San Diego Hang Gliders

Picture this. You’re standing on a rounded hilltop. A soft breeze is in your face. In front of you is a gentle, grassy slope leading down into the valley. You start your run down the slope with gravity helping to pull you along into a fast run. Within a several steps you are lifted, the ground falls away beneath your feet, you’re running on air. You’re flying.

Have you ever dreamed of flying? We don’t mean riding in an airplane, but really flying, the way the birds fly; gliding gently through the air with a bird’s-eye-view of everything below and out to the horizon, or soaring upwards on rising thermal currents, banking and turning to follow the lifting air. Maybe you’ve even been aware that there are some people who do fly this way but thought that you could never do it; that it was too difficult, or too dangerous.

Well, it is dangerous, but you can fly if you want to. The modern sport of hang gliding offers access to personal, bird-like flight that is considered by those who train to an advanced level, to be reasonably safe. You should be aware that no flight activities are without risk. With the advent of texting teenagers, your biggest risk might be in the drive over.

Hang glider pilots utilize lightweight wings made of aerospace aluminum alloys covered with space-age polymer fabric, shifting their weight to control speed and direction.

Today’s advanced teaching methods, coupled with modern flying equipment, make the learning process fun, reasonably safe and, for some it seems to be easy. You can get involved at any level and to whatever degree you choose, from a single, introductory lesson to a full course of instruction leading to solo flight and your own equipment and pilot rating.

To start, you can fly from a mountain on a tandem wing with an instructor at your side, or skim over a shallow slope under an instructor’s supervision, just a few inches off the ground. If you choose to go farther, you’ll learn the finer points of controlling your wing under the guidance of your instructor, while you also learn to understand the winds and how they affect your flight.

You’ll become part of a community of pilots, and find that people who share a love of flying are some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet – people who live life with a sense of adventure and with a passion that few experience.

– See more at:

Cross Country Flying With Butch

Fellow non-feathered friends:

I invite anyone who cares to expand their horizons to fly XC over the back of Horse. It was exciting to see a couple of pilots break out from Horse last Sunday. As in Bill’s weekend flying report pilots were getting to 7k to 8k msl.. 10k and above zone seems to be the comfort zone for most pilots to head out XC from Horse.

Skip the next 4 paragraphs if you know all about the Victor airway.
Skip the whole piece if you already know the route to Jacumba.

There is a historical air traffic conflict when we climb to 10k over the Horse launch. It puts us in the Victor airway which is legal VFR for anyone but it is also the descending approach altitude for SD Lindberg. Why do I know this? The FAA came out to a club meet and discussed the Victor airway with us. The FAA agent requested we stay in the 8s and the airliner will stay at 10k unless weather lowers the ceiling.

I personally had a US Air miss me by an airliner wing span. The US Air pilot has just punched out of a thunderstorm cloud a few miles East and was busy dealing with approach, earlier IFR and turbulence. Visibility was a little opaque with high clouds filtering the light. A hang glider turning flat in 100 to 200 lift was not easy to see from a distance. The US Air airspeed was somewhere around 230 knots which gave him 39 seconds to see me after exiting the cloud whiteout maybe 3 miles east.

Talk about scaring the crap out of me when I hear the sound of jet engines behind me as I climbed in lift. It was like a dance were you face and turn with your partner. Within a 180 degrees of the 360, I saw him coming, turned facing him as he went by, and turned to see his descend.

Immediately the chatter came over the radio from pilots on the ground. “Butch did you see how close that plane got to you?!!! “ I told them I was a little unnerved and was going to shorten my flight and land at Julian for pie. I didn’t make it to Julian because I had to use my parachute later in the flight but that is another story.

Sunday it was a milk run day to McCain Valley but any farther took some pucker power and luck to get to Jacumba Airport. I was second to last to launch. Everyone seemed to be in the 8k msl range altitude. Being slow to climb and I thought I had missed the good conditions. The two Atos pilots David and Rich had already headed East.. Bill was last to launch and flew out from launch to start his zoom climb. Observing Bill’s climb rate, I moved up wind and climbed out too. Thanks Bill.

When I hit 7700 I saw 4 pilots above me and I beckon to Anna and the rest by pointing East. Time to go. With everyone above me and Bill climbing through me I hope I would have a wing man. (Sorry Anna)

Earlier that day, Anna was reluctant to go flying because she had a good flight Saturday. She decided to go when Bill H. came through with his niece Amanda as a driver. Anna was interested in going XC and requested that I show her a map with possible LZs. Unless I had a map tapped to my basetube, I doubt if I could remember any to go to points. Anna must have powers of comprehension beyond mere mortals.

