Hang Gliding - FAQ - What's needed?
What about: Wheels? Lessons? Purchasing? Transport? Storage? Pilot's Comfort? Reserve parachutes? Trim speed? No instruments? Target landings? Student streamers? Superman Syndrome? HG on flat ground? Logbooks? Glider Maintenance? Homebuilts? Here are a few bits of advice for the beginning and low-time Hang Glider pilot. Is this too much stuff for a beginner? Well, yes, but you can take your time with it. The things that any beginner might want to see here are listed first. More advanced topics are set out last, here. You are welcome to return here and review, often and anytime; some things may not apply now, but soon enough, they may.
TOPICS YOU WILL FIND HERE: (click on each Topic Title here, to jump to that article)
I'm gonna do this! What is the best way to start?
Okay, now I need to get sorted out on my equipment.
Flying realities, and getting in tune with the sky:
Recent additions here: Flyin' video links, Wildlife, Glider Maintenance, AirChairs, Handicaps (in building your own), Helmets, RC Soaring (in Lessons), Fig. 8 knots, Sail Stitching, Shipping Tubes, and a Basetube Safety Cable link (in Transport and Storage), Variometer Settings, Parachute Container (in Harnesses), Hands-on HG Simulator, Female pilots (in HG Lessons), YouTube tracklogs (I can FLY!!), new harness safety notes (back straps & behind-the-neck straps), more on wind indicators, tandem in-flight video, and even a club/ web notice at the end, if you want to help spread the HG flyin' word.
----Last update: Nov. 7, 2017 <--Click the Reload or Refresh button on your browser, for the latest version.
You don't need to memorize all this stuff; you can just print this out, on most web browsers. If not, you can still save a text copy: if you use Windows, just click on EDIT, then SELECT ALL, then EDIT, then COPY. Open any word processor and in there, click on EDIT, then PASTE. Click on FILE, then SAVE, give it a name, and OKAY that.
If my links take you elsewhere, just click the BACK button to return here.
Check back here from time to time, for updates. Click the Reload or Refresh button on your browser, to see the latest. I have only flown HG for about 30 years; I am still learning, too.
(To email me, just delete the A in my address line. Alternately, try contacting me on the Pilot's HG forum, linked at the bottom of the page. Red)
Safety is not the absence of danger; it is the absence of ignorance. (- a quote from Vol Libre: The journal of the Soaring Association of Canada 3/98 June/July)
Lots of people wish that they could fly like a bird. Flying HG fills that desire like nothing else can, but learning HG safely takes a bit of time, and decent equipment can cost money. Should you spend the time and money on something that you might not like? :-)
Hey, the bad old days are gone! Now, even before you are a beginner wannabe HG pilot, you can get a tandem tow ride with a qualified instructor. This may be done with a pay-out winch, motorized winch, foot-launched, or aero-towed by an ultralight. In the USA, the USHGA issues credentials to tandem-qualified HG instructor pilots, so you will know in advance that your HG instructor has good experience. You can even do some hands-on HG flying, once you get some altitude with your instructor. One or two HG tandem rides probably won't break the bank... Dreams are great; flying like your dreams is even better, IMHO. Here is an in-flight tandem video, and they even demonstrate the gentle art of no-hands flying, here (click the full-screen button)
Today, Gone Flyin' (on YouTube)
For solo, personal flight, though, you will need the dream to fly free, and some money, or maybe just friends with money :-) Seriously, you can plan on about US$3000-$4500 to make a nice start. You do not need that much, all at once. You will need:
Lessons from a good instructor ~US$900+ (all gear is supplied by instructor, DON'T BUY ANYTHING, YET!). An Introductory lesson package might help get you started nicely, for maybe half of that price, but certainly, do not assume that an Intro course is enough. An Intro course can be a great start, but nobody (sane) enters the Indy 500 after a few "driver's ed" classes. The sky will not merely fine you for ignorance; the sky simply does NOT respect willpower, courage, "I am responsible!", or quick wits. Your safety is only assured by your knowledge *and* your skills. Learn all that you can, and never stop learning, once lessons are done. One too many lessons will be 'way better than one too few. HG lessons will put hawk-wings in your shoulders, for the rest of your life - how much would you expect to pay, for that dream-come-true?
Helmet - US$100 to US$600+ new. I do not recommend that you buy *any* damaged or repainted helmet, but if a used helmet really is "like new", -and- if the fit is excellent, it may be worth considering. Don't count on finding one used, though; that would be a rare deal.
There are some excellent new helmet technologies out there now. About the best, IMHO, is the 6D ATR-1 Stealth Helmet. It is pricey times two, but the video shows a "field test" that must be seen to be believed.
Helmet testing . . .
You'd remove the sunshade, of course, and maybe add a clear visor for the coldest air, but I doubt there is anything that will protect the brain any better. Now being realistic, most new pilots are not going to spend that much money on a helmet, and it certainly is not necessary, either. Most good helmets are good enough, but there are some better technologies being developed. May you never need *any* helmet, and have the best, if or when you do need one.
Harness - US$600 to $1200 new. If you buy used gear, a good used harness can be half of that, and it may include a reserve parachute. The harness needs to be in very good condition, and maybe you will still want the main support webs replaced; then a good harness-maker could make a good price into an excellent buy for you. How good a deal is that used reserve parachute? That will be a separate, serious consideration.
Reserve Parachute - US$500 to $800 new. A "pre-owned" (not necessarily "used") reserve might cost less, but if you do go that route, first, you will need excellent advice; even then, I would recommend a new umbilical (bridle) line for it. Many older parachutes have "tubular" webbing for a bridle line. Please plan on having that tubular webbing replaced, if you find this stuff on any "pre-owned" parachute. Parachutes are out there that are fifteen years old now, and that's just -too- old; do not buy any old *junk*. Remember, this item will be your best life insurance. If it really is a "state of the art" reserve, -and- the experts agree about its' condition, it can be a good deal. As with helmets, though, this would be a lucky find, so don't count on pinching pennies here.
Certified, good used glider ~$(maybe all the rest). If you have the bucks, you can even buy a new glider. Your wallet, and maybe your mate, will help with that decision. There *IS* a good used market of safe, airworthy gliders available, also. Do not expect to find anything airworthy in a pawnshop, or on eBay, or at a yard sale. Sail material weakens after prolonged exposure to sunlight. Cables and hardware are subject to corrosion, and it may be internal (invisible). Even aluminum can corrode, in ways that the average guy might miss. Fabricating new parts for very old gliders will quickly add up to more money than a decent, recent model will cost. Newer gliders out-perform the ancient designs in almost every way. In my experience, very old gliders can be a total waste of money, for a glider that nobody else would buy. The real savings, in HG costs, will come when you can sell your present glider for most of what you paid for it. Then the costs per day of ownership become quite reasonable. This will not be true if you have to eat the entire cost of your present glider because nobody will buy it, at any price. Do not bet your life that some old "bargain" is still safe to fly. Get good advice from expert HG pilots, and do not buy anything, sight unseen. Don't be tempted to think that an old junker may be okay on the beginners' hills, either, because I know you better than that. You *will* fly it much higher than you are willing to fall, so let's not kid ourselves. Buy yourself a really airworthy glider, okay? See the section on buying a glider here, also.
My costs, buying and selling gliders in my 30 years of flying HG, have been less than US$0.50 cents per day. Correct that for inflation, and of course, Your Mileage May Vary. Remember; the lessons, harness, reserve 'chute, and helmet will all transfer easily to your future gliders. The ongoing costs for gliders and gear should be fairly reasonable, after the initial investment.
These are fairly realistic prices, for anybody who shops a bit. If money is really tight for you, don't despair; I have a suggestion for financially challenged pilots, like me. Having friends in the HG community may reduce these prices, and maybe by a lot. It's usually not too hard to make friends with HG pilots. Most of us need another retrieval driver, and volunteering to drive is a great way to become popular in any HG club.
I know, you will feel like an outsider there at first, but every HG pilot that I know needs another chase-vehicle driver. If somebody drives for me, and they really want to fly, I would beat the bushes to find them decent gear, at the best prices. It is hard to ignore the dedicated driver who finds me after some personal-best distance flying, who sees me at my best, and makes the adventure a pure joy. "Driving" can be an all-day enterprise, and it may tax your patience, initiative, map skills, and persistence. Bring a book, a picnic lunch, and/or other amusements for yourself, because there may be a few hours when everybody is up, and you are not doing very much. The Driver gets the best seat in the truck, and usually, a free restaurant meal with the pilots at the end of the day. I can't guarantee that driving will be great fun, but it will get you in with good pilots, and it won't last long. Talk to everybody. I believe that the right pilots will be happy to help. The more pilots you meet, the sooner good things can happen for you. Don't let any one HG pilot, or any three HG pilots, monopolize your driving talents, either. :-)
Driving can also have another good benefit for you. Sure, you will meet more pilots, but you can hear and ask questions, about all aspects of HG flying. Weather alone is a complex subject; the local HG pilots will have knowledge of forecasts, and what they might mean for you as a pilot on any given day. You can gain good knowledge on a wide variety of flying topics, that is really not available for purchase at any commercial source.
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WHEELS: All hang gliders used to teach flying MUST have wheels. This is not a subject for debate; walk away (while you can) from anybody who thinks wheels are optional for lessons. I recommend that the first glider that you own should have a set of wheels, also, at least for the first few months that you fly. They can save your aluminum, and they can even save your bacon. When you no longer need your wheels, there will be another student behind you, who will buy them from you for most of what you paid. Wheels are then the cheapest insurance that you can buy.
One very minor caution on wheels: Clip-on wheels, the type that split into a top half and bottom half, are not as reliable for protection as the one-piece wheels that mount on a hub of some sort. Any wheels are better than none, though. If you do choose to use the clip-on wheels, just wrap the tread area of the wheel with one continuous piece of tape, completely around the outside of the wheel, and at least two layers. Wide Nylon filament tape would be good for this, but even duct tape is better than nothing.
WIND INDICATORS: Especially as a new HG pilot, you want to have wind indicators on the nose cables of the glider. There should be one on each nose cable, about eye-level high, when you are standing ready to launch the glider. Each wind indicator should be at *least* one foot (30cm) long. The best material will be the lightest possible synthetic knitting yarn (usually, from a fabric shop). Heavy strips of cloth (or ribbons) are NOT good wind indicators, for the light winds of HG lessons.
Do not launch when the wind indicators are not blowing toward you. Your instructor will teach you how to deal with crossing winds, on launch. If the glider that you are learning with does not have these wind indicators installed, maybe you need to take a better look at your HG instructor (not a joke). You can easily make your own wind indicators from knitting yarn, and small (electrical) alligator clips. Clip them on the cables where you need them, and take them with you, when you leave. Remember, from the first instant that your feet leave the ground, you are becoming the Pilot-In-Command of an aircraft. It is your responsibility to have the things you need to operate the aircraft safely. That ability and responsibility can start, right here.
Wind indicators (streamers) at the launch and landing sites can be "toilet tissue" streamers, one or two yards (meters) long, mounted on poles which are only barely strong enough to support the streamer. If your lessons or HG instructors do not provide these things, feel free to provide them for yourself. You WILL regret their absence, if you do not. "Wind socks" on the landing field are for airplanes. They may be "classic," but they are *not* really good enough, for hang glider operations.
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Learning to fly well is a life-long affair that should not start, or stop, with lessons.
One of the top web sites for Hang Gliding has a great article and a drawing for a good, hands-on HG Simulator. If a local HG pilot or HG club has a worthless old glider lying around, here is a very good use for it. Hang the glider from any strong support, high enough so the pilot can just touch the feet to the ground. This is an extremely valuable training device, but it is no better than the experienced HG pilot who presents it. "Muscle memory" and good control moves are the focus of this training aid. You will know how it really feels to make the correct control movements, and see how a hang glider responds. More than that, you will have the time to relax, to feel the experience of flight (minus the wind and scenery, of course), and feel how the glider responds to good control inputs. All of that is hard to get in mid-air, with the surface of a planet close, and approaching rapidly. This device gives you time to get things right. It will greatly speed your understanding, through lessons. Instead of just scraping by, barely competent at any point before adding the next phase, you will be much more able to "nail down" each aspect of your learning, with actual flying time. Think of this as a real, practical "ground school." Later, when you start your HG lessons, everything will mesh together very well for you. You should run through this process at least once, and then again, just a few days before you begin taking lessons. Like the books and discussions that you will have outside of lessons, this device is something that you can do for yourself, to give you every advantage during actual HG lessons. Maybe it is not absolutely necessary, but it is highly recommended.
Pardon me if this is long, but I think you'll find it worth your while. You should ask the local HG pilots about the reputations of the local HG instructors, regarding their safety and competence. Some HG pilots will say nothing bad against any HG instructor, or at least not in public. Do NOT accept this social insanity. When -your- personal welfare is at stake, "image" and "politeness" are entirely out of place. Drag somebody aside, if you can, and demand straight, honest answers. Buy them a dinner, if you must. They may become very honest with you. Listen carefully to the answers that you do get, from every HG pilot. It tells you *nothing* useful, to hear that an instructor "teaches many students", or charges the least money, or is famous, or has flown forever. Ask which instructor has had the most students injured, in the last few years. Ask which instructor produces the best and safest HG pilots (disregarding all other factors). If straight answers are not forthcoming, as pilot to pilot, then you definitely need to find more and better HG pilots to ask.
I believe that I have taught almost a thousand HG student pilots to fly HG, as a professional HG instructor, and there were no broken bones among those HG pilots - not in lessons or after, so far as I know. Thus, I have a rather low tolerance for "instructors" who regularly send their students to the hospital. That said, now I can relax a bit and give you a few practical ideas that will help your quest for personal, free flight.
I offer this advice for ANY school you are considering: go and WATCH lessons as they are taught to paying students. "Watch" also means "listen" to every word from the instructor. Learn the instructors' names and faces, and observe how each one teaches. Some folks can Communicate very well, with good knowledge passing to the student, and some can not. The most knowledgeable pilot may be at a complete loss trying to understand the newcomers' faults and fears, so years of experience could be almost meaningless. Pick the instructor who can talk to YOU, as you are. Make sure that the school knows you will be buying lessons from THAT instructor, not just the one that shows up on any given day. Only you will regret any other arrangement.
On days that you do not pay for and take a lesson, WATCH lessons on that day, anyway. I call this a Listen Day. I promise you that you will learn almost as much, for free, as on your Lesson Days. No HG instructor worth their salt will chase you off. "Move" from the instructor does not mean "depart"; it means "sit out of the way", which is just a few yards (meters) uphill from the students. You should still be able to hear everything said, from there.
If you are towing tandem, take towing lessons as your time and wallet may permit. You can take towing HG instruction on almost any good-weather day, even with OR without a foot-launched HG lesson, on that day. If you are foot-launching, muscle fatigue is a major consideration. Ideally (for foot-launched students), you will want to take one days' worth of lessons, skip two days, and take the next lesson. (One day lets your muscles recover; two days will let your mind absorb your experience better.) In the real world, most foot-launched HG students would manage every Wednesday and one weekend day as their best option. This approach will give you the best value for your money. Any slower, and you will forget a bit between lessons; any faster is a waste (for foot-launched HG lessons), because fatigue becomes the deadly enemy<--no metaphor! Make no mistake; this is NOT a "fitness" deal; it is a "learning to fly" deal. Do not let fatigue cheat you out of learning vital knowledge and skills. The sky will not accept excuses for their lack, later. If you are too tired to continue -and learn- at any time, then give yourself a day off, without any argument. Make it a Listen Day, instead.
Find yourself a quiet and comfortable chair at the end of each Lesson Day (or Listen Day), and recall each fact learned, and every flight you saw or made. A mistake that you watched is one that you do not need to repeat on yourself. This "armchair flying" will help you learn more, safer and faster, which also means cheaper.
Lessons will supply you with all gear at first. If you do have a personal helmet, take it to lessons and ask if it will be suitable. Listening to airspeed is about the best way to judge if you are flying too fast, or too slow. For that, a helmet that does not block your hearing, is best. The right helmet can help you to make better landings, consistently. Your instructor will help you decide if your present helmet is suitable. Remember; a helmet is a survival tool. It MUST have a crushable foam lining, and fit properly, to be effective. Extremely hard foam, or no foam, is not adequate protection. Ventilation holes anywhere in a helmet are bad luck. Fly like you do not have a helmet, but always wear yours, when flying. It's just a good example, to the less-informed, less-skillful pilots than you. A local HG club will probably have some good deals on decent, used gear. Talk to everybody there, before you buy anything.
Depending on finances and availability, foot-launched HG students should consider taking a tandem HG ride with a certified tandem HG pilot (and make 'em show their credentials to you). Let the experienced pilot deal with launch and landing; you get to fly it around, as soon as you get away (far away) from the dirt. This can be either foot-launched soaring, or aero-towed from a dolly launch. You want at least half an hour in the air, and more if it is aero-towed, or not all in one flight. This tandem flying can be done before you start any lessons, sometime in the middle, or when lessons are finished. Ideally, all three possibilities are recommended. It's more a matter of finances, for most folks.
