Beginner Hang Gliding Syllabus

© John Heiney 2006

Introductory Ground-School Class

This is a session of about an hour comprising the fitting of harness and helmet, simulator-based control technique training, watching of training videos, and discussion of any and all topics regarding hang gliding including the student’s aspirations in and expectations of the sport of hang gliding. (no fee)

Training Hill Lessons

A typical training hill session consists of about three hours of making short, low flights on a shallow slope. I will do my best to carry the glider back up the hill after each flight to help conserve your energy in an effort to get you the most flights (hence experience) possible during the session.

I define a training hill flight as a take-off run and a landing. There might or might not be a short (few seconds) period of feet-off-the-ground flight in between depending on conditions. The objective of these flights is to learn how to do a proper take-off and a proper landing. This is not the time for flight enjoyment, although most of us find these brief flights very enjoyable. This is a period of work to learn how to launch and land safely, so you can enjoy the real flying later.

But don't think of it as all hard work. Though we will concentrate on learning, it is impossible to make these short flights without tasting the unequalled thrill of simple human flight. I remember my training hill days in 1978 as one of the great experiences of my life. You can get a sense of it by watching videos, but nothing prepares you for the feeling of being lifted, up into the air by a light-weight wing as you run down a slope.

Typically you will make 25 to 35 flights in a training hill session, depending moslty upon your physical condition. The “cooperation” of the wind (direction, speed, and smoothness) also determines how many flights we can achieve on a given day.

As a general rule I like to see a student make one hundred or more take-offs and landings on the training hill before he/she takes the first high-altitude flight off a mountain. The reason for the repetition is to inculcate you with correct techniques that will help you make controlled launches and landings in all kinds of conditions throughout your many years of hang gliding in the future.

As with any endeavor, there is no substitute for a good foundation. If you scrimp on the fundamentals, you are likely to pay for it later. Most accidents happen during a take-off or a landing. It is best to take the time to learn how to launch and land correctly in a variety of conditions (light wind, cross wind, no wind, turbulence and strong wind). Doctors charge much more for their services than do hang gliding instructors. You will save money in the long run.

When you are standing at launch on a 2000 ft mountain ready to take your first high-altitude flight, you will be glad you have a hundred (or more) takeoffs and landings under your belt. With that kind of competence and confidence in your launch and landing technique, you will be free to think of all the new things that will occupy your attention on this first high flight, rather than wondering if you can take-off and land safely.

Once you have demonstrated that you can maintain heading and keep the wing level in roll on the training hill, you can start taking flights off the slightly higher launch on the training hill. From this launch point you will be making flights of 10 to 15 seconds duration and 10 to 15 feet above the ground. On these flights you will be making necessary turn corrections to maintain heading into the wind.

Dual Instruction

Usually students can learn to control the glider on the training hill and on their first high-altitude flights. I feel that tandem instruction is not always needed.

If we are unable to resolve directional control problems on the training hill, we can make a tandem flight. You will fly with me on a big glider built to carry two people. We will go to the sea cliffs or a mountain site on a soaring day and take a flight together. On this flight we will have plenty of air-time so you can learn turn and speed control of the glider. I will do the take-off and the landing. You can fly the glider while we are up high.

High Altitude Flight

This is the reward you have been working towards during all your training hill work. This will be your first flight of any real duration. We will use two-way radios for these flights so I can help guide you throughout the flight. One of the mountain sites I use for your first high-altitude flight has a height above the landing zone(LZ) of about 1300 feet. Your flight time to glide out and land will be about 5 minutes. Another mountain I use is about 3700 feet above sea level. The elevation difference between the launch and the LZ is about 2200 feet. This will give you a flight of about 9 minutes if there is no lift. Sometimes, this mountain is soarable in the late afternoon. If there is sufficient lift your flight can be extended.

I will send you off in the smooth conditions of the last hour of daylight for your first few high flights. Sometimes the air in front of the mountain gets very buoyant creating a wide band of ridge lift. These conditions are known as “evening glass-off “ or “wonder-wind”. This can be a perfect situation for a new mountain pilot. It is sometimes possible to fly back and forth along the ridge, at a safe distance in front of the ridge and gain altitude.

As your ability to control the wing improves, you can launch earlier in the day to experience thermal lift which is often accompanied by some turbulence. I can help guide you through your first thermalling turns by radio. This can greatly reduce the time it takes to learn how to work thermals. From the launch area I can tell you when to turn and in which direction as you encounter thermals.

Among my most important functions during this phase of your training are judging conditions and explaining the characteristics of the soaring site. Once you understand the workings of a particular site and you have learned to judge the conditions for yourself you are ready to go flying on your own.

For the next months you should make flights at a familiar site in the mellower late afternoon, light-wind conditions. As you gain experience you can launch earlier in the day to find better soaring conditions. The idea is to increase your soaring experience gradually while avoiding getting into strong, turbulent conditions before you are ready. Turbulence can cause you to lose control close to terrain which is one of the most hazardous things about flying.

At the appropriate points during your training you will earn ratings according to the U. S. Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association's Pilot Profiency Program.

The exceptional experience of flying through the air with only the minor encumbrance of a lightweight personal wing can inhibit one's recognition of the serious and demanding nature of this sport aviation activity known as hang gliding. The safe operation of any device that has the capability of flight requires a mature and responsible attitude. To be able to some day reminisce about your long, enjoyable hang gliding history, you must now exercise extreme attentiveness, discipline and judgment in your ongoing obligation to your own bodily safety.