Ballpark Estimate: $5,500 to $7,000 (lessons and new gear)
Hang gliding has come a long way since the 1890s when Germany’s Otto Lilienthal designed, built, and tested his series of gliders. Although he made over 2,000 test flights, his gliding career ended in disaster when, in 1896, he crashed from 56 feet in the air, breaking his spine. He died the next day.
History of Hang Gliding
The technology that finally made hang gliding possible was developed in1948, when NASA engineer Francis Rogallo invented the self-inflating “Rogallo wing” as part of a spacecraft recovery system. It wasn’t until the 1960s, though, that more recreation-minded individuals like aeronautics engineer, Barry Palmer, and Australian enthusiast, John Dickenson, began modifying and testing variations of the Rogallo wing for hang glider use. By the 1970s, some people were building them at home. All you needed to make a “rigid wing” hang glider was a few hundred dollars, a sewing machine, a double layer of sailcloth, a pattern to follow, and some aluminum tubing. Not surprisingly, this was also a time of serious accidents.
Since then, hang glider design has gone through dramatic changes. The slack sails and seated harness of the Rogallo model have been replaced with drum-tight Dacron sails, prone body position, and a heavier rig made of high-tech aircraft quality aluminum and stainless steel cables. In 1980, the free-floating internalized crossbar was introduced, along with double-surface sail construction. Today’s designs allow pilots to control and change the tension of the sail during flight, making flying much safer and flights longer and higher.
As the hang gliding population grew, the sport became organized. The U.S. Hang Gliding Association (USHGA) created pilot proficiency ratings to measure and monitor the experience and skill-level of pilots. The USHGA has five levels of ratings, beginning with Hang 1 Beginner (low altitude solo gliding on training hills) going up to Hang 5 Master (at least 10 years experience, most likely an instructor).
Hang Gliding Instruction Options
If you want to learn how to hang glide, there are numerous ways you can determine whether the sport is right for you without a major upfront investment. You can take a tandem flight with an instructor connected to you via harnesses which will allow you to experience a flight at an altitude of up to one-half mile, or you can fly on your own on day one, but you’ll stay within 10 feet of the ground!
Intro Tandem Flight: $95 to $145
Your instructor will teach you hang glider basics and procedures and then the two of you will be aero-towed (by an ultra-light aircraft) to 2,000 to 2,500 feet. Once you release from the ultra-light, you will have the opportunity to fly the hang glider yourself for a few minutes. Your instructor will land and the hang glider rolls to a stop, very much like a small plane.
Tandem flights usually last between 10 and 20 minutes.
Full Day Introductory Combo Lesson: $200 to $250
If you’re really interested in learning to hang glide, this is the best one-day course to start with. It usually includes:
- Classroom instruction: how the hang glider works, harness details, how to hold the crossbar, body position, flying tips.
- Flying simulator instruction.
- Training flights: The goal of the lesson is to foot-launch by running down sand dunes or gentle slopes, fly in a straight line, and land standing up. This is harder than it sounds. You’ll get between 5 and 7 chances to do this, and once you get the “hang” of it, you’ll get 5 to 10 feet off the ground and hang glide for anywhere from 10 feet to 300 yards. [Note: In areas where foot-launches are impractical, a tow launch (by ultra light, boat, or truck) will be employed.]
- Tandem ride: 10 to 20 minute flight to 2,000 – 2,500 feet.
Complete Course To Fly Solo: $1,800 to $2,200
Earning your Hang 1 Beginner andHang 2 Novice ratings requires a substantial investment of time, energy, and money. Some people earn their Hang 1 rating after 3 or 4 lessons while other people take 10 to 12. After approximately 16 to 22 lesson-days, most students achieve solid Hang II-Mountain skills and can fly solo at many sites, under supervision of an instructor or trained observer.
- Long Weekends or Training Camps – This is the fastest and easiest way to learn. Lessons include class time, ground training, and tandem training. Camps last anywhere from 3 to 5 consecutive days, and you may need 3 or 4 separate training camp experiences, as well as parachute training and mountain lessons, to gain your mountain-rated Hang II skills.
- Day lessons – If your schedule doesn’t allow for packaged training camps, you can take day lessons over the course of months. However, the longer you go between classes, the more review you’ll need, so try to stay on a weekly or twice-weekly schedule if you can. Stick with the same school so that they know you, your abilities, and your needs. Each day lesson averages 7 to 12 flights. $95 to $140 per lesson; discounted when you buy multiple lessons.
NOTE: There are hang gliding schools all across the country. However, many states have no sand dunes, cliffs, or mountains from which to launch. If this is the case, you will need additional training before hang gliding at sites in different areas.
Hang Gliding Equipment and Gear
During your Hang 1 Beginner training, you will use school-owned gear. But as you progress toward your Hang 2 Novice level, it makes sense to buy your own hang glider and gear. Your instructor is your best resource when deciding what to buy, and will guide you toward the appropriate, beginning level hang glider that will be easiest to fly and provide you with the most safety and fun.
The following prices are for new equipment. You can save money by buying package deals or buying used gear at greatly reduced prices. As always, consult your instructor before making your purchase.
- Novice Hang Glider: $2,500 to $3,500
- Harness: $200 to $700
- Reserve Parachute: $450 to $550
- Full face Kevlar helmet: $80 to $300
- Car rack to transport your hang glider: $50 to $300
You will eventually need to purchase an altimeter (measures altitude), variometer (measures climb and descent rate), and 2-way radio for your Hang 3 Intermediate training.