The glider can actually carry you, right? In foot-launched lessons, you will learn how to let the assembled glider help to carry itself, using a bit of wind. The sooner you stop trying to muscle the glider around on the ground, and learn how to use the power of the wind to help you, the less real hard work you will be doing, in lessons. Rather than being discouraged by the huge efforts required to do it the hard way, just watch, listen, and learn as the HG instructor teaches you the easiest ways to handle the glider.
Finding a HG instructor or HG club would be the best plan, to get started. Some HG instructors work solo, and some HG instructors work with HG schools. HG clubs can be a great source of knowledge, equipment, and comradery. In the USA, check for your nearest USHPA HG instructors, schools, and clubs here:
HG instructors in the USA / map HERE.
HG schools in the USA / map HERE.
HG clubs in the USA / map HERE.
HG Observers in the USA (who may or may not be Instructors) / map HERE.
New Female Pilots
Guys, just relax, put your imaginations in Neutral, and step on the brake, okay? There are some things I'm NOT going to tell you, here. :-) As expressed in this following (linked) article, women generally are NOT limited by real barriers, but may be hampered by improper equipment. Any male would have similar difficulties, too, if faced with gear which is inappropriate for their size and strength. Many of the points made in this article are valid for both men and women, but these ideas are worthy of emphasis, if any person might encounter such obstacles, whether physical or mental.
What I have here is some very good advice from a seasoned female HG pilot, specifically to women who want to fly. HG instructors might also take note. Click the Back button, to return here.
Letter to Female Pilots
Onward and upward, then . . .
Fitness is not a pressing issue, in everyday HG flying. Foot-launched HG lessons can be a real "physical" challenge to anybody, and that even includes jocks, like football players. Nobody normally uses the muscle groups needed for foot-launched HG lessons, so you can expect fatigue to become a serious limitation, during foot-launched HG lessons. Fatigue will not usually be an issue, then, in everyday HG flying, once you are finished with lessons. Fatigue will not be a great problem if you are towing, either. Most HG sites are accessible by vehicle; chances are, HG lessons will be more work than you ever do again, to fly.
I don't know what conditioning you maintain, but long runs across the surface of the planet will not help much. For foot-launched flying, this exercise will help, just around your neighborhood: you want to stand still, then walk a few steps, jog a few steps, run a few steps, then go to a full-tilt mad dash, as fast as you can possibly run. Slow down and stop, as is comfortable to you, and repeat often. The entire duration of this "exercise," from stand-still to mad-dash, is from about six to ten seconds. This simulates a normal HG launch. Speed counts, certainly, but smoothness in acceleration counts for MORE than high speed. Once you are at your full mad-dash speed, slow down and stop at some comfortable rate. Then do it all again. Even good runners may be challenged to do this more than a few times, at first. Don't do too much at one time. Running for long durations probably won't be much help. You will find this practice is rather demanding, as an exercise. Do these sprints on flat ground, or going up-hill. Warning: if you try doing this "launch practice" going downhill, you will probably crash and burn, without your wings attached. D.A.M.H.I.K. :-)
Is that IT? Well, except for hiking back up the beginner's hills for the short flights, that's about it. The hiking part can be tough, just starting out. HG flight parks usually have a retrieve vehicle, to make the return trip easy.
There are two fair examples of a good launch here, which are the first two of the Launch Videos, below. The pilot really needs a few more steps, at every stage of the launch run (walk, jog, run, dash), to be in perfect form, but at least he is smooth, with no tendency to lunge forward, at any time. You will probably see many launches which are worse. These two launches are pretty good.
Here are some new videos, from YouTube.com, which is a fairly accident-ridden website, on average. Student pilots will NOT benefit from watching bad launches and landings, so I suggest that you stick to just these few good examples.
For the following six videos, the sound is not necessary. Feel free to turn off the sound.
Hang Gliding Training, Two Flights Off The Bunny Hill
Long Low Beginner Flight.
No-Wind Launch, Great Run.
Good Strong Launch, Fine Run.
Light Wind Launch, Good Run.
Windy Launch, Unassisted.
Hang Glider Landing, A Topless Aeros Combat.
Hang Glider Landing, Nice.
Mountain Flight Landing, Fine.
(be sure to check the skilled spot-landing videos below, in Landing On A Target)
So, what else can be done, if I can't get to fly right now?
When first starting out on the adventure of Hang Gliding, sometimes you can get temporarily derailed by a lack of funding, or too-distant HG schools, or personal affairs. To ease the serious frustrations of these �minor� setbacks, you can learn to fly RC aircraft in the meantime. This enjoyable endeavor is at a slight tangent to HG lessons, and it is NOT required, in learning to fly a hang glider.
Still, it's a valuable skill for any HG pilot, and you can learn a lot about the winds, lift, thermals, and the qualities desirable for your aircraft, even if it is an RC model. I would not consider flying at unknown (but possible) flying sites (we call this a "pioneering� expedition), unless I first flew an RC plane there to investigate the winds and terrain effects of this new site. RC planes then are not merely an entertaining pastime; they can be a valuable learning tool. They can be a good safety factor, in your life-long flight adventures.
Here is a quick-n-dirty article, to get started with RC aircraft. We can start this RC adventure with a free RC Simulator.
Learn to Soar RC Models.
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Old gliders found on eBay or at yard sales usually are NOT airworthy. Do not risk your life (or your money) on any old glider, unless a HG instructor AND the local HG pilots all agree that it is safe for you. There -are- good, used gliders available. Do not buy any equipment, without some good advice from expert HG pilots. See below for more.
And it all starts with a personal note, to your good health:
You should always be willing to learn from the mistakes of others. As in all previous aviation development, you can not expect to make the same old mistakes, and expect results any different from those before you. Isolation, and the resulting lack of current common knowledge from the HG community, are the ingredients for a personal disaster. You should not wish to reject the fellowship of experienced aviators. Nobody here wants to see you go it alone; we do know it's just too dangerous that way. We -all- share your dream. Association with your fellow pilots will yield many benefits to you. Safety, savvy, new abilities, and even fair prices are only parts of the picture. You can make new and lifelong friends among us. The knowledge that you gain here, and later from your instructors and fellow HG pilots, can keep you happy and healthy.
A good friend and flying buddy reminded me to include this old and important bit of flying wisdom:
Never combine two unknowns in a single flight. Any new place or new gear is one unknown. Each flight should consist of many known items: the launching area, the landing area, the glider, the harness, the helmet, an instrument, a camera, a radio, clothing, et c. If you change any one thing for a newer or different version, that is usually okay. Do NOT change two or more such items, however, such as trying a new harness at a new flying site, or a new radio with a new helmet. Give yourself a fair chance to become familiar with each new addition, without trying to keep several new items straight, at the same time. Once any new piece of gear is becoming comfortable and familiar, then it is safe to add the next new piece.
These topics are just my humble opinions here, and there are no guarantees.
Please feel free to get second or third opinions, on any material presented here. There are links to a few of my HG pictures, and even my latest dream-ship (we all can dream, true?), near the end of this long page.
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Okay, now you have almost completed flying lessons. You know a bit about the air, and have some good experience on novice-rated gliders. You really want to buy your own glider, and you are READY. If everybody knows the seller, and all the local experts are saying that you are getting a great deal on exactly the glider to match your skills, maybe you should listen up. If only the people who have a money interest in the deal are in favor of it, maybe you need to ignore the flacks, and listen to your friends instead. The pilot who sells you a glider should be expecting you to be a friend for life.
So, if you can't kick the tires, how do you know if you are getting a good price, on a good glider? Well, you *could* ask a lot of good questions, and then listen carefully to the answers. If you get a blanket refusal by the seller to answer "a lot of fool questions", then *run*, do not walk, to the nearest exit. Otherwise, I'd have to wish you the best of luck.
The usual run of questions goes about like this:
* Will this glider out-perform every hang glider ever built?
* Can I pick it up from you today?
* Will you take monthly payments? :-)
It would be much better to hear the new pilot asking the owner (or broker):
* Can an expert "test fly" this glider for me, to see if they think that it is safe for me? (-This is the most important issue. A new pilot could cause a good glider to act badly, or blame their own lack of skill for a serious handling problem that needs repairs. Whether a glider is new or used, the independent opinion of an experienced pilot, -after- a test flight, could preserve your wallet, and even your health.)
* Is this glider safe, for my level of experience? (-This assumes that you don't know everything, yet.)
* How many sun hours (UV) are on the sail? (-Sail material should be smooth and "crispy", almost like a sheet of plastic. It should not feel like an old bed-sheet that you can breathe through. It should not feel like very fine sandpaper with many broken threads in the weave, either; that is a sign of 'way too much sunlight. Sun-fading of the sail color, *anywhere* in the sail, is also a very serious indicator that an old sail is now trash. Nobody makes replacement sails for very old gliders, and if they did, you could buy a newer complete glider, cheaper than buying a new sail.)
* I'm a beginner. I need a written set of instructions to assemble this glider properly. You can *not* expect me to remember, or guess, about the entire assembly procedure, or how and where certain parts should be installed.
* Ever had the sail off to inspect the frame? I want the local HG experts to do that, with this glider and me, before I buy it.
* Do you have the owner's manual and rib pattern for this glider? (-Older gliders may have flat "ribs" or sail battens, and gliders that old are probably not airworthy.)
* How does this glider fly, compared to what I normally fly?
* What is the pilot weight range for this glider?
* What pilot proficiency rating does the factory set, for this glider?
* What is the safety record for this model of glider, overall?
* Does this glider have a steel cable inside the control bar basetube? If not, how much will it cost me to get one?
* Why is the owner selling this wing?
* Who flies with the seller, usually? (-Those other pilots might have some good advice or information for you, but you have to get them talking in private.)
* What options come with this glider (-wheels, extra tubes, spare bolts, bags, et c.)?
* I need this glider de-tuned to very mellow flying characteristics, and a written list of the things I need to change, for when I want it back to the highly tuned condition.
* What is best about this glider?
* What is worst about this glider?
* Has this glider ever been crashed? How badly? Who repaired it? Are all the parts now new factory items, or did somebody cut and drill blank tubes?
* Do they still make this glider?
* How old is this glider?
* How old are the cables? (-IMHO, five years is pushing the limits, due to possible internal corrosion and/or metal fatigue in the cables. You can not see this problem, so we just change cables by a schedule.)
* Does the factory still sell parts for this glider?
* Are all of the rib pockets in the sail okay?
* What are the stall characteristics of this glider?
* Tell me exactly how to land this wing well.
* Then show me how *you* land it. (-If the owner can not or will not fly the glider, then maybe you should not fly it, either.)
* How good will this glider's resale value be, in a year or two?
* Will you take monthly payments? :-)
Now, every answer may not be what you wanted to hear. Each answer, great or poor, can affect the price you pay, or even kill the deal. You will need good friendly advice from local experts to make a fair evaluation of the glider, the seller, and the price.
Yeah, I know, the glider looks beautiful to you, and it would, even if it had warts; your first impulse will be to buy it at any price. Listen to your local HG experts, instead. A great price on a lousy glider (or on a glider too advanced for you) is still a bad deal. About half of the questions above can also be answered by local HG pilots, as well as the seller. All of those answers should agree. An owner might tell you that the glider has never been Whacked, or is fine for a beginner, but local pilots may tell you otherwise.
If you are buying a brand-new glider, you might want to think you can just forget all of the above questions. The reverse is true; all of those questions are still valid. Only a few of the answers will be better. If you think a dealer can get a new glider shipped to you with no risk of damage in transit, then I have a bridge that I want to sell you. "Shipping tubes" can get totaled, in transit; somebody had better take a careful look at that brand-new glider, if it arrives in a damaged shipping tube.
When buying any glider, new or used, watch out for non-responsive answers here. For example, if you ask if all of the rib pockets are good, and the seller says the glider only has X number of hours on it, instead of giving you a straight answer, make a written note of that. It will be one more thing that you will have to check out more carefully than normal.
Do not believe that you can get just any old glider repaired, just anywhere. If you find a glider that is good, but maybe needs new cables, put the deal on hold for a short while. Check with the factory or other reputable HG shop first, to see if any needed parts are reasonable in cost, and easily available. Surprises can be expensive, both in time or money. This is about like buying a car; you might see some real junk, before the sweet deal appears. Don't be hasty, and don't get discouraged. Good deals are out there, if you care to look. HG clubs are usually the best sources of good, used gear.
Buying a glider for the first time, you might think that another HG pilot could "claim-jump" on a glider that you hope to buy. This idea might make you want to buy first, and ask questions later; that is a BAD plan. Maybe that idea is possible, but it is really unlikely. In most cases, the expert HG pilot already has a good glider now, and maybe two. They probably do not need another glider. Secondly, the glider that you need as a beginner, would have little interest for an advanced HG pilot. Thirdly, HG is a fairly small community, and a pilot could lose a few friends, if they did that to a newcomer.
If the idea of losing out on a "deal" might keep you from asking advice, then start with some general questions, first. Ask on the Internet forums, linked at the end of this page; there, you don't have to tell anybody where the glider is, or who is selling it, to get decent advice. Also, you can go to HG club meetings, or out to the flying sites. Pick a pilot to approach for advice. Ask if they would be interested in buying a glider like the one you want. Ask what they might pay for one. If the money they might offer is far below the asking price, then you need to find out why, before you buy. If they tell you that they have no interest in a glider like that, then ask why. They might tell you that it's a beginner-class glider, or they have the glider that they want already, or it's too old, or a poor design, or that they have no money for any more gliders now. If you get responses that you like, then it is probably "safe" to let the HG expert see the "deal" that you have been offered. Ask if they know the seller, and anything good or bad about that person. Then ask all the usual questions about the glider, seller, and pricing. In reality, there -are- other gliders for sale, so if one deal eludes you somehow, just relax. Another deal will turn up soon.
Yeah, there is more to buying a glider than matching it to your skills and learning it's history. The physical inspection is the most important aspect of the deal. THAT PHYSICAL INSPECTION IS TOO MUCH TO COVER HERE. Look to HG clubs and HG shops for the technical expertise necessary. If a good HG club or shop is only available in the next state or province, well, mount up and go there, with the glider. It's your life that is at stake if you do not; don't tell me that you are too busy. Few HG pilots would shun a new pilot. Make new friends among the flying community. The experts in this sport have knowledge that you cannot get, any place else on Earth. If you think that a university can tell you why any glider is safe or not, then I *dare* you to go ask them. They do not know.
I am a proponent of sail-off frame inspections. Yeah, the would-be buyer pays a pro to do this, win or lose. I have heard of a reputable(?) dealer telling a pilot that their shop has NEVER done a sail-off inspection in the process of selling a glider. That is difficult for me to accept. You have to wonder if they sleep well at night, if that were true. I would *bet* that those same folks do sail-off inspections of their own personal gliders. Let The Buyer Beware, I guess. Personally, I would never sell a glider to any pilot that I would not buy if I were in their position, at that price. I have had the time to answer all their questions. Every glider was checked out, inside and out, before the new owner got it. Maybe I'm just a fanatic.
You should plan on replacing the bottom cables (at least) on any glider, about every two years. It's just good aircraft maintenance. Corrosion and metal fatigue can take a toll on cables, over time. That old cable may look okay, but if it is too old, that cable may fail when shock-loaded. New cables will withstand constant loads, and especially shock-loads, much better than old cables will. It's a minor consideration, if you are buying a used glider; you should not let the (additional) low cost of new cables make you decide to buy a new glider, instead. That would be like buying a new car to avoid the cost of new tires, for a good used car. You'd just be spending a lot of money, to avoid spending a little.
You might wonder why I say all of this. It's simple, really. I have had a good friend catch a (safe) parachute ride to the bottom, because the pilot trusted too easily, and the seller was only looking out for himself. That whole episode was entirely unnecessary! Maybe if *you* ever dive after a friend in their busted glider, hoping their 'chute deployment works perfectly, and cheering out loud when it does, then you might become a fanatic, too. :-)
I do not recommend buying HG equipment on-line. Even "slight" defects in the condition of the item may be serious, or even deadly to you. Unless you are willing to gamble on throwing away the item and your money, do not do this. If you fall into some of the "better," more sophisticated scams, ALL of your money AND YOUR CREDIT can be completely wiped out. I can't advise you on every possibility on-line, so I will only say DON'T go there.
I do not use PayPal for anything, and if you Google for "PayPal Horror Stories," you will learn why not. Scams or no scams, you will be amazed that these guys are still in business, or that anybody would consider using them. Now, I'm going to tell you more than I know. To defend against some of the PayPal operations, some Paypal users are getting pre-paid "credit" cards, the "Green Dot" card, sold in various places. That way, nobody can keep charging you repeatedly for more money, then.
Last I heard, the scammers can use Western Union to defraud you for all the money you have, also. I hope they can fix this problem. Investigate this further, if you need to, but a word to the wise, here.