This begs the question I hear from most pilots. “ Where are the LZs if I go XC?” Being of the school that there are too many LZs to count and many more thermals, I told Anna that it is better to see the LZs from the air. This is where the trust level went sideways in Anna’s eyes.

I have shepherd 60-80 paying students over the back from many sites. The XC students valued the guidance they received. If training was free it would have had no value to them. When I said go they went. This XC student trust level ranged from going over the back of Little Black at a 1000 ft above launch and landing in a school yard (LZ) 7 miles away to flying 120 miles away from Chelan Butte WA starting with crossing the Columbia River Valley and landing short the Snake River.

So what altitude should we start considering leaving Horse going toward Jacumba to reach the many LZs? On the low end, Susan on her 1999 Ultra Sport and I headed East at 6500. We made it to McCain Valley. 7000 to 8000 is a good altitude with 5 LZs before the Casino and windmills.

Going toward Laguna is possible at 7000 which I have done with a wing man drifting in windy conditions. It was not fun. 8000 to 9000 gives us 3 LZs before we get over the escarpment.

Sunday I left Horse at 7500 with no wing man and picked up the first thermal (50-100) a couple miles before the Casino just North of I8. Next was the usual house thermal (200-300 ) as the freeway climbs to the summit of 4500 still Northwest of the Casino.

After the Casino I drift in and out of lift clearing the windmills with multiple LZs Northeast of Casino and LZs on the North side of the I8. I imagine the freeway as thermal trigger/soarable ridge in the usual Southwest wind. I headed pass the Oak Springs LZ as I drift with the light thermals pushing me to the Northeast out over Ribbon Rd. I pass my favorite uphill into the wind LZ on Ribbon Rd which is located South of the freeway and North of Old 80.

After each small light thermal I glided back toward the freeway for the next thermal being trigger by the raised up I8. I avoided being drifted to far North over the downhill slope toward McCain Valley. The thermal frequency seems to go down, but there are LZs everywhere.

Boulevard is next town with an excellent large LZ just to the East of town on Old 80. Again all along the freeway ridge there are small thermals to play with that drifted me over flat lands of McCain Valley on the North side of I8. Oh yes, the whole valley is a LZ. In this area I met up with Dave on his Atos coming down from 5800 to my altitude of the high 4000. It was wonderful to finally have a wing man to help spot lift. We drifted together in light broke lift. Dave turn Southwest to look for lift and get closer to the McCain Valley LZ East of Boulevard.

My plan was to get as much altitude as possible before attempting to enter the Valley of Death and the high tower power lines that guards the entrance. No nice LZs just crash LZs.This is the pucker point of the flight.

In the spring I came through the V of D drifting in lift and it ended up a easy flight to Jacumba. Two Sundays ago I entered at a lower altitude into the V of D and experienced a venture of wind, turbulence, gusts and heavy sink. I turned back into the blustery West wind that day and cleared the power lines. Touch down was a half mile glider & gear walk to McCain Valley Rd.

So this time I started in the V of D higher than the previous Sunday and it seemed a little less windy. There was no lift so I tried crossing to the South side of the V of D to a ridge running South. This course committed me to a few LZs on a down slope roads into the wind. If I didn’t find lift there was no way to get back Northwest to McCain Valley.

All of a sudden as I passed over a peak in the ridge with a communication antenna and there was a large grey hawk banked up at 60 degrees climbing fast a 100 ft above and ahead of me. This was luck part of the flight when I met the true two wing man. I went from 600-800 down to banging around and around in 300 to 500 up tight core. The core blew apart in the wind gust after 500 ft but this gave me breathing room to head back to the same peak. Blam! Again I was climbing in a strong tight core. After climbing higher, I notice my feathered wing man friend below me heading back to the face of the peak to play in the thermal column. Thanks grey bird.

I continue to move South on the ridge picking up thermals and then drifted over a valley that lead Southeast to Jacumba 5 miles way. I was now at 5500 which was the highest I had been since I had left Horse. There were plenty LZs below me but a long walk if I landed in the valley. I cruised over the Jacumba airport east of Jacumba. I didn’t see any flight operations or vehicles around the airstrip. I was down to 4800 with lift everywhere taking me to 6200. The desert was inviting as I drifted in lift east of the airport. I had no contact from anyone but could hear Dave directing Driver Dan to McCain Valley LZ. Did I mentioned LZs everywhere?

