Hang gliding is an air sport in which a pilot flies a light and un-motorized foot-launchable aircraft called a hang glider. Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminium alloy or composite-framed fabric wing. The pilot usually lying prone in a cocoon-like harness suspended from the airframe and exercises control of the hang glider by shifting body weight in opposition to a control frame. The hang glider is usually launched from a hill facing into wind, or from a winch on flat ground or even towed by a microlight and released from aloft.
In the sport’s early days, pilots were restricted to gliding down small hills on low-performance hang gliders. However, modern technology gives pilots the ability to soar for hours, gain thousands of feet of altitude in thermal updrafts, perform aerobatics, and glide cross-country for hundreds of kilometres.
Because hang gliders are most often used for recreational flying, a premium is placed on gentle behavior especially at the stall and natural pitch stability
Hang gliding has traditionally been considered a risky sport. However, modern hang gliders are very sturdy and incorporate design features to provide safe flight handling. Pilots may carry a backup parachute in the harness. In case of serious problems, the parachute is deployed and carries both pilot and glider down to earth. That said, the inherent danger of gliding at the mercy of thermal and wind currents has nevertheless resulted in numerous fatal accidents and many serious injuries over the years, even to experienced pilots, and the resulting bad publicity has affected the popularity of hang gliding. To put this perception into current-day context, in the UK there is one death per 116,000 flights, a risk comparable to running a marathon or playing football for a year.
The British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA) is the UK’s governing body for the sports of hang gliding and paragliding. It is not a Government agency but an association set up by hang glider and paraglider pilots to represent and protect their mutual interests. It is managed entirely by volunteers who give their time and expertise freely to further the aims of the Association.
There are many BHPA schools located around the country that provide approved training courses to learn how to hang glide.
Although most hang gliding is done as a recreational sport, there is competitive cross-country hang gliding culminating in national and world championships.