Cashier's Checks are no guarantee, either. There are many examples of counterfeit Cashier's Checks. Your bank will cash them, but within a few months, the check will "clear." If the check turns out to be counterfeit, or drawn on non-existent funds, then YOU are on the hook for the full amount of the check, to your bank. There will be no appeal, and you may face criminal charges, if you do not pay up. I once got a Cashier's Check out of the blue for US$4600.00 and some really clever instructions to use a little, and keep the rest, for my trouble. I told my bank that I was NOT presenting this check for payment, but suspected a fraud instead. They tracked it, as if to "clear" the check, and it was worthless paper, drawn on a non-existent account. We all laughed, and I tore up the Cashier's Check there.
What is left? I do not have a good answer. If anybody has a good answer, please email me. Within the USA, I go with Postal Money Orders, and only by the U.S. Mail. It may be slower, but here, heavy mail-fraud charges would apply to any fraud, and most bad-guys really do not want the Federal Government after them. The Postal Money Order, and use of the U.S. mail, guarantees Federal notice of the crime.
Best of luck.
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Hang gliders usually fold up into a long skinny bag. The packed glider will be about 17 to 21 feet (5m to 6.5m) long, depending on the glider type and how much you weigh. Some gliders can be "short-packed", but this is a level of hassle that you usually will do only to get it on an airplane. Some airlines won't handle it even then; I would never give MY wings to the average baggage-smasher, and it's worth more than the carrier will pay, for loss or damage. So, we car-top it, usually.
Lots of racks, for lots of types of vehicles:
For one glider, with a pilot who is just getting started, I recommend a ladder rack. Use a one-piece ladder, not an extension ladder; aluminum ladders are the best. Pad each rung of the ladder with pool noodles, from the home improvements store, which are about the best rack padding. You could also use foam pipe insulation, or even a long, folded quilt. Foam pads are also good; just do not use bubble-pack, it's worthless on a glider-rack. Use tape made for wrapping underground gas piping, for the best durability, on your rack padding. Ordinary duct tape will not last long, on a rack. Secure the ladder to the top of the car, using a good, sturdy roof-rack. You want a low and strong roof rack, not a high and spindly one. Ideally, you would also want a rack (or some sort of framework) from each bumper, up to each end of the ladder. Depending on the car, you might have to settle for a "front bumper rack, roof-rack and rear rope" system, or a "front rope, roof-rack, and rear bumper rack" system. Least desirable, but maybe adequate, would be to secure each end of the ladder to the bumpers using rope. This "rope-rack-rope" system puts all of the weight of the glider, and *all* of the travel and shock loads, on the roof rack. If the car's roof is thin metal, even a good rack might dent the roof. Bumper-mounted racks, combined with a good roof rack, will help to distribute the load. Remember, this assembly must stay put, and keep your wings from sliding off, no matter how abruptly you may brake or steer. Secure that rack for the worst; you might be glad that you did, one day.
With the ladder secure and padded, tie the glider gently but securely to at least four rungs of the ladder. Nylon webbing straps are best, for this. Pass a strap under one rung, over the glider, under the rung on the far side of the glider, back over the glider, and buckle it back to the free end of the strap. Each strap acts like two, done this way, which is nicer for the glider. Secure one tie near each end of the glider, and add two or more ties, closer to the middle. Space the ties equally.
How much rack or glider overhang, past the bumpers, is legal? It depends on where you are, and the attitudes of the local police. Some places will give you one yard (1 m.) of overhang past the rear bumper, and maybe more if you have a red flag attached. In those places, the oldest trick is to sew one end of the red flag across the end of the cover-bag, so it flaps in the breeze in a safety-minded style. That way, you are sure to have the flag in place at all times. If the ladder is longer than the glider, attach the flag to the end of the ladder, instead. Some places allow any amount of front overhang, and some will allow none. Find out the actual local requirements and limits from your motor vehicle administration.
A ladder rack can be about three feet (1 m.) shorter than the glider at each end, with no real problem to the glider. A ladder that is the full length of the glider, or more, is only a serious advantage if you are involved in a collision.
While there certainly are "rack realities" to consider, I really hope that you will choose a glider that suits you in flight (rather than the car on the ground). At the flying sites, you will see how other pilots manage the transportation issues, on vehicles similar to yours. Talk to every HG pilot; when it isn't about wheels or propellors, we are mostly a friendly and helpful bunch.
When you get more certain of your commitment to fly (for me, it is lifelong), you will probably want a more permanent rack for your wings. You will probably be glad to provide space for your flying buddies' wings, also; a great rack on a capable vehicle attracts HG pilots to you, like bees to honey. :-) Look at what other HG pilots do for racks, with vehicles similar to yours.
Are you ready for some good end support? XCNick on the Yahoo HG forum offers this great idea:
Front or Rear Trailer-Hitch Rack
Storage is a simple matter of getting a 20' (6m) telephone pole out of the weather. Store the glider on shelving, or on padded work-stands, or hang it from three or more wide straps, such as automobile seat belts, bolted to the rafters. Do not store your glider on any floor, worst of all on a dirt floor. The dampness would stain and corrode everything. Rodents, mold, and insects seem to like sailcloth, so protection is the game here.
A garage is about the best storage solution. For those not blessed with a garage, you may be able to slide a glider though a basement window. If you do, build a short chute that you can set in the window, so the window frame does not tear up the cover bag or the glider's sail. Round off all corners and edges of the chute, if you go that route. As a last resort, a straight stairway might offer tilted storage for a glider, too. Then, you would want to store the glider with the nose end down, so the glider does not chew up its' wingtips.
A carport alone is not good protection for a glider. Sunlight (UV) is the cloth-destroyer, and the cover bag only provides limited protection to the glider. If you have no decent options, I recommend a plastic drainage pipe for storage. This can be white PVC, or the rigid black HDPE pipe that is corrugated outside, and smooth inside. PVC pipe will get brittle in a few years, so a coat of paint is advised, for that type of pipe. The correct sized pipe might cost around US$100 for the length of your glider. Concrete pipe suppliers, landscaping outfits, and farm supply stores often carry the pipe in the sizes that you need. Measure across the largest dimensions of the glider in the bag, and add maybe two or three inches. Outside end caps, or inside plugs, can be purchased, or improvised using metal drain-pans, large plastic bowls or plates, or build your own. Mount the pipe above ground, at some convenient height, and give it a slight slope, so water will not collect inside. A carport, shady wall or fence is a good place to hang the pipe. If water does get in, you want it to drain out quickly. If you make drain holes at one end of the pipe, cover the holes with metal screen to prevent entry by birds, rodents, and insects - all of which can do bad things to your sail, in short order. If you paint the pipe every few years to protect it from sunlight, it will last for a long time.
Packing up a glider for the end of a flying day is a very individual enterprise. You will see some pilots who are just stuffing everything together. You will see some pilots who have it down to a science, rolling sailcloth with precision, and using a basket-full of pads, bags, and sleeves to contain everything. Watch both types of pilot, and decide for yourself, about how much care is right. Aluminum -will- mark sailcloth over time, even if the aluminum is anodized. Steel bolts or pins can rub holes or tear into the sailcloth, even while you are driving home. Steel hardware can also chew into your aluminum airframe, and repairs for that damage can be costly.
In general, you probably want to have some padding in these vital places, anytime that you pack up the glider for transport. These pads should be a minimum of very heavy toweling, and maybe two or more layers, made into sleeves or bags (custom-fit), around or between all of the sharp metal ends, and the sail. Chances are, you will get a small collection of such pads and bags with the glider that you purchase. If you want more than the padding supplied, great; make your own padding, and don't be shy about using it. Treat that glider as if your life depends on it, because that is exactly the case.
Ribs should be stored in a bundle, with all of the curved ends together. Sort the ribs into two groups, right from left. You want to keep the left ribs separate from the right ribs. Why? Well, it's one thing if the glider wants to turn left or right, one day. It gets really confusing, though, if that minor annoyance changes sides, before you figure out the reason (such as one deformed rib). One trick that I like for rib storage is to use a thin bungee cord, with a small metal ring tied at one end, to secure the ribs together in a bundle. Loop the bungee cord twice around one group of ribs, pull tight, and tie a single hitch knot. Set the other group of ribs together with the first group, and loop the bungee cord twice around all of the ribs together. Pass the loose end of the bungee cord through the metal ring, pull tight, and tie it there with a slip-knot. This gives you a nice, tight bundle of ribs. Slide each rib fore-and-aft in the bundle, until each rib "nests" into the curves of the other ribs in one smooth, curved bundle. Bungee cord holds the ribs in place in the bundle, better than any other type of tie.
This "bungee rib tie" trick allows each rib to be well supported by the other ribs during storage, so that their precise curvature does not get deformed in transit. Each rib on one side of the glider should match the curvature of the same rib on the opposite side. For example, the #4 Left rib should match exactly the #4 Right rib; you can easily check this, any time you set up or dis-assemble the glider. If any rib does get deformed, ever, then you need to use the factory rib pattern to restore that rib to the proper curvature, before you try to fly the glider again. One bad rib could make the next flight unpleasant, or even dangerous. Using the factory rib pattern to maintain the proper airfoil for your glider can be VITAL to your safety.
You should have a dedicated rib storage bag, to protect your ribs from accidental bends and dirt. Decide for yourself if you want to keep the ribs inside the glider storage bag; if so, the ribs will probably be safer in the roomier wingtip end of the glider bag, rather than the nose end, which usually has little extra space.
Use a hard automotive paste wax (carnauba is best) to protect and "lubricate" your ribs, every six months or so. Apply a very thin coat of wax to the ribs, then buff (by hand) with a clean cloth, until the ribs are smooth and shiny. They will shed dirt far better, and will slide into the sail much easier. There is no good substitute for hard paste wax, for this purpose.
Some HG pilots like to pass each rib through a folded dust-cloth, just before inserting that rib into the sail. That's a good idea, too; any dirt inside a rib pocket is rather to difficult remove, and it could even damage the sail material.
You can expect hundreds of flight-hours from a sail, and even more if the sail material is heavier than normal, white, or if you live in cloudy climates, or at low altitudes, or in high latitudes. If you are quick to assemble-and-launch, and quick to get it into the bag after flight, a sail can easily last for five years or more. With a new sail and new wires, and the occasional new bolt, gliders can be safe for ten years or more.
A glider cover-bag of blue Yachtcrylic (or Glen Raven's Sunbrella) is about bulletproof to sunlight, and its' sail-killing UltraViolet radiation. Sailing yachts in harbor use blue Yachtcrylic (or Sunbrella) for their sail bags, and yacht sails make our gliders look inexpensive. One such cover-bag can probably outlast your next several gliders. I do not hesitate to spend the price of a UV-proof bag for my wings; I live at 5k' MSL, fly at 10k' MSL, and sunlight here is really intense. I have twice bought a new sail for a favorite glider, across almost thirty years of HG flying. Usually, I buy (but rarely a new glider) and then sell the glider, every few years.
Yachtcrylic and Sunbrella glider bags can be made to order from GSLS (click here)
Shipping a glider:
Freight trucking is about the cheapest option, especially if you use terminal-to-terminal service, rather than door-to-door pick-up and delivery. Investigate shipping prices and allowable lengths, to find the best deals. Trucking prices can vary wildly, from one carrier to the next, so it is worthwhile to check various carriers. Ask about insurance rates, if any, for your declared value, also. Not many airlines will ship a glider, because even a short-packed glider is too long for most of them. Some carriers will not ship any aircraft, period.
For actual shipping of a glider, most "shipping crates" weigh a lot, cost a lot, and will not stand up to the job at hand. Cardboard tubes are usually a very bad joke, by the time they arrive at the destination. Check out a piece of HDPE black corrugated drainage pipe, instead. It's the only stuff that the shippers could *not* damage, for me. (They honestly seemed slightly pissed, at their failure to damage it.) At the price of wood, lately, HDPE might be worth a look. You might even get a really inexpensive deal on one left-over piece, or a piece with a slightly damaged end-bell, if you ask.
The double-walled (rigid) HDPE pipe is corrugated on the outside, and smooth on the inside. I paid about US$120.00 for a 20' (6m) section, a while back. This option was easier, lighter, faster, and 'way tougher than any wooden crate. HDPE comes in various sizes, so you might want to take the glider with you to the yard that sells HDPE and buy the best fit there. Concrete yards, landscape companies, irrigation businesses, and farming supply stores are likely sellers of HDPE pipe. These businesses are real people; simply deal with them one-on-one, and do not expect them to be a clean, big-box store, unless you want to pay the big prices.
Make wooden disks or use round metal drain-pans from the dollar store for end caps/end plugs. Allow a little extra room for the wood plugs to swell in the pipe, during shipping. Wooden plugs do not need to be completely round, or a perfect fit; you can just start with a square piece of 1/2" (1cm) or thicker plywood, and cut off corners with a table-saw until the plug will fit into place in the tube. Screw a 2x4 (5cm x 10cm) piece of lumber in place across one side of the plug, long enough to span the tube diameter inside. Screw a similar 2x4 piece (at right angles to the first piece) to the other side of the plug. This makes a very strong end-plug, braced inside and outside. The 2x4s will give you four good places to drive screws into, to secure the plug into the HDPE tube. Use at least two or three screws through the pipe, for each end of each 2x4. Sheet metal screws (Phillips-head) can be driven right through the pipe itself, to secure the end plugs/caps. Use a power drill, holding a Phillips screwdriver bit (Apex bit) for the screwdriver. You can usually do this job without pre-drilling any holes. Stuff newspaper into the pipe ends, inside your end plugs (if your wooden plugs are not a perfect fit), to keep the peanuts from leaking out. If any screw misses the plug, no problem; just reverse the drill motor and unscrew that one, then try again.
Put the glider into the tube, and plug one end temporarily. Set the tube and glider on a flight of steps, open end up, and fill the tube with Styrofoam peanuts. Roll the tube over several times, as you fill, to settle the peanuts. When you have as many peanuts as possible in the tube with the glider, cap off that end of the pipe, using all the screws necessary for shipping. Swap ends with the pipe, so the other end is now near the top of the stairs. Open that end, and pack in more peanuts, as before. Again, roll and shake the tube, to settle the peanuts around the glider. When you have the tube well-filled with peanuts, cap off the top end of the tube, using all the screws necessary for shipping. I suggest that you tie rope "handles" around the tube in three places: one at each end, and one at the actual balance point of the pipe/glider. That gives the shippers something to grab and lift, which may make for gentler handling.
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You don't have that new glider that you ordered yet, because. . .
If you plan to buy a brand-new glider, there are still a few things that you should know. You *could* give the glider company all of the money, up front. If you do, you may wait a good long while to get your glider. If you only give them only enough deposit money for them to start working on your new glider, then they have a serious incentive to get your glider to you. Give them a check or money order for your deposit, not a credit card, so there will be no surprises. Then, depending on the company, it is sometimes helpful (in terms of waiting time until delivery) if you go and sit on their front steps, waving all the rest of that green money (or the credit card) at them every day, as they come to work. Once a company has payment in full, you have no way to motivate them to deliver your glider any time soon.
To save the manufacturers some valuable time, I have here a list of the usual excuses that you get, when you don't get your glider on the promised date. Now they can just tell you "Excuse #3", or whatever. Send me the best excuse that you've heard, if you get one that's not on the list yet.
7. "Our supplier is out of (tube, cloth, cable, or bolts) right now. Call us next week."
6. "The shipper seems to have lost your glider. If we build you a second one now, before their insurance pays off, and the first one gets there next week, will you pay for both gliders?"
5. "We wouldn't send it out, without test-flying it first. The weather here has been terrible, but it should be tested and shipped this weekend" - and the glider finally arrives with cables for the smallest version, so your new glider cannot even be assembled, at all. Nobody ever test-flew this unit.
4. "Sure, we got your glider all finished now, but there are three other gliders heading for the same retailer, and if we ship them all together, it will cost you less for shipping." - you will get your glider when the *last* pilot who ordered one lately gets theirs.
3. "Your sail order slipped down behind the sewing machine, but we found it there on Tuesday and we just ordered your beautiful colors today."
2. "We just hired a new test pilot, and it's a long story, but we will build you a whole new glider, no sweat. . ."
1. "Yeah, we got your order done, and shipped it last week, but it went to Montana by mistake. The guy there likes the sail colors that you picked, better than what he had ordered, and now he paid us and won't give the glider back. We started your glider again yesterday."
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Important Safety Note #1: Cocoons, spaghetti, knee-hangers, stirrups, and hammock harnesses are all open, across the back. These harnesses will need a back-strap, located below the arms, near the top of the parachute pocket. This strap goes behind the back, and should be pulled almost snug, not tight, when you don the harness. Without this back-strap, it may not be possible to deploy the parachute, in the unlikely event that it is needed, in a zero-G situation. This back strap (with convenient buckles) can be added to older harnesses, which were made before we recognized the need. A skydiver "rigger" or HG harness maker can add this strap, built to skydiving standards, if the harness does not have one, now.