I flew around for 45 mins and flew back to the west of Jacumba and then Northwest to check out the possible LZs I could of landed on the west side of the down slope ridge. Turning back to Jacamba, it was easy picking up lift to get back.

I had a smooth landing on the nicest field with a flag on a hill west of me and a flag on a house across the road on Old 80. As I walked my glider the 100 ft to the paved road an Indian gentleman came out of his house. I yelled “Hey Charlie” He replied “Is that you Butch?” I had met Charlie last spring when I landed in the same field. That time I did not have a driver and he offered to take me back to Horse and a beer too. Driver Dan, Dave, and Rich rolled up with in minutes while Charlie and I caught up on his trip to New Mexico and getting married last month.

Dave told dumb guy Butch that I was 10 clicks off channel on the radio. I must of moved the lock when I was trying to get the MotoCom push to talk to work. Anyone have a good set up for push to talk?

On the ride back Dave, Rich and I pointed out some of our more challenging LZs we used in the 80-90s when the gliders had less performance. They dropped me off to Bill H in Pine Valley for ice cream.

Anna told me about the rock and roll landings at Anderson LZ because it was going off with thermals. One of the pilots got popped up on final and almost hit a car. That reminded me that the last time I came in for a landing at Anderson as whole LZ was going off when I was on final so I climb up from 100 ft. I flew around till LZ settled down and dove under the lift to get down.

What’s that sound ringing in my ears? “There are better LZs over the back downwind. It is easier finding lift than LZs”

One of the fun fantasies of our flying is imagining what is possible even on low altitude flying days. What I enjoy is the creative adventure that presents itself with possibilities to go somewhere. Many pilots have better skills in climbing and landing than I do. I know they can fly high and land safe whenever they choose to go.

Next time when you’re above me, come along for the adventure.

Laguna Mountain

  • Flight Type: Thermal/XC
  • Best time to fly: Year Round – Summer is turbulent
  • USHPA Rating Recommendation: H3, P3SDHGPA membership required by special use permit
  • Launch: 5400ft* (1645m)
  • LZ* (primary) 2000ft (609m)
  • Orientation(s):E, E Wind preferred at 8-10kts. Convergence days preferred
  • Take off: Cliff launch
  • Landing:Open field
  • Airspace: This site has no airspace restrictions.
  • Hazards: Summer months are turbulent
  • Vehicle Access: Road access to launch, long turnaround time

Rules and Regulations:

  • Access to this site is allowed via a temporary special use permit funded by the SDHGPA Anza Borrego State Park Use Permit (610kB pdf)
  • Site briefing is mandatory for this site
  • All rules/regulations regarding launching and landing will be given during the site briefing

* Directions and GPS coordinates for this site available the SDHGPA members upon request. This site is listed as Sensitive with USHPA

Laguna Mountain Launch Video

Here’s a link to a video from 13,500 ft at Laguna Mountain.

Top Landing In A Hang Glider @ Horse

Here is a short video of my approach and landing at the top of Horse.

If you are looking to learn to hang glide please visit this page.

Mt Laguna Cliff Launch Hang Gliding to 13,500 Everyone Flew XC

Flying at Laguna turned out to be pretty much as forecast.

Eight San Diego hang glider pilots were there as well as Bill from Elsinore, Markus and Bruce from Crestline (both on rigid wings). Top of lift was from 12000′ to 15000′ and everybody flew for hours.

Bill Steuber had his first flight at Laguna and spent a lot of time over 14000′ on his single surface. Having never flown the area he wasn’t sure where to go so just enjoyed the view for a few hours and landed at the club property. Greg, Josh, and Anna flew around the escarpment overlooking Mason Valley for a while and eventually decided to head North. When they arrived at the Banner area they were still several thousand feet above the ground. Greg had had enough and tried to get down to land. Instead he climbed 3500′. After at least a half hour the West finally came through and he was able to make his way down. Meanwhile Anna and Josh were staying over 10000′ and had gone to the VOR. From there they were unable to do the long glides to the next LZs on their single surface gliders. Anna decided to land at Fish and Game, Josh tried to go North and landed just past the turn off to Ranchita.

The rest were heading North. It turned out to be difficult to get across the Warner plain with any altitude. John landed at Mataguay, Markus landed at the Warner Airport, Dietmar and Mike landed at the Conservation Camp. Kamyar was able to hunt around on the East end of the Palomar range and find lift that took him back up. He continued to Hemet then came back to land in the foothills at the East end of the Warner Plain.

