Hang Glider Training
I always wanted to fly.
Personally I blame my mother. As a mere slip of a girl, with a good job in post
war austerity Britain, she and a friend had spare money in their purses but no
ration cards to buy nice clothes so they decided to learn to fly. It wasn't
like learning to fly today, just some ex-RAF hero with a Tiger Moth trainer
that was probably as war-surplus as he was, but she did it. I don't think it
was so much the actual flying that she passed on to me but the attitude that 'I
can do that' was what came down in the blood. I've wanted to fly, or be
involved in flying, since I was tiny (Not completely true. I wanted to be Dan
Dare at first). However flying nearly didn't happen. I got involved in physics
and electronics which made for a good few years of university then a good
career that had lots of fun in it. Like most people in these fields I ended up
working mostly as a computer programmer because computers are our key tools
both to run the processes we want and to capture and rework the data we need.
Hobby wise it was a long infatuation with racing motorcycles and then, when the
total skeletal damage from that added up too far, it was scuba diving.
Now a friend has a PPL, a Private Pilot's License, and he took me up a couple
of times but somehow holding a Piper steering wheel didn't do it for me. It was
rather like driving a car but in three dimensions. Then somebody pointed me at
hang gliding. Now there was something more visceral that appealed to the
motor-cycle racer in me. This would be really flying. You were out there in it,
doing it 'by hand' so to speak.
Now just stop for a moment and put me in context. I was by then 59. I was a
widower and a practicing grand-father. I still am reasonably fit in that I can
happily climb hills and ladders, I just hesitate at clambering up trees these
days. OK the motorbike racing has left me with a few aches and pains (and a
heart condition) but I am not your usual enthusiastic youngster.
Google is, as ever, your friend. For my first try at the art of hang gliding
I found South Downs Hang
Gliding. They were close enough to my home in Brighton to be easy to access
so I just booked myself in for a week's worth of lessons. OK, a week has turned
out to be just a bit over optimistic, I'm not so good at learning new motor
skills any more and, sadly, it didn't work out. I couldn't get the time and the
weather never seemed to cooperate. Regretfully, after a couple of years of
trying on odd days, the instructor told me I wasn't progressing and I wasn't
even consistent. I really ought to put it to one side. I was sad but he was
right so I hung up my helmet and stored my gliders away.
However, during this first tentative foray into gliding, I became a member of
the Southern Hang Gliding Club. These
people organise the local sites where I live and do all the spade work that
makes hang gliding and paragliding at club level possible. I kept the
membership up because I rather approved of them and wanted to stay
Also, because when I progressed from the Elementary Pilot part of the training
to the Club Pilot part I would need to move from using the school's gliders to
using my own, I bought an Avian Rio 15 through them. This worked out because
they knew that they could get me a good deal as that model was about to be
replaced by the Rio 2 so I bought at a discount before the price went up. This
is the blue and white glider in the pictures. There was also an Aeros Target, a
nice gentle student friendly wing because I had some problems with the Rio at
first. I also built up quite a collection of gadgets because, I confess, I'm
rather into gadgets.
The video on the right/above was taken from a GoPro mounted on the back boom of
the Aeros from one of my last training flights at Swanbrough Down back in 2012
and it's actually quite a good example of how not to fly a hang glider.
The manoeuvring is horribly done, I just twist some of the times rather than
moving my weight to the side so nothing much happens, plus the landing is petty
messed up because my hands are too low to flare. However I like to keep this
recording as it was my very first flight that wasn't virtually a straight run
from the take off to the landing with only, at most, a single simple turn to
practice my simple turns. Yes, the shadow is me. Yes, I know I'm mad. Lots of
people on seeing this have taken the time to point this out to me already. This
was all I was left with for several years once I had stopped.