Important Safety Note #2: If you can wear the harness, standing upright, then push the shoulder straps off your shoulders and slide the harness down and off your body, that's a problem. There should be a strap buckled behind the neck, joining the two shoulder straps, to prevent that from happening. This rear neck strap makes the harness much safer, especially if you were ever to need your parachute. In aviation, Murphy RULES. Again, this behind-the-neck strap (with convenient buckles) can be added to older harnesses, which were made before we recognized the need. This is not an expensive modification, if you need to add one to an existing harness. A skydiver "rigger" or HG harness maker can add this strap, built to skydiving standards, if the harness does not have one, now.
Important Safety Note #3: ANY harness can be made with too much Velcro, or deficiencies in the grommets, bungee cord, or safety pins which hold the parachute container closed, on the harness. While hanging in the harness in the shop, do a practice parachute deployment, but do not toss the deployment bag. Identify any difficulties in the process, while in the shop. Grommets, pins, or bungee cords can be replaced (if needed) with the appropriate modern parts. Velcro can be reduced in holding power, by using "blocker strips" to lessen the contact area of the Velcro, if necessary (see the Pod Zipper note below). The parachute container should be secure, certainly, but not so over-built as to make a parachute deployment hard to manage. Consult with HG harness experts, where there is any doubt. Have experienced help available on-hand, to re-install the parachute deployment bag into the harness. Accept NO compromises, on the parachute aspects of any HG harness. It is your last best chance, if the unthinkable were ever to happen up there.
Safety Note for Front-Zipper Pods: This note pertains to the zipper which closes the front of a pod harness, around the legs. It is possible for the zipper-slider of a pod to become jammed, occasionally. This usually could happen when clothing gets caught in the zipper slider. You should allow for an "emergency exit" for your feet, if that ever happens, in flight. Most harness zippers in pods are installed with Velcro. You want to be able to push down with one knee, and force the zipper Velcro to separate when necessary, starting at the knees. Then you can use your leg muscles to separate the zipper Velcro completely, releasing your feet to land. You can ease your mind about a zipper ever getting jammed by going to the fabric store, and buying some new Velcro. Velcro is sold in black, white, and some colors. Use the narrower widths. We use this new Velcro to "block" some of the holding power of the zipper Velcro. Cut each "blocker" strip as long as the zipper Velcro is wide. Peel the existing Velcro (and zipper) partially out of the harness, at the knee area. Install a "blocker" strip (or strips) of new Velcro (either the hooks or the pile), at right angles to the zipper, between where the zipper Velcro mates with the harness Velcro, at the knee area of the harness zipper. Install these new "blocker" strips at the location of your knees, and as far up and down the harness zipper near your knees as you may wish. Two or three "blocker" strips, maybe an inch (2cm) apart, should be enough. The new "blocker" strip should engage either the zipper Velcro or the harness Velcro, so the holding power of the original zipper Velcro is reduced at the knee area. You can use either the hooks, or the pile strips here; you only use one part (hooks or pile) of the new Velcro, on one side of the harness. Use the other half, on the other side of the harness, at a similar location, so either side of the zipper will yield to a knee, pressing down to make a hasty exit. This "blocker" strip of new Velcro will reduce the holding power of the harness Velcro at the knees.
You can cut these "blocker" strips (either the hooks or pile) into narrower strips, or shorter lengths, to give yourself as much or as little holding power at your knees, as you may want. While hanging in the harness in the shop, you can test the new, reduced holding power of the harness zipper Velcro at the knees. By trial and error, you can adjust the holding power of the zipper Velcro to your needs, by installing the new "blocker" strips of Velcro, in various widths or lengths. You should have enough holding power there to zip up and hold your legs comfortably, yet have a weak enough Velcro bond to let you push one knee out, then the other knee, peeling the Velcro apart with your legs, in case the zipper ever gets stuck. Then, if the zipper might ever become stuck (closed) one day, you can still push one knee out, separate the Velcro using your legs, get your legs out of the harness, and land normally.
Install the same size of "blocker" strips in the zipper Velcro, on each side of the harness, at the knees. You can easily change or reverse any adjustments that you make, later. Just add or subtract some of the "blocker" strips, to get exactly what you want at the knees, for the holding power of the harness zipper Velcro. Your harness zipper should hold your legs securely in the pod, certainly, but still yield to one knee pressing down hard, when you need to separate the zipper if it gets stuck, during a landing approach.
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Feel free to save and/or print this out. This part is mostly for pods and cocoons, but applies somewhat to anything except a single-riser pod. There is also a bit here for the knee-hanger harnesses that are still used for students.
Air does not accept excuses, sorry to say. Complete control is essential. Whatever harness that you do select, first, get it set up properly, as described below. Then hang up an old control bar, put on the harness, and hang in. Get upright, and prone, repeatedly. Identify any problems in the shop, -not- later, in mid-air. Don't be shy about rejecting gear that does not do the trick FOR YOU. Other -opinions- really do not count for much, compared to your own observations. Get competent help, certainly - adjustments may be desired. Just don't get railroaded by any one person's opinion; you are pilot-in-command, in there. Ask around.
If any harness is sun-faded, or if the straps are worn excessively (looking fuzzy), or it has any stitching ripped out, do *NOT* use that harness. Do not risk your life and health with a junk harness. An older harness can certainly be safe, if it has been well cared-for, or even over-sewn with new webbing at critical points. A good HG instructor can help you decide when a harness gets too old.
Harness ropes must not rub and wear against the harness main support web straps, at the carabiner. If there is friction between any moving ropes and the main support web straps, connect a welded steel ring to the bottom of the carabiner, to pass the harness ropes through; some harnesses even use a double sailboat pulley there to let the ropes travel more freely, and preserve the ropes from chafing. If a welded steel ring or a pulley system does not give enough clearance to separate the ropes from the main support web straps, add a link or two of heavy welded chain to the bottom of the carabiner, to get clearance. If you use the screw type Rapide-Links, tighten them with wrenches, and use Lock-Tite or a similar thread-locking compound on the threads. Any links that you add should be about as thick and strong as the carabiner. A link failure there would not be a disaster, but it would be uncomfortable; I hate surprises in mid-air.
If there is a foot-stirrup on the harness, make some provision for the stirrup to be stowed safely, during the pilot's take-off run. This can be a loop of Velcro, a snap-buckle, or any method that can secure the stirrup safely at waist level during take-off, yet allow for an easy release by the pilot in flight. Any accidental early release of a stirrup should be regarded very seriously. That problem might trip a running pilot, and accidents on launch should be avoided at all costs; the roads up to launch are usually bad, and may be unknown to rescue crews.
For harness ropes, the only knot that I use is the loop formed by the Double Figure Eight Knot (or "Figure Eight on a Bight"). Consult your local rock climber or Boy Scout Handbook. Yes, it takes lots of rope, and even bit of planning, but there is a reason. Every knot weakens rope; this one weakens a rope less than any others. See:
Figure-8 Hang Loop Knot
two page Fig8 knot.PDF
animated Fig8 tying
The loop carries the load, at one end of the knot. The long single rope from the other end of the knot is the rope coming down from the carabiner or link.
If any one harness gives you too much trouble, take it as a fair warning, and look for a harness that is easier to get along with. Do NOT put up with a harness that does not suit you, for any reason, even if the harness was a "bargain". Gear that distracts you from the priorities of flight can be dangerous. Ditch it, if it causes problems; then go find the gear that can really work for you.
Size the harness to fit you, wearing all of your usual flying insulation. Down coats compress inside a harness, which is good for comfort, but not necessarily for warmth. A sweater-vest (sleeveless) can make a world of difference, if you fly with feathers for insulation.
I do not tow, but if you might, it would be a very good idea to check with the local towing pilots, for their input on harnesses.
If at all possible, fly in the harness, before you buy it. That is *not* a reasonable request with new gear from a dealer, but if you buy used gear, the owner might agree with that, especially if you have cash in hand.
Here's a radical approach: if what you have works well for you, don't be in a wild rush to change it. Take your time, and check out the various possibilities. When the right deal comes along, you'll be ready. Again, lessons will provide all equipment necessary, so there is no need to buy, until you can fly. Your instructor will probably provide some help with the choices, also.
Minor repairs to a harness can be made by a harness maker, or a good parachute repair guy (a rigger). Even a well-equipped upholstery shop can do non-critical sewing, such as for new camera or radio pockets, stirrup loops, Velcro, et c. Leave all of the life-critical (weight-carrying) sewing work to an experienced harness or parachute technician, though. If you can break the sewing thread with your bare hands, without cutting yourself, that is *NOT* harness sewing thread. Do not use inferior materials, in any critical harness repairs.
Quick & dirty, for beginners' harnesses:
- Soft pods are easier, warmer, and recommended.
- Cocoons are easier, warm, and recommended.
- Knee hangers are the easiest, not warm, and recommended.
- Single-riser (backframe) pods are slick, warmer, and not recommended.
- Spaghetti harnesses are tricky, not warm, and not recommended.
for cocoons and regular soft (no backframe) pod harnesses:
You should be able to lie comfortably in the harness, kick out of the boot, bring your knees up to your chest, extend your legs out straight without the boot, and rock upright, as you would to land. You should be able to do this with no use of your hands. You should also be able to go from the upright position, kick in, and lie prone; again, with no hands. All this, and comfort, too? If you're game, here we go:
First, you need to get your balance point right. Rig up a way to hang, one foot high off the floor in the shop. Get in the harness, get comfortable, and hold your arms in the flying position. Then, be a rigid statue for the next few minutes. Be ready to protect your nose here. Get two beefy friends to lift you a foot higher, by the main support web straps only. You should come up horizontal, then pivot slowly (that's one to three seconds), head down. If not, for a cocoon, add paperback books to "stand" on, in the boot, until you do. Adding books means the cocoon is too long for you. Carve a block of Styrofoam (of the correct thickness to replace the books) and sew it in place by hand under a sheet of cloth, cut to fit. You do not want this Styrofoam block to move; make it large, flat and comfortable underfoot. Alternately, un-stitch the boot and have a harness maker re-sew it to the correct length. If you pivot "head down" really hard, this means that the harness is too short for you, and it will need an extension sewn into the boot. That's some tricky work, but an expert could do it; still, you might want to consider a different harness first. Some pod harnesses have a simple internal adjustment at the feet, to allow you to set your balance point correctly. If not, apply the Styrofoam block trick, just like it was a cocoon. Oh, yeah, you can relax now :-)
(Use all new ropes for this next part, and leave all of the old ones tied in place for now. Just remove the old ones from the carabiner for now. That way you can always return to the starting arrangement if you hit a snag. This is also a good tip if you are buying a harness with worn or out-of-place ropes. If you can't get it right for you, just remove your new ropes. The seller gets it back, with no changes.)
Second, rig a shoulder-to-carabiner-to-shoulder rope; this is the stop rope. Adjust it in length until you can only go head-level and it stops your rotation there.
Third, if there are pick-up loops available (not present on all pods), rig separate lines on each side of the harness; one rope goes calf-to-'biner-to-shoulder, one goes thigh-to-'biner-to-armpit (or whatever pick-up points your harness may have). These rope lines should not rub across your main web; run them through a separate metal ring, hooked to your carabiner, instead. One welded chain link, by itself, can be used as the separate metal ring. If you have more pick-up points from the head to the mains, than from the mains to the feet, rig a separate line on the extra ones, like you did for the shoulder stop-rope. (The "extra" ones would be the ones that have no corresponding pickup point below the mains.) Do NOT run ropes calf-to-'biner-to-armpit; the ropes nearest the mains should be the shortest. The shoulder lines should be the longest. Also, do not cross ropes, left-to-right; it's too confusing to sort out, on launch. You will have two ropes on each shoulder pick-up point, the suspension line and the stop rope.
Fourth, lie comfortably in the harness while a friend squeezes together each pair of ropes (left & right shoulder, L & R armpit, mains, thighs, calf) separately, in one fist. This lets your friend judge the tension on each set of ropes. Each pair (including the mains) should be carrying an almost equal share of the load. No pair should have twice as much load as the lightest pair's load. Your friend can also add tension to each pair by rotating (that is, doorknob rotation of) the fist holding the lines. If more tension makes any one point more comfortable, shorten those lines a bit. Keep your body angle horizontal and your body fairly flat, not arched up or sagging down at the waist. Adjust all rope lengths as necessary. This takes a while, so don't get in a hurry. We're getting close here. All set? Okay. Skip to the Harness Hang Test.
for knee-hanger type harnesses
First, I want to say that with very few exceptions, a knee-hanger harness is probably one ancient piece of equipment. High Energy Sports in the USA (a very good company to know) still makes new knee-hanger harnesses, but it's not likely that you have one of those, unless you are already with an instructor.
Knee-hanger harnesses do take a bit of "getting used to". They can be okay for lessons, with some help. I like each knee-hanger rope to run from one knee band, through a welded steel ring hanging from under the carabiner, to one shoulder. You should have two separate ropes, one for each knee band. This gives you about the best compromise of freedom to run, comfort, and the landing set-up.
If the knee hanger bands are joined to each other by only a foot or two of strap (a very old style), cut that strap at midpoint with a hot blade. Fold each new end back on itself to form a small loop, and get it sewed it there securely with a heavy-duty sewing machine and harness thread. If you can break the sewing thread with your bare hands, do NOT use it; that is *not* harness thread. Start the knee-to-ring-to-shoulder rope from this new loop.
Using all new ropes, rig each knee-hanger rope to run from one knee band, through a welded steel ring hanging from under the carabiner, to one shoulder. Rig the other knee-hanger rope in an identical fashion. Then rig a third rope, an independent stop-rope from shoulder-to-'biner-to-shoulder, so you can only rotate forward to a head-level prone position. Hanging in the harness in the shop, adjust the stop rope and the knee ropes in length, to give you a comfortable and flat body position, prone. Adjust all rope lengths for comfort, in the same way as is done for a cocoon harness. If there is a lot of pressure at the shoulders (meaning heavy tension on the shoulder stop rope) when prone, the harness body is too short for your body. Consider another harness, if so; a too-short harness will never be comfortable. If there is little or no tension on the shoulder stop rope, you can probably correct that, using a properly adjusted foot stirrup. With a stirrup, you can "set" your body's balance point in the harness, much like you would for a cocoon.
To rock upright, spread your knees, and pull your knees up toward your chest. You want to use each knee to bring each knee-rope *around* the side of your body, so your butt goes back, between the knee-ropes. You should be in almost a "frog position". From there, it should be easy to "sit" back into the harness and rock upright fully. The knee-ropes should now be running up each side of your waist, and behind your arms. Have another pilot show you how all that looks, and then practice it yourself, enough to be comfortable, in the shop. When you flare to land, just straighten your legs out normally as you come down. That is a very natural thing to do, so you hardly have to think about that part. This "frog" technique is not something that you want to try to learn in mid-air; practice this move in the shop first, until it is comfortable and smooth.
At this point, you can either add a stirrup, or skip to the Harness Hang Test.
Most knee-hanger harnesses have small loops at the bottom of the harness body, to attach a foot stirrup. This stirrup is only for comfort; a stirrup should NEVER be the pilot's first concern after launch. For lessons, a stirrup is not recommended. If it gets in the way when running, it could trip a pilot. A foot stirrup can make a knee-hanger harness more comfortable, but you really need a better harness for longer flights. A foot stirrup should also have a Stirrup Step added (see below), if you insist on using a stirrup. A knee-hanger harness can be comfortable if rigged with a stirrup, or without one. If you adjust a knee-hanger harness for use with a stirrup, though, it will not be comfortable in flight, unless you use the stirrup.
*Only* if you do want to use a foot stirrup, proceed as follows: Obtain a short piece of aluminum tube, a bit longer than the width of the pilot's two shoes. Any aluminum tube diameter that passes over the rope-and-tubing (wait for it) is okay. This aluminum tube will be the pilot's foot-rest bar. I like a stirrup rope to be at least as thick as a pen. This rope should be covered, full length, by a single piece of soft flexible tubing. Now, white Nylon rope with clear tubing is a class act; old Purlon with garden hose for a covering says that you are poor, but resourceful.
With the pilot fully prone, tie a stirrup rope to one of those two stirrup attachment loops. (If you did not find any loops of strap at the bottom of the harness body, you can have them added by a harness maker, a parachute repair guy, or even a good upholstery shop.) Stirrup loops should be located along the bottom of the harness body, at sides of the pilot's thighs, with the pilot lying prone in the harness.
Put the rope through the foot-rest bar, and set the foot-rest bar against the soles of the pilot's feet. Tie the stirrup rope temporarily to the second attachment point, using a slip-knot. Adjust the length of the stirrup rope, so that the pilot can use the stirrup to pull the main body of the harness down to the most comfortable position on the pilot's body. At a minimum, this adjustment should relieve all pressure from the crotch area. The pilot may wish to "center" the arms in the arm openings, also, using this adjustment.