Meanwhile, Bruce and Elsinore Bill were trying to fly “home”. Each almost made it. Elsinore Bill landed at Murrietta, and Bruce landed at Yucaipa.

Sunday just Dietmar and John went to Laguna. The West breeze came through before noon. They both took off in slightly down air. Dietmar was able to escape the down and climbed to over 10000′ and worked his way out to Terwilliger. John did not get quite so far.

It is not mid May yet, we may get another great Laguna day

Hang Glider Tuck & Tumble U2 145

There’s a video floating around lately of a foreign pilot who tumbled their U2 145. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the video:

This video is a great conversation piece for a few principles we should all understand to stay safe out there. A quick rundown on what you see in the video: A pilot (consequently at 3/4 VG) pushes out to do a stall. When he recognizes the glider stalling, he pulls in very quickly/aggressively, initiating a very fast nose-down pitching motion. As the nose continues to drop well below horizontal, the pilot pushes out.

Going through the play-by-play, here’s what he did wrong… and why it’s bad:
-The Stall: Believe it or not, there is more than one kind of stall. In this video, there are actually 3 types! First is the typical stall we all know and love- angle of attack becomes too high and airflow separates over the wing. In this video we also see what is called an “accelerated stall”, which is a stall that occurs at a G loading higher than 1x. Because this pilot had some extra speed, and pushed out aggressively, the glider climbed before stalling, putting him at more than 1G wingloading- and raising the stall speed of the wing. Also, because he achieved such a nose-high attitude before actually stalling, we see what is called a “whip stall” where the glider climbs to a stop and very quickly rotates nose down with little-to-no airspeed. Whip stalls are especially dangerous in tail-less aircraft such as hang gliders, because of the very high pitch rates our wings are capable of. We also have a variable center of gravity, which leads me to…
-Pilot Input, part I: The pushout to stall is quick, pitching the glider up significantly. This pitch input is held until nearly 0 airspeed, at which point the pilot stuffs the bar quickly/aggressively. Pulling in is good if you’re stalling/stalled… but with low airspeed, and especially with such a nose-high attitude, pulling in THAT aggressively is bad. We can see in the video that stuffing the bar initiates a very, very fast nose-down rotation. The danger here is that the inertia of this rotation can be so strong that the glider continues to rotate well past equilibrium, as seen in this video.
-Pitch Stability: It is also important to understand how the systems in our gliders resist pitch-over tumbles. One factor is the shape of the wing- namely sweep/nose angle and aspect ratio… the less sweep a wing has, the faster it can rotate in pitch. Compare a Falcon to an ATOS (with no tail) and you could imagine how much faster the ATOS could pitch nose down than the Falcon. In general, the higher performance the wing the wider the nose angle and the higher the aspect ratio… and the faster it can rotate in pitch. Note that the shape of the wing DOES NOT prevent pitch-over situations… instead it is designed to provide enough resistance to slow the rotation so that there isn’t enough inertia to turn an “over the falls” pitch over into a tumble. If the rotation is dampened enough, as the nose rotates lower the other dive-recovery systems of the glider- luff lines, washout struts, SPROGS will create a nose-up pitching force. It is very important to note that these systems DO NOTHING if you have no airspeed. Since the force of air over the wing increases with the square of velocity, even a little more airflow over the wing results in MUCH more pitch-up restorative force. In this video, he had little-to-no airspeed, so his SPROGS were basically useless.
-Pilot Input, part II: As the glider continues pitching nose-down, you can see the pilot push out. This is something I have seen quite a bit of- many people instinctively want to push out to “push the nose up”. Unfortunately, pushing out doesn’t directly influence our pitch attitude… it merely moves our CG, which in effect changes the equilibrium angle-of-attack of the wing, raising or lowering the nose and altering our airspeed accordingly. When we have little or no airspeed, pushing out will not result in pitching the nose up (not until airspeed is increased). What moving our CG forward or back DOES do, is alter the pitch stability of the wing. The further forward our CG is, the more pitch-stable the wing becomes. And the more we push-out, the less pitch stable. This is exactly why pushing out while thermalling is very dangerous, and in this video it is a contributing factor in the glider rotating past 90 degrees nose down. The pilot in this video pulled in at the stall break, increasing the severity of the pitch-down rotation… but then pushed out, reducing the pitch stability of the wing. The two combined are the perfect way to initiate a tumble. If you’d like to read more about pitch stability and CG location, Wills Wing has a great article on their site:
-VG’s affect on stall characteristics: First, many new gliders will trim at a faster airspeed with more VG pulled. This is because the VG tightens the sail, reducing how much twist or washout there is in the wing (reducing nose-up force). Pushing out, even from “trim”, at a high VG setting you can mean you have enough airspeed (energy)- as well as increased efficiency in energy retention, to get the glider significantly nose-high before actually stalling. Because of the reduced amount of washout at high VG settings, much more of the wing stalls at the same time, and the resulting pitch-down rotation can be quite dramatic. I know stalling my T2 at VG full is an eye opener! High VG settings also means a slightly wider nose angle, which means the wing can rotate a little quicker in pitch.
I DOUBT ANYONE ON THIS LIST WOULD DO WHAT IS SEEN IN THIS VIDEO, however I have seen several people doing one or two of these things in “active” air, and I want to make sure everyone really understands how our wings work, what not to do, and why. In even mildly active conditions, pushing out anytime other than landing is, in my opinion, a tumble waiting to happen. If you are climbing and get dumped out of it you now have very little airspeed, so your glider will be able to rotate nose-down much faster. You also have your CG aft, so the glider is far less pitch stable. If you pull in to get your CG forward (which you should do), you need to do it smoothly so as to not increase the rate of pitch-down rotation. Tricky stuff!
The more active the air is, I’d recommend first and foremost always flying with a little extra airspeed. If your glider has VG, be very careful of using higher VG settings. If you DO use higher VG settings… fly with LOTS of speed! VG full tight doesn’t make much difference at low speed anyway, so why risk it?! And, if the $h!t really hits the fan, smoothly pull in, and hold yourself there NO MATTER WHAT. Remember that the further forward your CG the more pitch-stable the glider becomes.
Thanks for reading, safe flying to all! 🙂

