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Neither hang gliding or paragliding are typically thought of when you imagine a safe activity, but they sure are fun! Which one is safer?
Trust me, I get it. Worrying about how safe something like hang gliding or paragliding is can be one of the biggest holdups and hurdles stopping you from getting into these exciting sports. But the truth is, these activities might be much safer than you think. To most people, they might seem inherently dangerous, but that’s not necessarily the case. But is one safer than the other?
Hang gliding and paragliding are both extreme aerial sports that involve free-flying through the skies, and both can be dangerous if done improperly. According to USHPA, there are roughly 3.5 hang gliding deaths per year and 5.9 paragliding deaths per year.
When it comes to the question of which sport is safer – hang gliding or paragliding – both activities involve a certain amount of risk, but how much depends on the individual and their level of experience. In this article, we will take a look at both sports and discuss the risks involved in each. We’ll also offer advice on how to stay safe while participating in these activities, and review the number of accidents and fatalities that have occurred in each sport.
At Flight Notch, our main focus is providing you with the best, most helpful gliding content that you’ll find anywhere on the web. Especially when it comes to any topic related to safety, only the most accurate information will suffice. To ensure this, we extensively researched this topic to find statistics, consulted with other experts and enthusiasts, and used our own knowledge to really outline which sport is safer.
What Is Hang Gliding?
Hang gliding is an aerial sport or recreational activity in which a person hangs beneath a specially designed winged frame and pilots it by shifting their weight in order to control flight. This winged frame acts like a huge kite, or similar to the way that the airfoil (think wing) of an airplane acts.
Due to its shape, air moves across the top of the wing faster than the bottom, creating higher pressure underneath the glider. This difference in pressure creates lift, which keeps the hang glider flying. The amount of lift generated depends on several factors: how fast the wind is blowing, how large and smooth the surface below the hang glider is, how steep the angle of attack is, and more.
We have other articles on the site that dive into the details about how hang gliders work, but that should give you an idea!
What Is Paragliding?
Paragliding is a recreational and competitive extreme sport that involves flying — you guessed it — paragliders! These lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched aircraft are somewhat similar to hang gliders except that they have no rigid primary structure. Instead of a kite-like wing, a paraglider is just a fabric airfoil that’s more similar to a narrow section of parachute.
The pilot sits in a harness (or lays horizontally like in a hang glider) suspended below a fabric wing composed of a large number of interconnected baffled cells. Wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over it. By skillful exploitation of sources of lift, the pilot may gain height and fly for long periods of time, just like with hang gliding.
Hang Gliding Vs Paragliding: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between them is that a hang glider has a rigid frame, while a paraglider does not. Hang gliders are also heavier than paragliders and require more wind to get them into the air, which means paragliders can often be used on days and in conditions that are not conducive for hang gliding.
Additionally, hang gliders are more aerodynamic than paragliders, which means that they can travel faster and farther. Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all comparison. Performance-oriented paragliders or pilots with more experience can still out fly many inexperienced hang gliders out there.
But let’s be honest here, these sports are not in competition just to see who can fly faster or farther. They’re both absolutely amazing sports that let you experience things that nothing else on this planet offers.
Hang Gliding Vs Paragliding: Which Is Safer?
Now that you know a bit about what each sport is and how they differ from each other on a macro scale, let’s take a look at the risks associated with it.
What Are The Risks Of Hang Gliding?
Even though it’s typically considered a relatively safe sport, there are some risks that you need to be aware of when you hang gliding. These include:
- Losing focus and making poor decisions: If you lose focus while hang gliding, you can make a bad decision such as turning too quickly, flying too low, or worse. Remain vigilant at all times.
- Collision with other gliders or aircraft: One of the biggest dangers when is colliding with other aircraft. This can occur either on takeoff or landing, or while in flight.
- Poor weather conditions: Flying in poor weather conditions can increase the risk of accidents and fatalities. Winds can gust unexpectedly, which can throw you off balance or cause you to lose control of your glider. Fog and low clouds can also make it difficult to see obstacles and other aircrafts.
- Landing mistakes: A bad landing can result in serious injury or death. If you land too fast, you could hit the ground at a much higher speed than you intended.
- Equipment failure: Hang gliders are susceptible to equipment failure, which can result in a crash landing.