When the stirrup length is correct, mark the rope where the temporary knot passes through the harness attachment point. Untie the temporary knot, string the rope out to its' full length, and remove the foot-rest bar. Measure out a piece of soft flexible tubing, long enough to cover the rope from the first knot, almost to the mark. Blow a thin string through the tubing, and use that string to pull the stirrup rope completely through the tubing. Slide the foot-rest bar over the flexible tubing, and tie the rope back to its' attachment point. With the pilot prone and comfortable, set the foot-rest bar against the pilot's soles again. Get the comfort adjustment correct again, and tie permanent knots to hold the adjustment. Allow some reasonable extra rope length for future adjustments, and cut off any excess. Mark the flexible tubing at each end of the comfort bar.
Add a Stirrup Step to the foot-rest bar; see the section on making and using a Stirrup Step. When everything is correct, set the harness on a solid surface and flatten the foot-rest bar somewhat, with a large hammer. Make the foot-rest bar "grip" onto the flexible tube of the stirrup rope, by flattening the ends enough that the foot-rest bar can not slide out of position. Fanatics (like me) can cover the foot-rest bar with grip-tape, to prevent slippage in flight.
Again, now that you have a foot stirrup, make new comfort adjustments. Hanging in the harness in the shop, adjust the knee ropes in length, to give you a comfortable and flat body position, prone. Adjust all rope lengths for comfort, the same as is done for a cocoon harness (see "Fourth" there).
When landing, step out the front side of the stirrup, so the stirrup goes behind your legs; then do the "frog" trick, to rock upright.
Skip to the Harness Hang Test.
For single-riser pods:
I do not recommend a full-competition harness for new pilots. A conventional soft pod (no back-frame) or a cocoon just makes a lot of sense for a low-time pilot. If you have a single-riser pod, it may present a challenge for the new pilot, particularly for landings. If you experience difficulty with advanced equipment like this, I would advise against taking unnecessary risks. It may be wiser to either sell it, or store it, until you are at least an intermediate pilot. A few months of patience (and flying experience) can make the difference needed in your ability to deal with any possible distractions in flight.
When you rock upright to land, a single-riser pod -may- limit your ability to fly fast, and fast approaches are necessary for safety. The vital issue is how much you can pull in, while flying upright. If you can not pull in as much as with a conventional two-riser harness, you will be making slower (thus more dangerous) approaches. Buy the gear that works best for you, not the hottest, most expensive and most demanding equipment available. Not yet, anyway.
When you first fly the newer harnesses, get upright while you are still soaring, and be sure that you can pull in enough for a fast and safe approach. Finding that last bit of speed when upright should be done while soaring, not during your first approach. Then, you can get prone again, relax, and enjoy the flight. If there is any problem, you can choose the most forgiving Landing Zone available. Pick a familiar site with the best LZs, for the first few flights with a new harness. That advice applies to *any* new flying gear, also.
A single-riser harness will not be a noticeable improvement in flight. A full-competition harness might not be what a savvy pilot would choose for their daily flying, either. Your harness can easily move from this glider to the next. Control and comfort should be the serious, long-term considerations for your first harness.
If you have a single-riser pod, you will need the owner's manual to get it set up properly. If there is no shoulder (torso) stop-rope, maybe you should rig one, as described for cocoons. Safety is more important than drag, really.
Skip to the Harness Hang Test.
for spaghetti type harnesses
Spaghetti harnesses are complex-looking; the many ropes gave them their name. Properly fitted, they can be very comfortable. I do not recommend them for beginners, though. Each foot is in an individual stirrup, but that is both good and bad news. There is nothing for the pilot to do except fly, with this harness. Unfortunately, during launch, or in a running landing, this type of harness can lift you -by the feet-. This means that in a running stride, you reach for dirt with one foot, and it gets stopped in mid-air by the harness. You suddenly have less traction than on ice, and you can imagine the rest. Well-experienced HG pilots can certainly make allowances for this, but beginners do not need such surprises. An illustration: tie a loop of rope between the parallel bars at a gymnasium. Set the loop at the right height so that it will support your weight on one foot, just barely above the floor. If you were to walk forward and step smoothly into the loop, your foot would never touch the floor, and you'd fall badly. It's like you stepped on a skateboard by mistake; suddenly there is no traction. This is -not- something to experience, while learning to fly.
There are techniques that allow experienced HG pilots to use spaghetti harnesses, and still launch and land safely. These harnesses are certainly very comfortable in warm weather, but they are no help if you fly in cold air. At very high altitudes, it's always cold.
Like the single-riser pod, though for very different reasons, I do not recommend these for new pilots. Changing from the prone flying position to upright, for landing, is best done using the "frog" technique, described in the knee-hanger section. If there is not a separate shoulder stop rope, I would recommend adding one, as with any other harness.
now, for the Harness Hang Test:
Now you need a place to hang your harness, away from any obstacles, with you in it. A rafter or structural beam is usually the best option. Whatever support that you may choose, make sure that this attachment point is strong enough to hold much more than your own weight. Rig an old hang loop, or any sufficiently strong rope, at a height that lets you hook in with the carabiner while standing on the floor.
Get a book to read, some music, a straw, and something to drink. Hook in to your shop's hang point, and let your full weight down into the harness. Rotate to your normal flying position, stretch out long, then relax. Hang in for about one hour. Read your book, have a sip, listen to tunes, or shoot the bull. Twenty minutes is not enough. If the harness bites anywhere, adjust that part out. If the harness cuts you under an armpit, try adding one book (not more) to the boot of a cocoon or pod. If you have a knee-hanger harness, either adjust the stirrup length, or the harness may be too long in chest-height for you. If it cuts into the sides of your neck, these straps on the harness would need to be re-located outward, or you might consider another harness. If it cuts under the front of your arms, the harness may be too wide for you. Again, an expert harness maker might save it for you, but you should consider another harness, instead. If the harness bites you anywhere, after hanging for an hour in the shop, it will bite you in the same places after an hour in the air.
I suggest that anyone should make that hour-long hang check on any harness that they plan to buy. --The sound that you just heard was a hundred shops yelling "Nooo, DON'T tell 'em that!". :-)
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Most pilots can manage to kick the stirrup of a harness out of reach, when they try to get the first foot into the stirrup. This causes anything from low comedy to high tragedy, especially if the pilot forgets to fly the glider while kicking for the stirrup. Trust me, you can fly without a stirrup (you do it every time you land), and you MUST. Comfort is optional.
A Stirrup Step is a loop of rope that hangs down about a foot below the stirrup, as wide as the stirrup. It should be covered with a flexible tubing, to prevent tangling. The tubing should be all in one piece, not in segments that can get tangled around anything.
In normal use, when you try to kick into the stirrup, you might miss the stirrup, but you will almost always catch the Step. Use that foot with the Step to pull the stirrup out straight behind you and hold it there; the other foot will then be able to get the stirrup, every time. You might get the distinct impression you are climbing a rope ladder into the stirrup, and that's about right.
Materials: just as with any Stirrup, white Nylon rope with clear flexible tubing is a class act; old Purlon with garden hose covering says you are poor, but resourceful.
If you don't have one already, for a knee-hanger, proceed as follows:
Run a separate rope through the foot-rest bar. Cover this new rope with a separate length of flexible tubing, long enough to make a U-shaped loop that hangs about the length of one shoe below the foot-rest bar. This flexible tubing should not enter the foot-rest bar, or it may not pivot freely. Knot the two ends of this rope into a loop, with only a bit of slack. Stuff the knot into the foot-rest bar, for neatness. The Stirrup Step should now hang one foot below the foot-rest bar, almost completely covered by the flexible tubing, and swing freely.
If you don't have one already, for a cocoon, proceed as follows:
When you put both feet in the stirrup of a cocoon in the flying position, the Step should start about where each heel hits the stirrup. If there is Nylon strapping reinforcement near there, then that is a good spot to start.
Put a piece of wood inside the harness where you want to make a hole for your Step. Gently, poke a pointy Phillips (#1) screwdriver from outside the harness into the wood. Twist and wiggle the screwdriver against the wood until it penetrates the fabric. You are separating the fibers of the material, not cutting a hole. When the screwdriver goes through, trade the screwdriver for a pencil and continue to enlarge the hole until you can pass a pencil-sized rope through the hole. Use a hot soldering iron or blade to cut and melt the ends of the rope and make them pointy. Make the rope long enough to form a loop that hangs about a foot below the end of the stirrup. Pass one end of the rope through the hole, into the harness. Put a large fender washer on the rope inside the harness and tie a large knot. The fender washer prevents the rope from pulling through the harness. Make sure that the knot will not pull through the hole in the fender washer. The tubing you use will need to be almost as long as the rope. Put the tubing over the rope, outside the harness. Use the screwdriver and pencil to make a hole in the harness on the opposite side of the stirrup, at the other heel location. Pass the other end of the rope into the new harness hole. Take out most of the slack, so that only about an inch or two of rope is not covered by the tubing.<--This is important! On the inside of the harness, put a fender washer on the rope and make a large knot, like you did on the other side of the stirrup. You should end up with a Stirrup Step that hangs about a foot below the end of the stirrup. You can put a fair amount of stress on it, without damage to the stirrup. The flexible tubing keeps the Step from tangling. If you view these pictures, just click the Back button on your browser to return here. Pix:
Stirrup Step rear
Stirrup Step top
If you decide to move the Step later for some reason, just remove the rope. Hold the harness material with one hand on each side of the hole. Work the harness material between your hands, and the hole will almost vanish.
If you do not want the Step hanging below your feet while you fly (all that drag!), just bend both knees quickly to put your heels over your butt, then relax into normal flying position. The Step will swing up over your feet, and stay on the backs of your legs.
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May you never need your parachute! This next part is disaster preparedness. Unless your approach to problems is "head in the sand", here comes some vital information that I hope nobody ever needs.
How it could happen is not the topic right now. To me, it seems as unlikely as a lightning strike on my head. Nevertheless, a damaged and spinning glider can twist the suspension lines of your parachute together until it becomes a streamer, even after a totally successful deployment. When this happens, it can take as little as 200 meters (yards) of vertical descent to convert a full 'chute into a useless flag. You should have a ball-bearing para-swivel to prevent this. They cost around US$100.00, depending on quality. Attach the para-swivel between your reserve umbilical and the canopy suspension lines. A good harness maker (or sky-diving parachute rigger) can cut and sew the umbilical as necessary for the para-swivel.
That said, you should not bet your life on a para-swivel, either. You should be prepared to cut a spinning glider away. Your parachute should be attached to you, not to the glider, with an independent locking carabiner. Even if your primary carabiner or hang-loops were to fail somehow, you would still have your 'chute. THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE. MAKE NO COMPROMISES IN THE RIGGING OF YOUR RESERVE PARACHUTE.
I always fly with a diver's knife. It has a hard, thick plastic sheath that locks into the knife hilt, so it won't poke into anything; it has a pushbutton release on the sheath. There is a wrist lanyard at the grip, so it cannot be dropped accidentally. I keep the knife pocket zipped tight, with the lanyard outside. If I ever needed it, I would put my wrist though the lanyard loop, then unzip the pocket and grab the knife. Only after the knife is under good control, I would then remove the sheath. The sheath has its' own lanyard, tied inside the knife pocket, so the knife can be safely stowed, later. I have practiced with this item until proficient, but I have never needed it in all my years of flying with a parachute. May you be as fortunate.
Throwing a HG reserve parachute is not an instinctive skill. Since we generally re-pack our parachutes every six to twelve months, most HG clubs or HG shops make it an indoor event. We arrange for sufficient space, a professional parachute rigger or two, and gather the clan. In turn, everybody hangs in their harness, and does a practice deployment. We might even make it a timed contest, with suitable prizes for the fastest and slowest deployments. A full official re-pack is not needed for each practice toss; you can just stuff it back together, for the practice tosses. Once each pilot is happy with their new proficiency, then the riggers can do their skilled task for that HG pilot. Costs will be reasonable, and everybody leaves with smiles, confidence, and the best of life insurance: a freshly packed parachute. Most HG pilots (that I know) have never needed their parachute, but I'll never refuse a second option, in case the un-imaginable ever does happen.
Cell Phone Contact List.
Since we are talking about the emergency stuff now, here is a good idea that I heard, lately. I consider the most dangerous part of flyin' to be driving on the freeways, where there are entirely too many incompetent or unaware drivers, guiding (or not) tons of high speed steel. Flying at twenty mph (30kph) across the endless open skies seems much safer to me, these days. :-)
If you carry a cell phone, flyin' or not, you can put one star (*) or two stars(**) in front of the names of your Emergency Contact people, such as immediate family members, who may now be scattered throughout your Contact List. The STARs then will Sort these names right to the top of your Contact List.
MARK the phone, inside and out, with labels (even hand-written, for now) that say *I*C*E*. First responders will (or should) know that means "In Case of Emergency", and they will be able to contact your important people, by calling the top names (starred) on your Contact List.
You may find that another symbol works better than a (*) for this idea; go with whatever symbol works best, on your phone.
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Here is a collection of some hang glider harness and HG reserve parachute Owner's Manuals. There may be lesser-known brands available, so I will update this list now and then, as I hear more.
Woody Valley TENAX4
PARACHUTE MANUALS (CHassan on HangGliding.Org sends these links...)
Wills Wing LARA
Galaxy High Technology (BRS type)
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For most hang gliders, the position of the "hang loops" that carry the pilot's weight will determine the airspeed that the glider will fly, "hands-off", with no pilot input. *ONLY* if necessary, these hang loops can be re-positioned on the keel to "set" that correct airspeed. This adjustment is referred to as the Center of Gravity (CG) or "trim speed" of a hang glider. (In reality, every aircraft has a CG, and any aircraft will have very serious control problems if this "balance point" for the aircraft is too far wrong.) Once this important adjustment is made, it is vitally important to maintain this setting, correctly, for the inexperienced HG pilot. No new HG pilot should attempt to adjust "trim speed" to "their" correct airspeed by trial and error. The errors can be too costly.
Any beginner's hang glider should be set up to fly naturally at the correct airspeed. An experienced HG pilot (usually the seller) should make this CG adjustment, then -demonstrate- the serene art of hands-off HG flying to the new owner/HG pilot. The expert HG pilot's weight should be equal to that of the new HG owner, as close as possible. The new owner's harness should be used by the HG expert, also, for these few "trim flights". Then the results will be as accurate as possible. Again, a new HG pilot should *not* attempt to adjust, or even test, this CG setting. Seek ONLY expert help.
On some hang gliders, this CG adjustment could be changed accidentally due to transportation on top of a vehicle, or even flying in heavy turbulence. I do not say this to worry anybody, but instead, to stress the importance of this next item. The hang loops for any hang glider should be secured in a way that makes any fore-and-aft movement impossible. Some hang gliders have this CG setting locked, by bolts. No problem there! Some gliders rely on little more than friction to hold this important CG setting. Unless your hang loops are bolted in place by the factory, you will need to secure them in the correct position to obtain the correct airspeed, with no pilot input. Temporarily, mark the keel exactly where the expert pilot has set the hang loops, using a magic marker or pieces of tape -use no pens or pencils on aluminum airframes.
Put two automotive hose clamps on the keel, one on each side of the hang loop. Put each clamp as close as possible to the hang loop. Run a short straight piece of nylon webbing strap along the keel. Pass it under the front clamp, over the hang loop, and under the rear clamp. Tighten both the clamps firmly, and trim off any excess material from the clamps and the strapping. The hang loop should not be able to move at all, when you have everything tight. The nylon strap is important. It both holds and protects your hang loops.
Nylon strap can be cut and seared (to prevent fraying) in one operation, using an old soldering iron. Be very careful with this "deadly weapon", anywhere near your sail. Plug it in, use it, then unplug it and put it *far* away, ASAP. Don't ask :-} The nylon strapping can be positioned on either side of the keel, or on top.
The clamp tighteners MUST be positioned where they can't damage the sail, or anything else, especially when the glider is folded up for transport. These tighteners could cause dangerous dents in the airframe tubes, if placed carelessly. The clamp tighteners can be "covered" safely by pushing each one into a short piece of thick clear soft plastic tubing. Clamp tension will hold the clear tubing in place over the tightener. Once you are sure where the clamps will be, mark the keel tube at those places. Loosen and slide everything aside for a minute, and wrap the keel where the clamps will be with one layer of clear plastic tape. This will protect the keel from contact with the steel clamps. That will prevent the corrosion caused by the contact of "dis-similar metals". Re-install everything in the correct places, and now your trim speed (CG) will stay right where it gets set.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are two. The clamp screws are covered by clear plastic tubing, to protect the sail and (maybe) the airframe tubing when the glider is folded for transport. The yellow webbing strap holds the hang loops in the correct position, fore-and-aft, and prevents the clamp screws from chafing the hang loops. In reality, there must be two hang loops, a primary and a back-up, on every hang glider flying. The back-up hang loop has only been removed temporarily, to make the pictures clearer. The primary hang loop, seen in these pictures, is the white webbing with a blue stripe.