San Diego Hang Gliding @ Torrey Pines Glider Port

San Diegot Hang Gliding is great year round here in southern California.

We went to Torrey Pines Glider Port today and two people from Michigan decided to take to the air and fly like birds.  This was a last minute videos with my phone.

Blossom Valley

San Diego Hang Gliding Flying Site Blossom Valley

  • Flight Type: Ridge/Thermal/XC
  • Best time to fly: Year Round
  • USHPA Rating Recommendation: H3, P3 – SDHGPA membership recommended
  • Launch (SW and West facing): 32.876 N; 116.848 W – Elevation : 1500ft (457m)
  • LZ HG: 32.877 N; 116.876 W – Elevation : 460ft (140m)
  • LZ PG: 32.878 N; 116.860 W – Elevation : 500ft (152m) verbal permission for SDHGPA members to land
  • Bailout PG LZ: 32.574 N; 116.907 W – Elevation : 700ft (213m)
  • Orientation(s):W-NW, W-NW Wind preferred at 8-10kts
  • Take off: Slope/Cliff launch
  • Landing: Open field, Bailout LZ or top landing require exemplary spot landing skills
  • Airspace: This site has no airspace restrictions. Occasional low flying aircraft in the area.
  • Hazards: Thumper (house thermal) can be violent, please get a site briefing before flying this site. Be aware of Remote Controlled aircraft in this area.
  • Vehicle Access: Hiking gear preferred, 4WD vehicle access to launch

Rules and Regulations:



  • 8 East
  • Exit Lake Jennings Park Rd. (LEFT)
  • Right on Blossom Valley Rd., continue till it ends
  • Right on Quail Canyon Rd.
  • Trail Head in on left approx .6 miles

Horse Canyon

San Diego Hang Gliding Flying Site Horse Canyon

    • Flight Type: Ridge/Thermal/XC
    • Best time to fly: Year Round – Summer is turbulent
    • USHPA Rating Recommendation: H2, P2 – SDHGPA membership recommended
    • Launch: 32.774 N; 116.476 W – Elevation : 4580ft (1396m)
    • LZ HG (primary): 32.763 N; 116.488 W – Elevation : 3275ft (998m)

verbal permission for SDHGPA members to land by landowner

  • LZ PG (primary): 32.760 N; 116.481 W – Elevation : 3300ft (1006m) verbal permission for SDHGPA members to land by Forrest Service
  • Orientation(s):S-NW, SW Wind preferred at 8-10kts
  • Take off: Slope/Cliff launch
  • Landing: HG Primary, field bounded by roads. PG primary (postage stamp) field surrounded by chaparral
  • Airspace: This site has no airspace restrictions. Lindberg approach flight corridor is 8,000-12,000 feet. Please be aware of traffic at these altitudes. Occasional low flying aircraft in this area.
  • Hazards: Summer months are turbulent, low flying aircraft
  • Vehicle Access: Some 2WD and 4WD vehicle access to launch

