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Hang gliding

Hang gliding is a recreational activity and competitive sport closely related to gliding, but using much more minimalistic craft often consisting of a metal-framed fabric wing, with the pilot mounted on a harness hanging from the wing frame and exercising control by shifting body weight against a triangular bar also attached to the frame.

Hang gliding in the Austrian Alps,
above Zell am See[?].

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Many early experiments with gliding flight throughout the late 19th century were performed using craft that would now be considered hang gliders, and interest in the sport continued throughout the 20th century.

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Hang gliding was invented, or at least strongly influenced, by the NASA technician Francis Rogallo in the 1960s who had to develop a landing system for the Apollo astronauts return to earth. The major breakthrough was the famous flight of Mike Harker[?] from the Zugspitze[?] in Germany in 1972. After that hang gliding became popular all over the world, with the peak in the 1980s. After that it was superseded by paragliding. Today the relation is approximately 90:10.


In the '60s and the early '70s many gliders were built that can only be called "extremely dangerous". After that the development, know-how and materials were improved until the first glider came on the market that had all security elements that can still be found today: The "Atlas" (La Muette, 1978). Then performance increased rapidly. The first true "double surface" glider was the UP "Comet". The first glider without a keel pocket was the Wills Wing "HP" (~1990). In the late 1990s the kingpost on top of the wing was removed to further increase the performance by reducing drag. These gliders are now called "topless gliders". Both topless and kingposted gliders belong to the family of the "flex wings". In parallel the first commercially successful "rigid wing" came on the market (the "Exxtacy") with the leading edge completely made of carbon. This new generation of gliders is controlled by spoilers on top of the wing, while the flex wings are still controlled by weight shift.


As a backup, pilots carry a parachute with them in the harness. In case of serious problems the parachute is deployed and carries both pilot and glider down to earth. The size is typically 30 m2 and the related sink rate should not exceed 6 to 7 m/s (can be less, depending on the state of the glider) which is still sufficient to break some bones.

Performance (2003)

  • Topless gliders: glide ratio ~1:15, speed range ~30 to >100 km/h, best glide at ~45 to 50 km/h
  • Rigid wings: glide ratio ~1:18, speed range ~ 35 to > 100 km/h, best glide at ~50 to 55 km/h

Note: Glide ratio is typically not provided by the manufacturers as it is nearly impossible to measure reliably and depends on many factors like pilot weight, harness design, helmet and so on.

Costs (2003)

  • Rigid wings: ~10000 Euro
  • Topless gliders: 5-6000 Euro
  • Intermediates: ~4000 Euro
  • Beginner gliders: < 4000 Euro
  • Harness: 500 - 1500 Euro
  • Parachute: ~ 500 Euro
  • Instruments: 200 - 1000 Euro
  • School: 2-3 lessons 3-400 Euro


Records fall into nearly the same categories as the ones of the sailplanes and are authorized by the FAI. The current world record for "free distance" is held by Manfred Ruhmer with a distance of 700 km (435 miles) in 1991.


Competitions started with "flying as long as possible" and spot landings. With increasing performance cross-country flying replaced them. Usually two to four waypoints have to be passed and photographed. In the late '90s low-power GPS units were introduced and have replaced the photographs completely. Every two years there is a world championship.

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