Locking the Center of Gravity setting
That should do the trick for you. I always use this "option" on my gliders, since 1982, and it's about bullet-proof. :-)
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Okay, you paid for lessons, bought a decent glider, a parachute with a para-swivel, a comfortable harness, and a helmet. Now, you fly well enough, but somehow thermalling is just not coming together for you. A variometer would really help, but the wallet is kinda tapped out for now. Is there some kind of trick that you can learn to judge altitude well enough to "do without" instruments? Okay, maybe not altitude precisely, but rather "rate of climb"? You may have already discovered that air going up can feel about like still air, or even sink, after the first few seconds. This "rate of climb" is very hard to judge when looking straight down, right? Put your wallet away; this won't cost a cent. This trick is called the "Hill Variometer"; the secret is to use more than one hill.
As a start, you MUST have enough altitude to circle a few times, fall out of the side of the thermal, recover, and then, fly to a safe landing area. You can lose 50 meters (yards) of altitude, and maybe more, when you exit a thermal unexpectedly. When you get too low, it is safer to avoid a thermal. This is very important to your health.
Now, from a safe altitude, you will be flying along and feel the glider start to rise. Maybe the nose will go up first. In that case, pull the nose down enough to fly straight into the thermal. A very strong thermal can overpower you, raise the nose too high, and reverse your flight path. You need to turn back to your original course, add more speed, and hit the thermal again, but harder. This time, keep the nose down until you enter the thermal.
A wingtip may rise up instead of the nose, telling you that there is a thermal under that side of the glider. If you can, pull that high wing down; turn 90 degrees toward the side that lifted, and enter the thermal. If the thermal overpowers you, so that you cannot turn into it directly, the glider will want to try to turn away from the thermal. Let the glider turn away, 90 degrees in the wrong direction, then make a 180-degree turn back to the thermal and fly straight into it, as described above.
You will need enough thermal (lift) to be behind you, to give you room enough to circle. So, when the nose lifts, continue to fly straight across the thermal for several seconds (count to five or more), then begin your circle by making a hard 90 degree turn. Once you have flown across the thermal and made the hard turn, let that hard turn flatten out somewhat, so the hard turn becomes a nice, smooth circle. You want to do all of this slowly in large thermals, and rapidly in small thermals. This smooth circle must fit in between the place where the nose went up, and the place where you made the hard turn. Relax, coordinate the turn, and let the glider circle and climb.
It is very difficult to tell if you are climbing or descending, by looking straight down. This just does not work unless you have a lot of experience, and poorly even then. There is a better way.
If there is a hill near where you are circling, choose any rock, bush, or landmark on the hill, that is exactly at your altitude. Every time you complete one circle, compare the angle that you see your landmark from now. If you find that you are soon looking downward at it, then you have climbed. Looking up for your landmark tells you that you are descending. In either case, immediately disregard your old landmark and choose a new one, exactly at your altitude, and begin again. This works well if there is a hill close by, whether you are thermalling or just flying around in good lift.
Now suppose that you have thermalled high above your little hill, and there are no landmarks to be found at your altitude. Here comes the secret. Picture in your mind a lever and fulcrum system, such as might be used to move rocks. In the case of thermalling, the "lever" is your line of sight, and the "fulcrum" is any hilltop or ridge-top that is visible in the middle distance, as long as some terrain is visible past that hilltop. You are not interested in the fulcrum; it is only a pivot point. You want to look at the terrain above (past) the fulcrum. This fulcrum may be a kilometer (half a mile) away, or even ten kilometers (five miles) away. On each circle you make, you are very interested in the terrain that you can see behind your high point or fulcrum. As you can see more scenery behind your fulcrum, you are climbing. As you can see less scenery behind your fulcrum, you are descending - the fulcrum is now blocking more of your view. As you get even higher, you can disregard your old fulcrum and choose another, even farther away - as long as you can see any scenery beyond it. A fulcrum with only the sky behind it would be useless for our purpose, which is to judge your increase of altitude.
The best fulcrum is always a high point, at a slightly lower altitude than you, located less than halfway between you and the farthest scenery that you can see clearly. This gives you the most noticeable change in scenery as you climb or descend. Now, all you need is a thermal.
Having said all that, a real Variometer still can teach you a lot, in a very short time. Most HG pilots will recommend getting a variometer. Any time you can borrow one (or buy one on the legendary HG pilot-to-pilot credit terms), I would still recommend that you jump on it, if that is in any way practical.
As you advance in skills, if you have an actual variometer instrument, you may become somewhat dependent on those readings, to help you find lift. You can improve your skills, and maybe your enjoyment of flight, if you sometimes silence the thing, and/or turn it away from you, so only your natural senses are used in flight. Do this at high altitudes at first, and as you "wire in" to the skills of flying without a vario, you can try it at lower altitudes. You can always turn the thing back on, if you need to, to re-gain any lost altitude. If you develop the skills to find and stay in lift, without a vario, then your flying day will not be ruined if you (one day) have a battery failure. You might even discover and enjoy the challenges of flying without a variometer.
Most people can not judge the height of a tall structure accurately, and they certainly can not judge their altitude above the Earth accurately.
It would help a lot if you could practice this skill, but to do that, you need to start from altitudes that are measured to some fair accuracy. Altimeters can lie, they have a lag time, anyway. So, let's go measure some high vantage points...:-)
Background: due to the magic of isosceles triangles with a 90 degree corner, and a trigonometry function, two sides of that 90 degree/ isosceles triangle will always have the same length.
Process: Take any piece of paper (letter-size is good) with square corners, and fold one edge to meet an adjoining edge, so that a crease forms at one corner of the page, and travels diagonally across the sheet. The crease and one edge of the paper will form a 45 degree angle, very accurately. We will use this 45 degree angle to measure the heights of bridges, lookout towers, and tall buildings (with special emphasis on the ones that can be accessed safely by ordinary people on foot).
Sight along the bottom edge of the paper, in a level line, to the bottom of any tall building. Sight along the 45-degree edge of the paper, to the top platform or window of that building. Move away from the building, until the "level" sight line is at the bottom of the structure, and the "45 degree inclined" sight line points at the high place, where you can stand. When both sight lines are correct, measure the distance from your position on the ground, to the base of the structure. If you know the length of your paces, you can simply "pace off" this measurement. (One pace is the length of a stride, from the place where the right foot touches, to the place where the right foot touches again, when walking normally.)
If you pace 100 yards (meters) to the base of the structure, then the structure is 100 yards (meters) tall. Do not be surprised if your present estimates of structures' heights are not very accurate, now. This process is intended to teach the ability to become more accurate in these estimates.
What Is Important: now you know (with fair accuracy) the heights of local buildings, bridges, et c. Okay then, go (in person) to these high places, and look, really LOOK, down at the world below you. Learn the appearances of people, vegetation, cars, small structures, and the landscape below, from these exact altitudes. It is important in your flying to be able to judge these altitudes fairly accurately BY EXPERIENCE, not by guesswork, so that you can make better decisions, when coming down to land. It will be some time (as measured by logbook time only) before you are quite confident in your instant estimates, as you make them in flight; do NOT be concerned about minor errors. Your estimates of altitude will improve with each exercise you perform (as described above).
When you have "educated" your perceptions of the world to some degree, then you can have a bit of fun with it, by reversing the process as a check of your ability. Go to a high place (such as an unmeasured bridge or building) and write down the altitude as you perceive it from there. Then make the usual correct measurement from the ground level, and compare the results. At first, errors of a dozen yards (meters) may happen; with some serious practice, you will be able to state an altitude with just one look down, within a few yards (meters) of the correct altitude. In flight, you will use this new ability as naturally and easily as you now read the newspapers.
In other words, you would not see the number of letters in the words as you read, but you would make instant sense of the meaning of the writer. In flight, then, you could "see" the number of yards (meters) of altitude that you have, at any certain time, and you would know that you are THIS high above ground, and the landing field is THAT far away, as instant (and accurate) estimates. You will know if/when you will need to fly straight and smoothly, to arrive at the landing field's downwind fence, with at least 100 yards (meters) of altitude to spare. You should always choose to arrive above the landing field with plenty of altitude. Once you are above the landing field, you can "lark around" as much as needed, to use the surplus altitude (and to have some fun), always keeping one eye on the target spot.
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You will have enough to occupy your attention up there; you should not have to look at the vario read-out, to know something that your ears could tell you automagically, on-the-fly, if you will pardon the pun.
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Watching the videos of low-time HG pilots, one issue seems to occur repeatedly. A lot of new HG pilots are flying straight in zero sink, either near the top of the ridge, or out in open air, when they should be turning back to stronger lift. Then, once they leave this good air, they make the turn which they needed, but in normal air, at the normal sink rate. Some are even making the turn in sink, which is even less helpful, in terms of airtime. Needless to say, these new pilots are soon standing in the LZ, looking up and wondering how the other pilots can still be soaring. It may not be the fault of the new pilot, but rather, it could be that the setting for the lift indication, on the variometer, is not helping them. Seems to me like a lot of varios are arriving, factory set, to indicate only lift which exceeds 20 feet per minute (0,1m/s). For an advanced HG pilot flying in great conditions, this may be a valid choice, but new pilots are seldom flying in such strong or epic conditions. IMHO, the setting that new pilots NEED is the indication of lift at or above zero feet per minute (0 m/s). This means that the vario will be sounding off for lift, at least one-third of the time, and not more than half the time, when the instrument is just parked on the ground. When the new HG pilot is approaching the far end of the ridge, and needing to turn back soon anyway, it is much better (in terms of soaring) to make the needed turn in zero sink, rather than in normal air, or in sinking air.
There is a way to change the setting for the lift indication on electronic variometers. Consult your owner's manual, for adjusting this setting on your vario. I recommend that new HG pilots might consider adjusting this setting for a sound indication of LIFT at zero sink. You can make this adjustment anywhere outdoors, even in the back yard. The vario should be silent on the ground, only about one-half of the time, and calling out LIFT, at any gentle breeze. In flight, if the glider is really zero-sinking, then it is in real lift, at least in lift equal to the normal sink rate of the glider. This zero-sink air is a very good place for a gentle or shallow turn, back to better lift, if a turn soon is in the flight plan anyway.
If the random vario sounds of lift are distracting when the glider is parked and waiting in the set-up area, simply turn off the audio, until it is time to launch, rather than setting the threshold of lift to a lower setting. I believe a lot of new HG pilots will be surprised to find how friendly the sky can be, by turning in zero sink or in very light lift, rather than the lesser (downward) alternatives.
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Well, okay, if nobody else will say this, I will... It *really* helps when thermalling, if you can turn ten circles, and not toss your lunch. A better number might be thirty or fifty circles, in actual flight.
In flight, when there is no other traffic to worry about, you can cheat the impending dizziness a bit by watching your high wingtip, against the clear blue sky, or your lower wingtip (choose whichever one has less going on, in the background), while focusing your main attention on the vario sound.
You can actually build up a tolerance, for turning in circles. This is really the best advice that I can give to a (temporarily) wingless new pilot. Find a nice vertical pole somewhere, wrap one hand halfway around it, and walk around the pole with that arm straight out, pointed at the pole. You will make a one yard (meter) radius turn. Five turns, at one time, are probably enough to start. If that goes well, you can make five more turns, in the opposite direction. Wait a few hours (at least) before you repeat this practice. When five turns either way will present no problem to you, add a few more turns. Then do seven or eight circles, in each direction, on Day Two. Do only as many circles as you can, each day, *without* getting dizzy or sick. As your tolerance builds, add a few more circles, on each passing day.
No matter what else you may learn when you are not actually thermalling, it won't help you go up, if you do not develop a physical resistance to dizziness, first. Take your time with this practice. Any amount of "turning" practice is better than none.
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Historical note: in 1977, I lived (camped) at Point of the Mountain, Utah. It became apparent that the regulars were not a problem, but the newbies and visitors could really make a mess of the "traffic pattern". The club set aside "aerobatics boxes" for those so inclined. The original problem remained.
Now you may know of the late, great science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, many more). He actually solved the problem for us, and long before we had it, in a short story called "The Menace from Earth". It's even fun to read now. This is called "foresight", I guess.
We shamelessly borrowed the solution from him in 1977, but obviously, no one color of glider could be reserved for beginners only. We adopted bright orange or red "surveyors' tape" streamers, instead. Usually this is one six-yard (six meters) long streamer from the keel, although some folks use two, one on each wingtip. Two are especially good for paragliders. These "student streamers" are very light, tough, and actually shed dirt. They make little extra noise, do not distract the pilot, and can be seen easily by other pilots.
Surveyor's tape is used normally, because it is easy to break. If it snags on anything, it will just tear loose, without affecting a launch or landing. Do not use gift-wrapping ribbon, which is amazingly strong, or anything else that does not separate easily from the glider. If you must use something that strong as a streamer, tie it to a piece of cheap kite-string, and tie the other end of the string to the glider, so the streamer can break free, if necessary. Whatever you use, make sure that the streamer can break free easily, if it snags on anything.
These streamers are not a license to ignorantly barge through traffic, but a request for some extra airspace by pilots that need it. Experienced pilots usually have some extra airspace that they can spare for a newbie. Most pilots will respect this request.
One jerk announced loudly that he was "gonna put streamers all over his glider"; he wanted all the extra room he could get. We cheered silently.
One well-experienced pilot visited from out-of-state, who had never flown in heavy traffic before. He was seriously freaked by a dozen gliders in the air, and was truly grateful for a streamer.
One irresponsible (there is no other word) pilot got a streamer clipped to his glider surreptitiously, on launch, and repeatedly. We would even roll up his streamer, so it took a few minutes in the air to deploy. Tagging him as a newbie became an informal club sport, until the guy finally stopped getting pissed off and woke up to what was being said. He lived, and we all had a good laugh together about it, later. He actually thanked us, too.
If your flying sites do not already use "student streamers" to give students and newbies some extra airspace, I would recommend this system.
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At some time, even the best X-C pilot needs to land in a small field. Landing on a target may seem to be a minor part of a great distance flight, but it has a very serious bearing on what you will be doing tomorrow.
The best of pilots can land on a target. This target was once a dinner-plate, but now it's a circle as much as a wingspan in diameter. You could really start to respect the skills of those pilots who can always set both feet down on a target, when some other pilots are usually still making noisy landings.
I can't guarantee that you will land on the target, but I can present you with the tried-and-true aircraft approach technique here. It works. It minimizes surprises. This should sound good to the average pilot; it still sounds good to me.
As a low-time pilot, you should hear that nobody is born as an expert on spot-landings. Of the hundreds of students that I taught, only one could do it well when lessons were done. I still wonder about how much experience that guy had already, when he came to me.
Any person who believes that they can read these (intentionally) vague landing procedures, and then perform an expert-class landing, without an instructor on a radio, is thinking like a fool (and let me be blunt, a very self-destructive fool, at that). We do not need anybody else thinking that they might save a few bucks by dispensing with the instructor, too soon. It always amazes me that people will take huge risks like that, to "save" a hundred dollars, but then spend thousands on trying to repair their needless injuries, to try to get HALF-way back to their original physical abilities. A good instructor can save you some serious money, and a lot of pain. Not every injury can be repaired, as good as new. Visit the local orthopedic clinic, really, if you doubt that. You are NOT unbreakable, sorry to say. This sport has real dangers, just like driving a car does. Did you learn to drive, all on your own? You can not seriously believe that flying *safely* requires less skill and knowledge than driving, can you?
It takes time and experience to develop this level of skill. First thing: I suggest that you choose a big, friendly field for your LZ, and always walk that field before you fly there; this applies to any (and every) LZ for the near future, also. Walk everywhere that you could land there, both long and short of the spot.
Make a target in the best landing place there. Use any powder, of a color that contrasts with the ground; use lime on dark dirt, or powdered coal on pale dirt. As your skills improve, make the target smaller.
Set up double streamers; each is made from two strips of toilet paper, two to four yards (meters) long, on one tall stick. One strip should be at least half a yard (meter) longer than the other strip. These double streamers are easily visible from a mile (1.6 km) away, and usually form a big V that points into the wind. The cheapest toilet paper is the best, being the toughest, and sometimes you may need some TP for the intended purpose anyway. TP picks up in the lightest breezes. Set up more than one streamer pole, at separate ends of the field - I call this "dis-inviting Murphy".
You should have a fair idea of the glide angle that your glider takes to get from any height, straight to the target. If not, then you do not have sufficient experience, and you have no business pursuing this topic, yet. Seek professional HG instruction, AND talk to as many HG pilots as you can find.
Now I suggest that you learn all that you can about the Downwind-Base-Final (or DBF) approach. Most pilots know about DBFs, and should be able to explain the concept to you. The DBF approach uses those glide angles that you have just learned, and it allows for *huge* adjustments "on-the-fly". You mentally construct your DBF landing pattern in reverse, starting at the target spot.
As a low-time pilot, you should start by doing very large DBFs into very large fields, under the instruction of a certified HG instructor with a radio, at first. As you improve and gain experience, you can begin to do smaller DBFs into those same very large fields. When you have a good grasp of the mechanics of the DBF, you can begin to slowly decrease the size of the field and the size of the DBF that you use.