Rules and Regulations:

  • Do not land in and plowed fields in the area.
  • After gear drop off, move vehicle from launch/setup area
  • Top landing not recommended during Hang Glider setup


  • 8 East
  • Exit Buckman Springs Rd. (LEFT)
  • Drive under freeway and road becomes Sheephead Mountain Rd.
  • Continue to Launch

How To Choose Your First Glider

This article appeared in the February 1999 issue of Hang Gliding magazine as a sidebar to the Incident Reports column.

New or used? Single surface or double surface? What performance level? Which manufacturer? Which model? Which size? These are some of the questions a pilot thinks about when he gets ready to buy his first hang glider. And where can you go for reliable information? How do you decide, among the varying and sometimes conflicting advice, which is valid?one of those sleek high performance jobs...

The biggest concern pilots seem to have when buying a first glider is that they not buy a glider that they will “grow out of.” Peer pressure strongly supports this concern. “Oh, you don’t want one of those, you’re going to grow out of that within a few months. You need a (double surface, high performance, insert your choice here) glider.”

Pilot ego, which remains a major factor in pilot decision making, reinforces this idea. (“I don’t want to be showing up at the flying site in one of those. They’ll think I’m just some dumb beginner! I need one of those sleek high performance jobs to be a real pilot.”) Ideas about future goals in flying weigh in here also. (“I’m going to want to be going cross country soon. You can’t do cross country in one of those – you need more penetration. You need more glide!”)

This attitude, and the misunderstandings and misperceptions that give rise to it, are probably doing more to hurt the sport of hang gliding than any other single thing. Let’s look at a few of these myths and how they relate to reality.

Myth Number One:

The worst sin in the world is to buy something you’ll grow out of. This is an interesting idea. When confronted with this one, I usually ask the pilot, “Do you have children? When your (or, If you had a) daughter (who) was six years old, and ready to learn to ride a bicycle, did (would) you buy her a full size adult bicycle with 15 gears on which her feet couldn’t come within 2 feet of the ground to make sure she wouldn’t grow out of it?”

The fact is, gliders designed for entry level pilot skills exist for a very good reason. A suitable entry level glider has high levels of stability and damping, it reacts in a gentle and forgiving manner to pilot input, and is predisposed to try to do the right thing for the pilot even when the pilot’s control inputs are less than perfect. A high performance glider does none of this; it reacts slowly when you need it to react quickly, (in the roll axis, when flying slowly) and quickly when you need it to react slowly (in the roll axis when flying fast, and in the pitch axis at any speed). It does only exactly what you tell it to do, and if you don’t tell it with great precision and at the exact right time, you get a seriously wrong response.

A far worse sin than buying something you might grow out of is buying something beyond your skill level – for this will inhibit your performance, greatly slow your progress in learning, interfere with your enjoyment, and may even just be actually dangerous to you. This “growing out of” a glider is an interesting idea all by itself. I fly on a weekly basis with some of the most skilled and experienced professional pilots in the sport. I don’t know one of them who feels that he has “outgrown” the idea of flying an entry level glider.

Myth Number Two:

You Need A High Performance Glider To Do Real Hang Gliding. This is an interesting idea in light of how our ideas of “high performance” have changed over the years. The lowest performing entry level flex wing available today has higher performance than the highest performing competition flex wing available prior to 1980.

Those of usThe highest probablitiy of soaring... that were competing and flying cross country in the 1970’s sure thought we were doing real hang gliding.  Guess not though. One thing to keep in mind about things like cross country flying, however, is that the first pre-requisite to going cross country is to stay in the air. Most cross country is done flying down wind anyway, and even paragliders are flying nearly 250 miles XC these days.

Myth Number Three:

I’ll Automatically Get Better Performance On A Higher Performance Glider. This myth is based on another misunderstanding – the idea that performance is something that inheres in a glider. Performance is not in the glider, it is in the relationship of the pilot to the glider. A high performance glider has the potential to yield high performance, but that performance is only available to a pilot with the skills required to extract it.