However, after a few more years, I retired. Now retirement is an excellent
idea, lots of fun and I can certainly recommend it. I spent some time and money
tidying up the house, going scuba diving and generally having a good time. Then
I looked at my extensive Hang Glider and Gliding Equipment collection and
decided it either had to go flying or go. This time I would give it a serious
chance and if it worked it worked and if it didn't I would walk away from it
Right. Time to think carefully and try to minimise some of the problems I had
had before. These rather summarised as the weather and the chore of climbing
back up hills to do the next drill in those initial lessons that I felt I would
probably need, after several years of lay off, to do again. At first I looked
for a 'winch' school, one where they towed you with a rope to launch you. I
reasoned that that would make training friendly flyable days more common than
just driving to a local hill, picked to match the predicted wind direction and
strength, and hoping it delivered the desired conditions. What I finally
settled on was Airways
Airsports at Darley Moor Airfield in Derbyshire where the training was to
be done on tandem aerotow.
Tandem was the big change. Now, rather than launching myself down a slope
carefully picked to be about as steep as the glide path of the glider so you
never went too high above the ground, I was now going to be towed by a
microlite aircraft up to three thousand feet and I was going to take the
instructor with me. This is significantly more expensive than hill training but
I probably did more actual hands on 'air time' in my first couple of flights
there than in my whole previous experience before that added together. I have
already admitted that I take more time to learn new motor skills than I once
did so having Judy Leden next to me saying, "No, do it again like this" really
worked for me. Over two trips to Derbyshire I did more than four hours in the
air and went from wondering if hang gliding was ever going to work for me to
thinking "I am going to have to work on my circuit approach technique because
Judy progressively increased the amount of the flight I controlled. Introducing
the bulk of the relatively high intensity tow section and the set up and
approach for landing part. However with 3000 feet to play with there was time
for doing turns, seeing how you were moving over the ground and getting a feel
for what a glider can and cannot do. The picture is from August 2015 with a
nice view of Darley Moor airfield below us.
One other thing that I did at this point was to take the Rio, which had now
been bagged up for several years, back into
Avian for a full manufacturer
overhaul. I also had them work on the old Aeros Target which might have been a
mistake because it will probably never be worth the money I spent rebuilding it
but it was a matter of fix it or junk it and I didn't want to scrap the poor
thing. Judy also looked through my collection of toys and threw some out. This
included the yellow 'pod' harness I am using in the 2012 video.
Judy does not actually teach complete courses so to move things along she sent
me to Quest Air Hang Gliding in
Florida to do the American H2 qualification and then, hopefully, to get in some
flying time. H2 is Novice and pretty much translates to the UK Club Pilot level
- a person who is trained to fly under the oversight of somebody else who will
look at the site, the conditions and their skill level then tell them when to
consider flying and when to give up and go home if there is a problem.
I was quite surprised to be thinking about going to Florida to learn but the
accommodation, the instruction and the flying were all at a quite reasonable
cost. Plus, although nowhere can promise the right weather all the time,
Florida has a better chance than much of the world. I booked a three week trip
as three weeks seemed like a reasonable compromise between weather problems,
slow learning and, hopefully, getting some après course flying time.
Also it maximised use of the airfare and the insurance which are the two major
So, in the middle of January 2016, I arrived and the guys at Quest looked at my
log book with Judy's notes in it and, after a couple of flights, seemed pretty
happy to take me on and get things moving. Now I confess I'm not the most
confident person but taking over the full flight from stationary, towing to
2500ft then flying the full approach and landing on just my third flight with
them was, I admit, a thrill even if Spinner, the instructor, was calling the
flight path step by step for me.
Well the weather wasn't too kind so I needed my whole three weeks to get the H2
rating but I did it. The training was again based on the tandem glider hence,
when I transferred to the solo glider, I was told to land on the wheels of the
A-frame and my tummy. I would need to add the 'go upright and land on my feet'
details later. However I was flying the launch from the cart, the tow up to
altitude (I had done the failuredrills for that on the tandem), setting up my approach
and getting tolerably close to my designated landing point solo. Compare the
video of my first aerotow solo flight at Quest with the Swanbrough one and see
how the control is now... well, control. The glider is doing what I want. It
looks smooth but I am correcting moment by moment to stay in the 'sweet spot'
behind the tug and then setting up my target, running in fast on the approach
and bleeding off the speed just before landing. I confess it looks way better
than it felt but it was a circuit approach at last that didn't suck. Also,
although I say it myself, not bad for a guy flying a new glider and in a
harness that he had never used before.
