There Per Year?

When it comes to hang gliding in the US, you will most likely be a member of the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding ASsociation (USHPA) since this is the organization that gives out the ratings needed to fly. This is important because USHPA is the same organization that publishes related fatalities every year.

According to the
annual fatality reports from USHPA, there is an average of about 3.5 hang gliding deaths per year. With membership numbers fluctuating from around 3,000 to 4,000 members, that means that roughly 1 in every 1,000 members dies annually while gliding.

What we don’t know, however, is how many flights each member flies on average, so we can’t give an exact statistic on the number of deaths per flight. But in terms of USHPA members, roughly 0.1% of them suffer fatal accidents every year.

Do Hang Gliders Have Any Safety Features?

Thankfully, hang gliders have safety features that are designed to protect you in the event of an accident. We’ll talk about two main features here: body harnesses and hang gliding parachutes.

Hang Gliding Harness

When I mention harnesses, I’m talking about the entire setup that you, the pilot, get strapped into. This includes the body harness itself as well as the hang loop. Both of these safety features are absolutely necessary when hang gliding and every glider out there uses harnesses and hang loops while flying.

These are designed to attach you to the hang glider, keep your body in the proper position for optimal control, and prevent you from falling to the earth. Additionally, they can also help prevent you from becoming tangled up with your glider if it collapses mid-flight.

Hang Glider Parachute

The other major safety feature on a hang glider is its parachute. Unlike the body harness and hang loop, hang gliders themselves typically do not include a parachute, but most pilots wear a parachute within the harness while gliding. It can be absolutely essential to safety, especially if you plan on performing any acrobatic stunts.

We all know what parachutes are, right?

 In terms of their use while hang gliding, this device is designed specifically for emergencies when there is no other option but to bail. In this situation, simply pull the chute and it catches you and allows you to slowly drift down to earth. At least relatively slowly when compared to freefall. In extreme circumstances, a parachute can be the difference between life and death.

Bottom Line: How Dangerous Is It?

So, is hang gliding dangerous? The answer to that question is yes and no. Sure, there are dangers associated with the sport of hang gliding. However, if you're aware of these dangers and take proper precautions, then the risks can be greatly minimized.

In conclusion, while hang gliding definitely has its risks, it can also be a very rewarding experience when done safely. So please make sure you know what you're getting into before taking flight.