The example I use to illustrate this is one I see played out on a regular basis. When we do production flight test, the trailer normally contains a mix of models, everything from entry level gliders to competition class wings. All the members of the flight crew have about the same skills. If it’s easily soarable, everybody soars. If it’s dead air, nobody soars. In between, when it’s maybe soarable, but only if you do everything right, an interesting thing occurs. The pilots with the highest probability of soaring are the ones on the “lowest performance” gliders.

The ones with the lowest probability of soaring are the ones on the “highest performance” gliders. What’s going on here? The answer is simple, really. Soaring in the most difficult and challenging conditions – when the lift is small, broken, weak and turbulent – places the highest premium on the pilot’s ability to put the glider exactly where he wants it exactly when he wants it to be there. At any skill level, even the highest, this is most easily done with a glider with the most responsive and predictable handling characteristics, i.e. an entry level glider. The small margin of “higher performance” that the competition class wings offer cannot make up for the deficit in handling in these most challenging conditions.

Note that we’re talking about the highest level of pilot skill here. What happens when the level of pilot skill goes down? The answer is that what is true here becomes true in a wider range of conditions. Instead of only being observable in the most challenging conditions, at a lower skill level, you can observe this phenomenon of “inverted performance” under conditions that are only mildly challenging. At the lowest level of pilot skill (the pilot buying his first glider) you will see this performance inversion under virtually ALL soaring conditions.

The “higher performance” glider is really the “lower performance” glider. Another way to think of this is that the L/D ratio of the glider you’re flying only matters when the glider is in the air. If you can’t fly the glider effectively enough to work the lift successfully you won’t be in the air, you’ll be on the ground. And once you’re on the ground, those extra three points in L/D aren’t doing anything for you at all.

Myth Number Four:

Compared to other types of aircraft, hang gliders are easy to fly. This one is interesting. I can only imagine it survives because a relatively small percentage of hang glider pilots fly other types of aircraft. And at one point in time, this wasn’t a myth, it was true. The old standard Rogallos and the better examples of the first generation of gliders that evolved from them, were very easy aircraft to fly. If they hadn’t been, it would not have been possible for hang gliding to have grown as explosively as it did when so many of the pilots were largely or entirely self taught.

But in the quest of higher performance, designs evolved, and by 1977 the newest designs on the market were already too hard to fly for the average skill level of the pilots flying them. (Those photos of crashing which accompanied my article on safety in the September issue this past year were taken at the 1977 Southern California Regionals, and they are photos of competition class pilots showing themselves unable to execute a simple landing!)The Average Pilot...

Today, even the easiest to fly entry level gliders require more skill in most phases of flight than a Cessna 172 or a Schweizer 233 sailplane. If you don’t believe me, take a Saturday and go take an introductory lesson in either.

I haven’t flown a sailplane in two years, and I could go out and fly one tomorrow and have less anxiety during my landing approach than I would have coming in to land in a thermally landing area in the middle of the day in a high performance glider, which is something I do several times every week.

Pilots who think that hang gliders are, in general, easy to fly, will be more likely to think they have to choose a glider towards the upper end of the performance / skill level range. A pilot who realizes that even the easiest to fly glider is more challenging than what the average recreational power pilot or sailplane pilot is flying may be more likely to give himself permission to buy a glider that is more within his limitations.

In my observation, on average, I would say that the average pilot is flying a glider that is one full level above his ability. The pilots I see on competition class wings would perform better and have more fun (and be safer) on intermediate wings, and the pilots I see on intermediate wings would do better on entry level wings.

By far, the most important aspect of the choice you make in a first glider is to buy one which places demands on you that are comfortably within your abilities. Your safety, your prospects for success, your rate of progress, (your budget for spare parts), and your likelihood of staying in the sport will all depend on the quality of this choice.

After that, the rest of the choices are pretty easy.

New or used?

Buy new if you can. If you can’t, buy used, but pay to get it checked out by a professional shop, and spend more to get a glider that’s more appropriate for you rather than trying to save money on a glider that doesn’t fit your skill level. (There’s a reason that seven year old competition class wing is so cheap; there’s no demand for it because it isn’t competitive enough any longer for the pilots with the skill to fly it, and it really isn’t suitable for pilots with lesser skills.)

What manufacturer?

Well, that would be taking unfair advantage here. You decide on that one.

Which size?