Quest was an interesting community and I made several friends amongst those
sheltering there from the northern winter. The instruction was sequential and
clear and the attitude was always encouraging. I don't think I am an easy
student to teach but I was very pleased by the standard of flying they put into
me. On the last flight there, on the evening before I left, I was pushing
against a lot of wind from a bad direction and yet I was able to bring out what
I had learnt and deliberately manage a complex situation. They qualified me to
Hang-2 (Novice) on aerotow.
So. What happened next? Well I came back home and, sadly, it was still February
in England hence it was back to being cold again. Therefore, although I was
seeing web posts from people who were out there flying, I decided that the
first things I needed to sort out were all those bits of kit I had been taught
to use but that had belonged to the school. I had already bought one of the
nice 'bicycle brake lever' style tow releases with a
complete towing bridle from Quest so that matched those I had used there. I
still needed the secondary sleeve release because they didn't have that in
stock but this part conveniently came from Avian's web shop. I definitely
wanted to replace the old yellow harness after Judy had disapproved of its
construction but I didn't particularly feel happy with the cocoon 'lie in'
style I had used at Quest as I had never seen them used in England. I took some
advice and finally decided to put my money into the custom made
CG1000 pod harness from
Fly Center of Gravity
in New Hampshire as being a reasonable compromise between being novice
friendly, suiting hill launching and fitting my longer term flying. This,
naturally, came with an empty parachute pocket so, on advice from an instructor
wintering at Quest as a tug pilot, I ordered the
Quantum 440 parachute from
High Energy Sports in
California. Since waiting for all this stuff to be shipped gave me a break I
took the opportunity to send off Quest's course paper work to the
USHPA. I felt that being a member and
having a real qualification card made much more sense than just carrying about
a 'rating application' form for H2. Naturally buying gear direct from the USA
got me into delays, import duty and VAT but, in time, it all happened and by
late March my shopping list was finally complete. I was all ready to roll on to
the next stage.
What I needed next was a BHPA
qualification so I could fly in the UK. Judy's original master plan was to take
my H2 aerotow ticket to Flylight Airsports at Sywell Aerodrome, not far from
Northampton, as they taught aerotow and could reassess my skills for Club Pilot
and bring my training up to the standard if it was lacking anywhere. They would
also, I anticipated, have the skills to identify the correct tow point for my
Rio so I laid in the fittings hopefully. Unfortunately, however, they have
decided to drop out of that part the hang glider business for the moment so
that plan is on hold as of now.
To keep the skills up I went back to Quest for all of February 2017 to get some
air time in. This added a lot of flying including thermalling, riding a bumpy
tow and getting up close and personal with clouds in the nice relaxed Quest
environment. Significantly it added 7 hours of solo flying on a hired Falcon
195 to my log book. Watch this space as they say...
So, finally, how is the hang glider? After all this time and angst is it what I
had expected? What I had hoped for? I would say yes.
So what is it like to fly? Well it might not be for everybody. Remember you are
hanging from a strap below the wing and it is straight down from you to the
ground, maybe several thousand feet. Yes, I have felt nervous occasionally but
it doesn't feel like that most of the time. You are involved and you are in
control even when fighting through the lumpy-bumpy bits of air to find the lift
at its core. All the gliders I have flown have all been reasonably obedient
even if the air is rough and, while you are high up, there isn't much to worry
about provided there is somewhere within reach to land. You really have to be
there to appreciate it fully. So yes, it was worth all the effort to get
I have been asked about the instrumentation on the videos on
site "Nigel Hewitt". Well I saw other people doing it, I liked it, it's not
complicated and it passes an evening. It is produced by a product called
Dashware, they have the aircraft instruments in their library, and I use a
piece of software I wrote to extract stuff from the IGC files the
Bräuniger Compeo+ (Flytec 6030) writes into a CSV file. I think you can
pick up similar on the web. I am working on further tricks with a
Flytec Sensbox on Simon Murphy's Zoot Easymount. The
only snag is that that does not have TAS so I'm going to have to merge the two
files but that's just more code.
My gliding related links Weather because most of the stuff they tell you confused me.