Equipment

If you take a few hang gliding lessons and decide you want to stay with the sport. You can easily and rather economically buy your own gear.

Hang gliding equipment is straight forward. The basics you need are only a hang glider with landing wheels, a harness, a helmet (whether on the training hill or in the mountains all pilots wear a helmet) and a car rack system to transport your glider. When a pilot starts flying at altitude, he or she will need a parachute and will want to acquire the instruments that make it easier to find and use sustainable lift: a variometer and an altimeter. Most pilots become licensed in FM 2- Meter radio for intercommunication. There are additional items that make the sport more enjoyable and easier, but these can be acquired as the pilot finds a desire and use for them. Whatever equipment you think about buying, talk with your instructor first. He or she will have a good idea of what will work best for you and be able to help you choose the best options.

Hang Glider


Hang Gliders are divided into three levels:

  1. Entry level - which is easy to handle and forgiving of errors, therefore good for learning the ba sics and to progress to learning to fly at high altitude.
  2. Intermediate level -will give the pilot more performance (better glide), but with the acquisition of performance there is loss of handling.
  3. High performance gliders are designed for the experienced pilot with extensive skills. The glider you buy will be determined by your skill level and your body weight. Gliders are sized because you need a certain square footage of sail area to pickup and fly your body weight. The parameters are fairly wide (i.e., for a glider with 150 square feet of closer you are to the center of its range, the better. If you're too heavy, the glider can't pick you up easily and you won't be able to remain aloft as easily. If you’re too light, you will have a hard time controlling the glider, because they are weight-shift controlled.

There are over a dozen glider manufacturers throughout the world, producing entry-level gliders for around $3,000, to top of the line performance glider at a maximum of $6,600.A hang glider will last for over a thousand flight hours, and most retain good resale value.

Your first glider will also need the large wheels styled for those learning their stand up landings. Landing is an art, and a student needs the safety offered by wheels. Many used entry-level gliders will come with the wheels. If not, they can be purchased for only $45.

Harness


Harnesses have many different options, but come in three basic styles:

  1. Knee Hanger: This harness does not encumber the legs, allowing a full stride while you train and perfect how to foot launch your glider.
  2. Cocoon: Designed for long time comfort at altitude. It runs the length of the body and has an open back. It is cooler and lighter weight than a pod.
  3. Pod: Designed for long time comfort at altitude. It runs length of the body and once zipped encloses the length of the body. It is warmer and can be more efficient in the airflow than a cocoon, but heavier.

There are several harness manufactures. As the glider is sized to your weight, a harness is sized to your height. You'll want the harness to fit well. A new knee hanger harness is as little as $150, a new cocoon around $600, and new top of the line pod $800-$1000.

Helmet


Most pilots buy helmets made of Kevlar because of their light weight, though some pilots stil1 prefer the safety of a certified motorcycle helmet. The majority of pilots fly with a fu1l face helmet because of the extra protection offered. The style needs to be chosen carefully though so that you have good peripheral visibility and good visibility of the harnesses parachute container. Prices range from one hundred to several hundred dollars.

Car Rack


Car rack systems come in all shapes and sizes. Many are home built inventions and can be quite unique. It's a good idea to inspect other pilot's designs for their cars to get an idea. As the base component of their rack system, most pilots will buy a roof top kit from a major manufacturer. These generally run about $100-$150.

Used Equipment


There is a sustained used market. A entry level glider in good condition can be bought for as little as $1,000 and a harness for training starts around $50. It is important to talk with your instructor before buying used equipment. He or she will know if it is appropriate for you and will likely inspect it for you as well.

Parachute


When you begin high altitude flight you will need a parachute. We all carry one, as an insurance policy. Hang gliders are very well built today and structural failure of a properly assembled and inspected glider is almost unheard of. The need for a deployment today is almost exclusively due to performing acrobatics, mid-air collisions (because pilots were flying too close together) or weather-related (which generally may only happen to experienced pilots who fly in more extreme conditions).

The parachute is designed to be attached to both the pilot and the glider and most are hand deployed. It is kept in a container on the harness, usually on the chest. Designed by hang glider pilots they are quick to deploy and will gently lower the pilot and glider safely to the ground. You can buy a good previously-owned parachute for about $150, but a state of the art parachute is only $550 and will last your hang gliding career.

Flight Instruments


Because we do not have the instincts of birds, pilots fly with instruments to help them maximize nature's lift to get high in altitude and stay aloft for hours. Most instruments today are designed as a flight deck comprised of an altimeter and a variometer.

An altimeter gives the pilot's current altitude and can be set at his or her desire to show the altitude above the ground, at mean-sea-level, or both. A variometer measures minute differences in air pressure. When a pilot enters an area of rising air the vario will give visual meter readout and a tone read out. This will tell the pilot how strong the lift is, that is how many feet per minute the air is rising. It will say the same about sinking air. By circling in rising air the glider will also rise.

There are many manufacturers and styles of instruments, very well built and very accurate. In older equipment the vario and altimeter are often separate. Used equipment starts as low as $75. New instruments are usually a combined altimeter/vario deck and start around $350. The top line instruments can also be integrated to work with a GPS for cross county flights, and can have a flight computer which gives the pilot speeds-to-fly and other information. These range from about $500-$1,400.

Becoming a Pilot


An advantage in learning to fly a hang glider is that buying equipment is a step procedure. A person who wants to learn to be a pilot will take a few lessons. If they're going to stick with the sport, most will buy an entry level glider from a dealer, or a good used glider for training. A training harness is relatively inexpensive, whether new or used, as is the helmet. And that's it! When you've finished your formal instruction you're ready to start practicing on your own glider on the training hills. As you begin flying the mountains you'll buy a parachute, then probably instruments. As you learn to soar and thermal and stay in the air for longer periods, you'll probably want a better harness. As you advance through the rating system and acquire skills, you'll be ready to sell your entry glider and buy an intermediate. With more skill, you will advance to cross country flight. You might want a GPS; maybe a flight computer.

The only basic equipment that is specialized and that can only be purchased through hang gliding dealers manufacturers is the glider, harness, and instruments. FM radios can be purchased by catalogue and at an electronic store.

Your rack system, helmet, and many other items that will heighten your flying comfort can be purchased at REI. REI carries specialty clothing that will keep you warm at high altitudes. Camel backpacks (so a pilot can stay hydrated on long flights), energy food, and every form of camping gear for weekend flying trip! It also has the rock climbing accessories (carabineers, rope, harnesses) which are needed for the wire crew on a windy day. Cycling gloves are good for grip while ground handling your glider, as is handlebar tape to wrap the aluminum control frame.

Hang gliding is a form of aviation that is in reach for almost anyone. Many consider it the purest form of flight: open to the elements, controlled by the use of your own body, silent. In flight, your body will merge with your equipment and becomes one flowing element - a human with wings .

Adding It Up


Most pilots begin using their instructor's equipment, then begin buying equipment piecemeal as their skills progress towards the goal of flying the mountains. The expenses are thus stretched out from several months to a year. Depending on whether you opt: to buy new or used equipment, the costs add up roughly as below for beginners:

  New/best Used
Glider $4000 $1500
Harness $600 $50
Parachute $600  $600 (don't buy used!)
Helmet $300 $100
Rack $250  $100
Radio $300  $100
Variometer $350 $150
     
Total $6500 $2600

Lessons can add anywhere from $750 to $1500 to this, depending on your learning curve and which training methods you employ.