Ask the manufacturer directly. Call them up. Talk to the designer or one of the factory test pilots. DON’T buy on the basis of numbers, or specifications, or what somebody wrote in some book or what somebody said on his personal web site. The guys that know what size glider you should be flying are the guys that designed and built it. Ask them. Get over the idea that the manufacturer has some incentive to give you the wrong information. His incentive is to make sure you get the best glider for you, so you’ll stay in the sport, have fun, and someday buy another one from him.

And after that, all that’s left is to have fun. And you will have fun if you do this right. Hang gliding is an absolute kick in the pants when you’re having success, not being scared, not breaking stuff and not getting hurt. And one major key to all that is picking the right glider.

By Mike Meier


A Brief History Of Hang Gliding, Paragliding, and Wills Wing

Although often thought of as a newcomer to aviation, hang gliding is actually among the oldest forms of human flight. Before the airplane, the first successful emulation of the birds involved running down a hill with a light weight glider, taking off into the air and gliding down. Otto Lilienthal was the most successful early aviator, and made more than two thousand successful gliding flights in the late 1800’s. After the turn of the century, two bicycle mechanics named Wilbur and Orville Wright made successful flights on gliders of their own design from the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. After developing their aircraft designs and flying techniques using gliders, they fitted a motor to one of their designs and invented the first successful airplane.

Kurt Kiefer flying his Wills Wing Swallowtail at Point Fermin, California, (ca. 1975)

The obvious practical advantages of the powered airplane effectively ended further development of gliding, as intensive effort was devoted to the development of airplanes for both civilian and military use.

Unpowered gliding as a form of sport aviation saw a rebirth after World War I, starting in post war Germany. The treaty of Versailles prohibited the development of powered aircraft in Germany, and pilots who had been trained during the war, as well as people who wanted to take up flying, had no choice other than gliding. As gliding developed as a sport, and as the technology of gliders evolved towards higher performance, the concept of a light weight glider which could be picked up and launched by running down a hill was almost totally abandoned. Pilots of larger, heavier gliders, learned to use the upslope winds along ridges as well as thermal updrafts to extend the duration of their gliding flights, and the sport of soaring was born. Flights of a few minutes became flights of several hours, and cross country flying over distances of hundreds of miles became possible. Over the next forty years, great improvements were made in the design of gliders and the knowledge and techniques of glider pilots, until soaring became an activity available to anyone who wished to pursue it. During that same period, hang gliding, the first form of flying, all but disappeared.

Then in the 1960’s a number of people contributed to a re-birth of hang gliding. One major impetus for this rebirth was the adaptation to hang gliding of a new type of flexible wing, now commonly referred to as the “Rogallo Wing.” In 1948, American engineer Francis Rogallo patented a design for a simple flexible wing. Rogallo worked for NASA, and additional designs derived from the flexible wing concept were subsequently developed and extensively tested by NASA as part of the early US space program.

These NASA designs, which now included airframe components that partly stiffened and supported the wing, in turn inspired adaptations for foot launched hang gliders by people like Barry Palmer and Richard Miller. The most elegant and most successful adaptation of the flexible wing concept to a human carrying aircraft was Australian John Dickenson’s design for a towed water ski kite, which he first flew in the early 1960’s, and which contained all the essential design elements of what later became known as the “Standard Rogallo.” Dickenson’s design was simple, easy to make and easy to learn to fly. When the Dickenson design was scaled up to a size appropriate for foot-launching, the simplicity of design and construction, along with its capability for slow flight and gentle landing characteristics led to an explosive growth in popularity of the “new” sport of hang gliding. Several companies began manufacturing versions of the wing, and for the first time in history simple, unencumbered bird-like flight was available to almost anyone who wanted it.

At the very beginning of this growth period, early in 1973, two brothers named Bob and Chris Wills formed one of the first hang glider manufacturing companies, Wills Wing. The company was born out of their passionate enthusiasm for this magical new form of aviation, and it was founded on two simple ideas: to build the best flying gliders they could make, and to treat each pilot who flew one as a personal friend. Bob and Chris displayed a remarkable talent early on for both flying and designing.

Chris Wills won the first U.S. National Championships in hang gliding in 1973, while Bob took second, and a year later they traded places as Bob won the national championship while Chris took second. In the years since, Wills Wing has maintained a tradition of winning in competition, as Wills Wing pilots have won 19 of the 43 official U.S. National Hang Gliding Championship titles awarded in various competition classes since 1973. Wills Wing pilots have won every U.S. National Championship title awarded from 1992 through 1996. As of the 1996 flying season, Wills Wing hang gliders are the only gliders ever to have flown cross country more than 475 miles.

By Mike Meier