Personally, I would need some serious motivation to perform a DBF that is smaller than one end a football field. In other words, my best DBF is usually not going to fit in one end of a football field. Generally, I would have to be making some rather boneheaded decisions, to leave myself with no option but to land in a very small field. There are very good reasons why HG pilots mark some flying sites as "experts only", while other HG sites can be "everybody welcome". HG sites with small or obstructed landing areas are usually for proven, expert HG pilots only. Anybody who is not completely confident of their experience and ability to land in a small field should never launch where a small landing field is the only option.
I am reminded of an incident from the past; a low-time HG pilot with an unjustified level of confidence took off from a nice HG site, but the landing area was far above his level of skill. All too predictably, he got closely acquainted with a fence. When he was again ready to talk to anybody about it, he asked us what he had done wrong. One local expert HG pilot explained it all in one sentence: "You launched here, about three months too soon."
A low-time pilot can develop part of the skill needed to do a DBF by doing part of a DBF. From a low hill, you might get to the target area much too low to start with a Downwind Leg. You would be flying into the wind to get there, so skip the Downwind leg from a low hill. Glide into the wind to either side of the target, and do the Base Leg and Final Glide parts of the DBF. Then, when you are good (or lucky) enough to arrive at the LZ with enough altitude for a true DBF, you will have most of a DBF in your "experience bag" already. So you can practice and prepare for a DBF by first doing an Upwind, Base, & Final style of approach, on the lower hills.
"The exceptional pilot uses their exceptional judgment to avoid the need for their exceptional skills." -from a HG friend, who also flies for Delta Airlines.
- Always aim for a target, but then forget about the target once you are on Final Glide. Make your normal landing, then observe the results (distance from the target) objectively.
- Never fixate on a target instead of making a nice landing. If you try to stretch a glide for that last five yards (meters), or try to flare too soon, with excess airspeed, because the target is now below you, the results can be anything from unpleasant to unfortunate. A noisy landing, right on the target spot, is still a zero score, pilot. No target spot is a good trade for aluminum or bone.
- If you always aim for a target, at least you will be landing in the right field. If you only aim for a field, you might end up landing in the next field, or in no field, instead. :-)
One last thing; there are pilots who use an approach called "S" turns. They will say that they are never more than a 90-degree turn from the LZ, but that is less than true sometimes, and actual trouble can result when it is true. I know that they would not want to hear this, but really what they are doing is flying a series of Base Legs, back and forth, looking for that right glide path to the target or field. This has several disadvantages, especially to a low-time pilot. You may find yourself at the right altitude to glide to the target, just as you are farthest from a normal glide path, at one end of an S. You could come up short. When doing the S approach, each turn at the end of a Base Leg must be more than a 180-degree turn, or else the glider "advances" toward the target by the diameter of the turn with each Base Leg flown. If an S approach is started from too great a height, or if you find too much lift, this "advancing" can put a small LZ directly below you, and you are still making S's. Inexperienced pilots are prone to just this mistake. Please do not ask me what to do, at that point. You can and probably will see this, at some time. I guarantee an "interesting" experience then, for both pilot and spectator. I do not recommend this for anybody.
The best place to do S's (or circles) is at the high entrance of a Downwind Leg. You can very well use these maneuvers to put yourself in a very good position, and count on the DBF approach to get you from a good starting place, to a great ending place, on the target.
Here are two more new videos, from YouTube.com, which is a fairly accident-ridden website, on average. Student pilots will NOT benefit from watching bad launches and landings, so I suggest that you stick to just these good examples.
Ten Minutes Of Good Landings, Spot Landings, And One Noisy Landing (No Damage).
Hot Spot Landings, Texas.
Last but not least, here we have a nice landing, -and- a fine tandem landing; these are QuickTime movie clips, and well worth their weight. Good landings like these just never show up on the TV's Worst Home Video programs, so we conclude this topic on a great ending. Note: watch the glider shadows, to judge the altitude of gliders as they approach.
That's how! Nice landing! QuickTime clip
Fine tandem landing! QuickTime clip
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As a new pilot, you might see some good stuff here. I will warn you, though; the day is coming when everything here just creates an urge to yawn. Watch out! That would be the first symptom. Please take note of this, throughout your flying career; new pilots usually do not demolish their glider (with or without injury). Well-experienced pilots are not very susceptible, either.
Usually, it is the pilot who has been flying for about one to two years who stacks it up. They no longer need to hear from instructors, or anybody else - They Can Fly! - and anybody who says that a location or pilot's choice may be dangerous, well, They Just Want To Spoil All Of My Fun. For as long as you fly, if some pilot tries to tell you that you are attempting something dangerous, I advise you to listen, and heed that advice. They just might know what they are talking about.
The HG community has seen Superman Syndrome too many times before. It can happen to the most promising pilots. Sometimes, with the worst cases of the Syndrome, you can only watch and hope that they have a narrow escape that will wake them up, without serious injury. Sometimes, nothing but a large repair bill for the glider and/or body will do it. For the rest of us, I will say it straight; beware of complacency, showing-off, and arrogance. Nobody offering advice is merely trying to spoil your fun. Quite the opposite, usually.
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I'd like to add just one important point, to introduce the following HG experience. Towing HG aloft is a special skill, well beyond simply being able to fly, making good approaches from high altitudes, and landing on a target. First, naturally, you must learn to fly fairly well, using a good course of HG instruction. You will also want to build your flying experience, above just what is provided by lessons. Then, as an improving HG pilot, you want to take a special class to learn the skills needed for HG towing, as taught by highly experienced HG tow pilots using specialized equipment, towing bridles, and releases. For this, you will start with tandem towing, with an instructor by your side. Please note, that is exactly what this HG pilot did, *before* moving into the larger adventures, described here. This clearly demonstrates the very good judgment of this particular HG pilot. Many of these aspects are *combined* into a complete tandem-towing HG course of instruction, but not everybody is fortunate enough to have access to that fast-track into the sky, or rich enough to afford that, all at once. Here, I am speaking mainly to those who, like me, must progress one small (inexpensive) step at a time.
So, maybe lessons went very well for you. After good instruction, now you can launch, fly, turn, and land with reasonable skill. Okay, where are we REALLY going with all this? UP, for sure; someday, you could fly 100 km (60 miles) with those wings. After some dozens of hours and/or flights, you might start cutting the last few cords to the planet, about like this experience from an Australian pilot:
A pilot's first XC.
Flyin' like the birds: These YouTube videos (linked below) are "tracklogs" which show the actual flight paths of hang gliders in flight. They come from GPS data, recorded by an advanced variometer, or flight deck. There is a moving white dot below the hang glider, to show how high over the terrain the hang glider is, at any time. The tracks are color-coded, getting red and orange as the hang glider is climbing in lift, getting blue and green as the hang glider glides downward in still air. Since warm air usually rises in a column, we circle, like hawks, to stay in the lift. These are long flights, in terms of time; the tracklogs show about an hour of airtime, in about one and a half minutes.
Click on the Full-Screen button for a better view, and/or the HQ button (only if you have a fast-enough connection), next to the Volume control button, on the YouTube screen.
A good day to miss work. (2:40 hours of flying time logged)
Out to the dam, and back. (3:48 hours of flying time logged)
Flyin' for Fun. (2:05 hours of flying time logged)
Some straight flyin' videos:
Coastal Soaring, high.
A little good tech stuff.
Flyin' & chat, and a glider seen in a glassy lake.
Why do we fly? Ask a dozen pilots, and you will get a dozen different answers, from adrenaline to poetry. Terry from Toronto, on the Yahoo HG forum, has collected these:
Some pilots will say...
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The animal kingdom and flying: Personally, I have always enjoyed the possibility (and now the reality) of flying in the company of eagles, or with any soaring birds. It is an image or idea that even the most Earth-bound person often can appreciate.
Eagles can be the greatest co-conspirators with you, in the defeat of gravity. If an eagle is circling, you can bet that soaring ace is in good lift. You can circle in the same place, and climb at the same rate. Never forget, though, eagles (and other raptors as well) are wild animals, and they have their own agendas and prerogatives. They can be angered to attack if you intrude too close to their nests, and they may feel threatened if you approach straight at them. In particular, the time of day can make a real difference in the attitudes of eagles. During the mid-day and early afternoon, they are busy hunting. They have kids to feed, and they may have little patience with what could be a large competitor for the available food.
In the late afternoon and evenings, though, these same eagles have eaten well, all of the kids are fed, and now they are just out for nice evening cruise. They will have the time and the curiosity to fly with a glider. I never fly straight at them, but I take a veering approach instead, and then fly parallel to them at a reasonable distance at first. When I have their attention, I let go with both hands and show them two empty hands, fingers together (not clawed), as if to say "Look, no guns." Usually, they will veer closer to me, once they see I am not a threat. This "hands-off" move seems to help, and sometimes they will even fly in formation with a glider for a while. For me, this "personal flying" lifestyle is THE ONE where the best of flying dreams can come true.
The new HG pilot may be pleasantly surprised to see deer, elk, and other wild animals going about their lives, undisturbed by the silent flight of a human being, not far above them. I have seen specimens of most of the larger wild animals living on my continent, from the air.
A note of caution and kindness is in order, here. If you allow your glider shadow to cross over them, many animals can be startled into making a terrified escape dash. These animals may come to grief in their attempt to flee. When you see animals foraging below you, then you should monitor the position of your glider shadow as you fly above them. Take a flight path which keeps your shadow away from them, if you want them to remain in peace.
Note: You may be approached by hunters when you are on the ground, asking you to spot game animals for them from the air. This would be very easy to do, but this endeavor is illegal in every state of the USA. Given the tales I have heard about Game Wardens lately, I would not be too surprised to find that the "hunter" asking for such help is really a state official looking to make an easy arrest. In my state, any arrest for violations of hunting laws will include the confiscation of any and all equipment used in the violation. That means the loss of all of your flying gear, and the motor vehicle involved. Please check your local hunting ordinances before doing something rash - just a word to the wise.
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Logbooks are a great idea. If you ever had air under your feet, it is NOT too early to start a logbook. Even Scooter Towing lessons count, pilot... Most places do not recognize Hang Gliding as official pilot airtime, but informally, real pilots will. A "legal" logbook (as in respectable by experts) would be any journal-class notebook, with the pages sewed in (not stapled, or made with single sheets). I'd suggest a hard cover version, because that book will take a beating. You probably do not want something as large as a library book; make it a convenient size. Any fair office supply shop should have something good for you.
Everybody can make the logbook entries which they see fit: document the conditions, site, launch altitude, altitude gain, distance, and whatever else is important about that flight. I would only suggest adding one extra entry; working from the back of the book, you could make a list of the pilots flying with you, as you meet each one. Each pilot's entry can be their name and contact information. The logbook could have a note added for each particular flight, "Flying With..." and the references to your Pilot's List, such as #5, #11, #14, et c. Remembering who flew with me on any certain day keeps that day clearly in my mind. Having their contact information can be helpful to plan the next expedition, and even in everyday life. I am always happy to meet new friends, but the ones which I met a decade or two back are still very important to me.
If you're like me, this contact list will soon be of great personal value to you, and maybe for life. The friends that you meet at HG flying sites can form fellowships that last a lifetime. For me, the memories of pilots in the air with me can make each flight stand out as a particular day, and helps me to re-live those great days, even as I add more such days in the future. I believe that you will highly value their names in the future, as I do.
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Serous maintenance for any hang glider should be done only by experienced HG shops and recognized experts in HG repair work. Here are a few notes on ways to improve and maintain your glider.
Basetube Safety Cable:
I mentioned a Basetube Safety Cable, earlier. If you ever find a hang glider without one, advise the owner of the glider to go here:
It's an easy, invisible mod, and hopefully never needed, but it's not expensive. Unless the basetube is formed and solid composite, such as an airfoil basetube, I see no reason for a glider to lack this simple backup for the standard HG basetube. Any decent cable-maker tech can do the work for you, if needed. Wheels are great on any low-time pilot's glider, but wheels can put stress on a basetube, and that should be no cause to worry. The Basetube Safety Cable is important for any glider, and more so, if it has wheels.
A remedy for Sail Flutter:
Sometimes a glider develops a sail flutter between the
ribs, at the trailing edges. It may happen at slow airspeeds, or only at
higher airspeeds. A sail flutter is not dangeraous, but it can be more
than annoying. Sail futtering can even ruin the sail, at the trailing edge
of that panel. The sail there can become porous and soft, (like a bedsheet),
with no "calendar" stiffness left. Try this:
The local hobby shops can sell you carbon fiber, pre-formed, as rigid blades or rods. The blades will be rectangular, like miniature pine planks, in various widths. The rods may be round or square. I like the round rods, here. Find (or make) a tiny hole near the rib at one end of the trailing edge of the fluttering panel, Insert a CF blade or rod through the trailing edge, between the sail layers. The CF stick should be almost as long as the space between ribs there. If the hem is large enough, a blade may fit between the sail layers, between the stitching and the trailing edge fold. If the hem is too small for a blade there, insert a round rod between the sail layers there, or in the space between the zig-zag stitch holes. Use the largest rod that fits inside the stitching. You can slightly taper one end of the CF sticks with fine sandpaper, to make installation easier. CF is usually black or gray, but it will not be seen at all, once it is inside the sail. A few hand stitches at the installation end of the CF rod, using UV-proof upholstery thread and an ordinary sewing needle, will keep the CF in place. Fabric shops sell upholstery thread, but ask for the outdoors variety.
zig-zag stitches- /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/<==========CF rod.
You will need to take a little extra care when packing up the glider, with these new stiffeners in the trailing edge. Still, that issue would be even worse, if you would have added any extra "speed ribs" instead.
In the normal wear-and-tear of everyday flying, sooner or later you will find some sail stitching has been damaged, during set-up or tear-down.
Rub the nearby stitching between two flat hands, above and below the sailcloth, to "inspect" the nearby stitching for damage. Sail stitches should not come apart under this inspection. Now twenty or thirty blown stitches here would be a serious cause for alarm, but a few bad stitches would be normal, and easy to fix. If a lot of stitching fails under the rubbing pressure of your two hands, something has gone very wrong here, and you will need some professional advice. A whole new sail may be needed, and if you can't get one for a good price, you may need to retire this glider, permanently.
It's a simple thing to fix some damaged stitches, but you want to do it correctly, so the problem stays fixed. Click on this link below, then hit the Refresh (or Reload) button, to get the latest version on that page.
Sailcloth may get dirty, but don't panic. Most stains and dust may look bad, but they really do not harm the structural strength of the sail. Do not weaken the sail material, just trying to make it look new again. You prefer that sailcloth to be strong, rather than pretty. Keeping a sail clean is a much better strategy than ever trying to clean it, later. Wingtip cover-bags are a great help in keeping a sail clean, during set-up and dis-assembly. An old pair of blue jeans will provide two good wingtip covers; just cut off each leg at the thigh, and sew the cuff closed. You needed a "new" pair of old cut-off jeans anyway, right? :-)
Water conservation is NO part of the following procedures. If you are not planning to use extravagant quantities of gently flowing water in the rinse process, it is probably better to fly with a dirty sail. Soap will become concentrated in a poorly rinsed sail, and may attack the fabric, or the stitching. Dampness, in the future, could renew that attack, so plan to rinse, rinse, and rinse again.
If you do decide on a sail-cleaning event, set the glider up in a shady place, with a good source of clean flowing water. The most harmful dirt (like sand or grit) can easily be hosed off, using a gentle, solid steam of water. The trick is to flow the water across the sailcloth, and not to point the water stream into the material. Flowing water carries dirt away; water impacting the surface just drives the dirt deeper. If all of the dirt is on one side of the cloth, you could use this "impact" technique to your advantage; wash only from the "clean" side; do this only if flowing water does not remove the dirt, first.
I do not recommend high-pressure sprays, as they might make the sail weaker, and more porous to the air. The only chemical "cleaner" that I like on sailcloth is Simple Green, and then only when diluted. This cleaner is for "spot-cleaning" the sail only, and you should immediately rinse this cleaner AWAY from the aluminum airframe. Do not get this cleaner (or most cleaners) on your aluminum, even as a mist. Remove the sail from the airframe (if you have experienced help for the project), if the dirt is where the aluminum is. Try various dilutions in easy stages, first 10% chemical cleaner with 90% water, then 25% cleaner, then 50%, et c. Use the weakest solution of cleaner that does the job. Apply the cleaner with a trigger-spray bottle, set for "spray" and not "stream". With water flowing across a problem area, use the softest-bristled of paint brushes (like a wide artist's brush) to coax out the dirt. Do not use sponges or wash cloths on the sail, if you can avoid it. They usually just smear the dirt around, cutting nearby undamaged sail fibers, and may drive the dirt deeper into the sail. On the most extreme dirt, such as black oil, try "Extreme Simple Green Motorsports Cleaner & Degreaser" (www.simplegreen.com). Use two very soft sponges, gently, one on each side of the material, and "scrub" very gently in tiny circular motions. Apply fresh cleaner often, and rinse the area clean with generously flowing water after each attempt. Wash the sponges vigorously after each attempt, so you do not compound the problem. You can not expect to get all possible dirt off a sail; just get it clean enough to live with, without degrading the material's structural strength.