Hopefully these risks haven’t turned you away from giving hang gliding a shot just yet. There are plenty of ways to lower the chances of anything bad happening while you fly.
How to Avoid The Risks Associated With Hang Gliding
To reduce the risk of accidents while hang gliding, you should always follow the safety guidelines set out by your instructor and everything you learned during your lessons. In addition, you should:
- Always fly with a buddy: Never attempt to fly on your own – only do so when accompanied by another experienced pilot.
- Check the weather conditions before flying: Make sure that the weather is suitable for flying before taking off. Do not fly in poor weather conditions.
- Wear appropriate clothing and gear: Make sure you are wearing clothing and gear that is appropriate for the weather conditions, as well as something that can hold up in an emergency landing. Never fly in shorts or sandals.
- Stay alert at all times: Always be aware of your surroundings and the aircrafts around you. Do not become distracted while flying.
Most of these might seem like the basics of hang gliding, and that’s because they are! As long as you follow these simple tips, you lower your chance of anything bad happening greatly.
What Are The Risks Of Paragliding?
Paragliding might seem like this incredibly dangerous activity, but, like hang gliding, it’s actually pretty safe. That said, there are still some inherent risks to paragliding to be aware of. And, to be completely honest, the risks are almost the exact same as those associated with hang gliding since the sports are so similar to one another!
That said, paragliders also have an additional risk, and that’s of the wing itself getting tangled up in one way or another. A strong gust of wind, or perhaps something like a bird could fly right into it. And since it’s a loose fabric wing, it can easily get tangled up on itself. If this happens, you lose all lift and start heading to the ground.
How Can You Avoid These Risks?
Since most of the risks of paragliding are similar to those associated with hang gliding, I won’t bore you by repeating the exact same things again. However, we can briefly discuss the one major additional risk of paragliding that I mentioned above.
If something happens to your wing while paragliding, the number one thing is to not panic. More often than not, you can use the guide cables to wriggle the wing of the paraglider enough to untangle it or to dislodge whatever is stuck in it. Then as soon as the air hits it, the wing will immediately spread back out and generate lift again on its own.
That said, this is why it’s so important to have the right equipment each time you go gliding, especially a knife and a parachute. In extreme circumstances, having a knife is essential for cutting yourself free from the tangled up fabric and then you can pull your parachute to safely come back down to the ground.
How Many Gliding Deaths Are There?
While comparing the safety of different sports can often be difficult, if not impossible, we got lucky with this one. Both of these sports can be compared easily since they’re both overseen by the same organization, the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Associated (USHPA).
Every year, USHPA publishes annual fatality records for all recorded deaths in each sport among its members. USHPA members can be used to represent the entire population of people that participate in these sports since most hang gliding sites in the US require an USHPA rating for you to be able to fly. So let’s dive into those reports and see which sport is safer.
Based on the annual fatality reports, there is an average of 3.5 fatalities per year while hang gliding. Based on data from the same reports, there is an average of 5.9 hang gliding deaths per year. With those two numbers alone, it would seem that there’s a stark difference between the two sports, but that’s not the entire picture.
You also have to take into account how many hang gliding pilots there are and how many paragliding pilots there are. According to the organization, the number of hang gliding members fluctuates between 3,000 and 4,000; for paragliding members, it’s 4,000 to 5,000.
So there are more paragliders out there, and if we assume that the average paraglider pilot goes on as many flights as the average hang gliding pilot, then there should be a bit more paragliding accidents. All taken into account, there is roughly 1 fatality in every 1,000 hang gliding pilots and 1 fatality in every 760 paragliding pilots.
Is Paragliding Safer Than Hang Gliding?
There is no definitive answer when it comes to which sport is safer since it depends on your own definition of safe vs dangerous. Both sports have their own risks, and there are ways to minimize those risks and stay safe while participating in either activity.
However, purely looking at the fatality numbers, it seems that hang gliding may be a bit safer than paragliding. There are fewer fatalities each year associated with hang gliding accidents compared to paragliding accidents, but this difference alone probably shouldn’t be the driving factor behind your decision to choose one sport over the other.
So, if you're trying to decide between the two sports, it might be wise to go with hang gliding if you just want the statistically safer option. But remember that both activities can be dangerous if not done properly. Heck, I recommend trying out both sports and seeing which one you enjoy more!