Rinse the sail thoroughly and repeatedly, when you are satisfied with the cleaning process. Leave the glider set up in a shady, airy (but not breezy) place to dry completely. Make sure that the VG is fully relaxed, if your glider has a VG. Insert the ribs, but do not put the full rib tension on each rib. Put a heavy rubber band on the end of the rib, then stretch it through the sail tensioner, maybe making a few turns that way. Loop the free end of the rubber band back on to the end of the rib. You want the sail pulled smooth at each rib, to avoid wrinkles, but not at full sail tension. Leave all of the rubber bands in place, on each rib end, until the sail is fully dry.
You might wish to hurry the drying process. You can do that, to some extent, if you are careful. Do NOT use a commercial heat gun, anywhere on the glider. Those things get *far* too hot. A commercial heat gun can usually melt plumbing solder, and there is NO way to be "careful" with that much energy, near your sail. A hair dryer can get too hot, also. You CAN use the warm air exhaust, from an old vacuum cleaner, and that will be safe, for your tubing and your sail. The old vacuum hose will be full of dirt, so do not use that. You can usually find clear plastic hose (of the correct size) to fit the vacuum cleaner exhaust opening at home-improvement or hardware stores. This new, clean hose can be used to direct warm (not hot) air at structural junctions, sleeving, and hardware. If you remove the end caps from each end of the main airframe tubing, you can direct warm air from the vacuum cleaner through the length of each tube, to assist the drying process; ten or twenty minutes for each tube should be sufficient. Be sure that everything is completely dry, before you pack the glider for storage.
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This last section is not very relevant to regular Hang Gliding these days, but if you are the rugged individualist, or financially challenged, or maybe half a bubble out of plumb, then you might want to build the first glider you ever try to fly. It's basically a Bad Plan.
Maybe it's possible, but usually, it's a waste of good flying time, money, skill, and sometimes even yourself (-not all injuries can be healed). There are lots of safe, good used gliders on the market, for every level of pilot skill. If you think you can build something for less money than a used, USHGMA or European Certified glider might cost, then you need to shop around a LOT more. If you consider the prices for which you buy and then sell the glider, then a year or three on a decent glider might only cost a few hundred bucks. That's cheaper than building anything! I might also ask if you plan to build yourself a beginner's glider, then an intermediate glider, et c.?
If you buy and sell well-known Certified gliders to match your increasing skills as you need them, and at fair prices, the yearly costs are really hard to beat. In twenty-nine years of HG flying, my gliders have cost me less than US$0.50 cents per day. Even adjusted for inflation, that is not much. (Your Mileage May Vary.) This low price also came with the confidence of flying only those gliders fully Certified by the USHGMA. This Certification program also gave me access to flying sites (and HG competitions) that are not available to unknown or home-made gliders (usually as a requirement of an insurance company, the flying club, or the land-owner).
That last point needs emphasis. Your home-made glider will not be permitted to fly at most of the best flying sites, if they have liability insurance, a sane land-owner, or lawyers in your country. I'm no fan of the insurance companies, but their coverage has allowed us access to property that would otherwise be denied. Even good towing fields are not always plentiful, and a well-set towing field can be as valuable as a well-positioned mountain. This site limitation also means that your homemade glider can not be sold easily, when you soon outgrow the need for forgiving handling, mushy landings, and the poor glide-ratio that these things imply. You may have the design genius to build an excellent glider, and succeed in every aspect of safety, handling and performance, but another pilot still would need to be wildly optimistic to believe that, enough to risk life and limb on your design. Few other HG pilots will want to fly where you must, because they usually will have much better, insured sites. You will miss out on much of the social side of HG, and with it, the vital knowledge that we are still accumulating as a group, even today. While you may accept these limitations on the safety/ social/ informational side of HG, the poor-to-none in re-sale values, and the ever-present possibility of surprise dangers in a glider that has never passed the standard certifications testing, the heir to your best efforts may not be very happy about these things, down the road. Even if you do manage to sell your old glider, do not be surprised if the new HG pilot soon comes back, demanding a refund.
Designing/building your own tailless glider can be very dangerous, especially if you have never flown at 20 mph (32 kph) before. The aeronautics textbooks stop talking below 50 mph (80 kph), so you are completely on your own, there. Trying to copy the work of an expert sailmaker is both expensive and time-consuming. That old sail you found has probably stretched measurably by now, so if you try to use it for a pattern, your glider may come out flying rather poorly, if it continues to fly at all.
If at all? Yes! The problems don't START until it leaves the ground. Going airborne is the easiest part; I could make two golf umbrellas fly, with sufficient tailplane surfaces. Even *if* it were strong enough and light enough, then you would face all of the usual stability and control issues that every aircraft designer must resolve. Remember, there may be a very high price to be paid -by the pilot- for any mistakes or omissions. The sky does not accept excuses, such as I Did Not Know About That... In the past, the Hang Gliding community has seen a few new glider designs that ACTUALLY FLEW RATHER WELL, but they had some hidden flaw.
Any new design might :
- refuse to pull out of a dive,
- refuse to recover from a slipping turn,
- flip repeatedly like a tossed Venetian-blind slat,
- refuse to turn,
- turn the wrong direction (adverse yaw),
- refuse to stop turning (a spiral dive, into the dirt),
- refuse to fly fast (high speed is vital, if the wind increases),
- refuse to fly slowly (to launch and land, how fast can you run, really?)
- or break structurally.
Any of the problems above may be concealed at low speeds or shallow bank angles, but then suddenly appear, beyond some certain number. That home-made glider that felt so safe and responsive on the beginners' slopes may one day surprise you very badly, when the air demands more of it than you ever dreamed was required. I certainly hope that you then have a parachute, and the time, altitude, and skill needed to deploy it.
If you plan to build your own glider, I have two suggestions. First, find out what has caused any such malfunctions, in past designs. Then, learn the simple, effective, and *VITAL* changes that were made, to avoid that particular problem in recent (safer) times. It should be obvious that any untested design faces every bad possibility mentioned. Any one flaw could be physically dangerous in the extreme. I really hope that nobody fails to learn from our ancient history; it will cost *you* (and yours) far too much, to learn these things the hard way.
You should also know that every HG pilot with a few hundred dollars (and common sense) flies with a HG reserve parachute. No matter how individualistic you may be, a 'chute is called "life insurance" around here, and we don't mean some silly "death-bet" that you never get to collect on. A reserve 'chute will bring you and the glider down together, safely.
It always amazes me to learn that a builder assumes they can actually fly with skill in an aircraft nobody has flown in before. In reality, the builder has a very small chance of success, unless they are first an experienced pilot in similar aircraft. Even then, their chances are no better than the plans that they built from. Those plans must be entirely sufficient in aerodynamic design, engineering, and completeness, to provide any good chance of success. Hey, there are "plans" out there that do not even locate the Center of Gravity of the resulting aircraft! If this Most Important Information was omitted, you *have* to wonder what else was forgotten. Any lack of the proper skills, materials, or building procedures will result in pain, of the financial type at the very least, and maybe not just to the pilot.
Maybe it is a great dream - building your own wings. Tackle this little project after you have a HG Expert rating and a few hundred hours of airtime; then, you might stand a chance. I built my own, once, long ago, when there was a somewhat valid reason - no company built a glider with the performance that I wanted. I was already a fair HG pilot. I had machinists helping with some special fittings, and a real HG factory working with me. Anyway, it did hit the ground, hard and very fast ("Freeway speed, if not more" according to witnesses). I survived, unhurt, only because I had the big training wheels on it. It rolled, instead of "crashed", on those big wheels. (Of course, you *are* going to use training wheels, right? Now, if there might be some other stuff that you need to know before you go play test pilot, you could email me.) Today, that same glider would be worse than useless; it's entirely dangerous. Anyway, a good, used intermediate glider today flies 'way better, and costs much less.
I regard any building project as a serious waste of good flying time, unless you have something else to fly in the meanwhile. No matter what you build, or how well, remember: all of those good flying days will be lost and gone forever. A non-pilot might be willing to discard a single day of their life, building, that they could have spent flying. I don't think very many serious pilots would be willing to do that. If you have the urge to build, you can do that when it's snowing, or raining. The EAA will tell it to you straight - "If you want to build something, fine, you can probably do that. If you want to fly something, buy something".
Now, my advice is this - grab a nice, cheap, Certified wing, and let's go FLYING!
I don't wanna hear this; I still wanna build my own glider! :-)
Okay, lots of people have this dream, and some have succeeded. It would probably still be cheaper to buy a good used hang glider, and maybe by lots of money. There are fair numbers of hang glider pilots, and still, homebuilders are very rare birds. Yes, it can be done, and with some good level of success, as long as you build an ultralight glider, but not a tailless hang glider. You can build an AirChair. It looks like one of the old German Primary Gliders, but it is made with modern materials. The tailplanes of the AirChair make all the difference between a hazardous experiment, and a practical success. Expect to spend a minimum of a few hundred hours building an ultralight glider in the shop, and maybe US$4k~5k in materials. This is the price of a glider with the ability to fly you SAFELY. An AirChair may seem more complex than making a copy of a hang glider, but what you do not know about hang glider design can damage you beyond all repair. The risks far outweigh the rewards, with attempting to make a tailless hang glider.
You will need a capable hang glider rack on your truck, or a trailer, for ground transportaion. You can aero-tow an AirChair with an approved ultralight aircraft (usually found at hang glider flight parks), or static-tow, or use a pay-out winch to launch the AirChair. Static towing is simple and cheap. Pay-out winches are equal or better than aero-towing to altitude. Aero-towing is the premium launch method, because the towplane can tow you all over the sky, until you find good lift. Ultralight towplanes such as the Dragonfly now cost around US$100k, so expect to pay a reasonable fee for an aero-tow at a flight park. Sandlin's AirChairs steer mostly with the rudder pedals, while the ailerons set the bank angle needed; they are fairly simple to fly.
In the USA, ultralight gliders (like hang gliders and the AirChairs) operate under FAA FAR103. No license or paperwork is needed for the pilot, or the glider. If anything fails, it's your fault, in all cases. I would recommend having a hang glider's reserve parachute aboard at all times, to bring you and the glider down safely, if necessary. Then build your glider, maintain it, and fly it with the skills and judgment needed to keep the parachute stowed away, handy but unused. Parachutes are well-known to save the pilot and glider in an emergency, but NOBODY who has ever put out the reserve parachute wants to do that again.
Flight instruction for three-axis ultralight gliders will be practically non-existant. At a minimum, I think sailplane lessons are a good plan. Sailplane clubs are about the cheapest source of flight instruction that you can get. You may not want to get the full certificate, but get enough sailplane instruction to fly comfortably there. You can do yourself a favor and watch hang glider lessons, to learn some basic ideas about this class of flying. You can also scrounge up foot-pedals, a joystick, and any old version of the Microsoft Flight Simulator programs from the bargain bins. There are sailplane scenarios in MS-FS which can teach you a lot. Locally, long-term PC gamers may have used foot-pedals for the computer flight simulator at reasonable prices for you. Digital foot-pedals can cost US$100.00~US$150.00 when new, but you might find bargains new or used on eBay. Analog foot-pedals (using a game card) are about worthless to PC gamers now, so ask around, and happy hunting for the hardware. There are lots of flight simulator programs, but MS-FS is a known quantity. Have an experienced pilot fly your simulator, and verify that everything works correctly, before you start with it. Learning to fly with three-axis controls is serious fun. Un-learning (caused by having a bad set-up at first) can be a real mental nightmare.
People who may have physical limitations, who wish to fly hang gliders, may or may not be able to "work around" those limitations. The AirChairs (and similar three-axis ultralight gliders) may be able to give good airtime to such determined people. Consult with the experts, of course, before taking up such an endeavor, for any personal limitations. One pilot who needs a wheelchair on the ground (due to a traffic accident) once told me that he only feels free when flying a hang glider; he is a good as any pilot that I know, when he is flying. He may not be able to fly "everywhere" and land just anywhere, but many established flying sites are quite suitable for him. Sometimes, dreams can come true, in spite of some limitations.
Yahoo AirChair discussion group:
Mike Sandlin's Basic Ultralight Glider website
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This last article is not intended as help to individuals, but more like my own personal views of improving Hang Gliding as a sport. Most of the hang gliders out there are controlled by weight-shifting. A few advanced models have control surfaces instead, and I consider such controls as the only real future of hang gliding. I should not have to pay the cost of small house to get them, and I do not like the severe lack of "repairability" of those very advanced wings. I consider these expensive composite hang gliders to be the province of rich people who can just walk away from any damaged HG laughing, whenever some minor structural damage may happen to it.
Most hang gliding contests allow only the antiquated weight-shifting as the flight controls, and they force any other control system to compete against only the most expensive and advanced wings. The time is long past when we need to ditch weight-shifting, and use aerodynamic controls on the gliders that we fly for fun. IMHO, the usual HG competition rules have blocked the advancement of HG as a sport for far too long now. I, for one, refuse to particpate in any HG contests in the first place - I fly for FUN. I want gliders with power steering, power brakes, and a grand excess of pitch control as my daily flying machine. This is not difficult, but the HG manufacturers want to do well in those silly contests, and so they build only weight-shift HGs. They do not cater to people who just want to have fun with a responsive and safer flying machine. Safer? Yes! Newer pilots may need HGs that can respond very well to control inputs, in situations where weight-shifting alone will not be sufficient. Some pilots might write off the inevitable results as an "inexperienced pilot," but the truth may be that the hang glider simply could not respond to weight-shift controls in time. In some cases, turbulence may put the pilot into a "weightless" situation, and weight-shifting in those conditions is absolutely meaningless. What is the pilot expected to do then? Hang on and pray? I am not impressed by such a choice. I know better, and I want active controls in bad air.
I believe there are several ways to add simple and effective controls to a hang glider. They will not add much weight or complexity. "Purists" may still choose to weight-shift the hang glider, although I really doubt that anybody would persist in that dumb exercise after more than a few hours airborne. One way would be by the use of wing spoilers. I know of a Denver pilot who used them on his flexwing, over two decades ago. For about 25 years, I personally flew a Fledgling, the legendary rigid wing HG of its' day, with wingtip drag rudders that acted as NASA winglets when not being used for turning. I speculate now that we could control the turning of a HG by using the washout struts to lift the trailing edge on one side. Pulling up one wingtip, changing the flying angle of that wingtip, would cause the glider to bank and turn in that direction. Pulling up both sides at once, combined with a strong dive command, should produce a fairly steep glide angle, with low airspeeds, which would be very useful (and SAFER) for landing approaches into small landing fields. I have not worked out the mechanics of that proposal just yet, but there are many bright pilots in hang gliding who may be better able to construct such a simple system of HG controls. In all cases, any failure of the aerodynamic control surfaces to operate would not be serious, because the pilot could still control the hang glider "normally," by weight shift, in that case.
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Email me with ideas, comments and suggestions:
(To email me, just delete the A in my address line. Alternately, try contacting me on the Yahoo HG forum, or the Pilot's HangGliding.Org forum, linked below. Red)
P.S. So, what does Red fly, anyway? ATOS-VX? SwiftLite? Archaeopteryx? In my dreams, maybe... It's been a mixed bag. I have usually managed to own a flex-wing *and* a rigid wing. I flew the fast one for big air, and the slow one for sight-soaring. Rigid wings are now beyond my means, but the flex-wings can handle most of the air that I would launch in, today. So, for a brief history of my HG world, here are pictures of most of the wings that I have owned.
My thirty-mumble years in the air
But if I ever do get rich and famous, it will be this... :-)
P.P.S. Here are a few excellent links, that will take you to lots more links; any good search engine would find many more for you. There are also two Yahoo discussion forums. The Pilot's "HangGliding.Org" forum is mostly the noisy, knowledgeable USA crowd (sometimes rowdy, but very friendly to new pilots; all are welcome). They are a great bunch of HG pilots, of all nations, with a wide range of topics and off-topics. The Towing group is dedicated to those not blessed with vertical landscaping in their neighborhood. All of these forums are subscription forums, and all are easy-and-free to use.
The Pilot's Hang Gliding Forum
The HG Towing Forum
The Yahoo HangGliding Forum
one pilot's great web site
one of the better HG club web sites
US Hawks - A New National Hang Gliding Association
where to get flying gear, and much more...
more sources for stuff...
More FAQs; these are on the WIKI, from the Pilot's Hang Gliding Forum ...
Want to learn to FLY? I mean, like a soaring BIRD? Click the link . . .
The Pilot's Hang Gliding Forum
Spread the Flyin' word! In the USA, we have lots of good web pages. On this little graphic, linked below, we have one rather "official" site, and one friendly and informal site. Print out this bumper sticker, even on plain paper; put one in your car window, and put some on sports-related notice boards:
USA flying club bumper sticker / notice