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Subject: rec.aviation.hang-gliding FAQ
This article was archived around: Fri, 25 Jan 2002 08:30:58 GMT
Posting-Frequency: semi-monthly (11th and 25th)
Last-modified: 10 Dec 1995
Hanggliding and Paragliding Frequently Asked Questions
1. Basic Performance Questions:
A. How do you steer?
B. How high/far can a hangglider go?
C. How long do flights last?
D. Where can hanggliders launch and land?
E. How safe are hanggliders?
2. Flying Conditions:
A. Is lots of wind necessary to launch/fly/land?
B. How do gliders gain altitude?
C. What range of temperatures are encountered in flight?
3. Pilot Requirements:
A. Is hanggliding physically demanding?
B. Do pilots need to be of a certain age, gender, weight or
C. Do pilots need to be licensed to fly hanggliders?
D. How does a student go about learning to fly?
E. How much does all this cost?
! F. How to get more information
A. What is a Paraglider?
B. What are the main component parts of a Paraglider?
C. Is a Paraglider the same thing as a parachute?
D. What is the difference between a Hangglider and a Paraglider?
E. Why would anyone want to fly a Paraglider?
F. How much does a Paraglider cost?
G. How long does a Paraglider last?
H. What are Big-Ears (Rossette, A-Line Stall, Collapses)?
A. How do you tow a hangglider?
B. What is a static line?
C. What is a payout winch?
D. What is a stationary winch.
E. What is aero tow?
F. How is the towline attached to the hangglider?
G. How does a hangglider take off when it's being towed.
H. What is Platform launch?
I. What is a dolly launch?
J. How is a glider foot-launched for tow?
K. How long are the towlines used for tow?
L. What material are the towlines made of?
M. What is a weaklink?
N. What tension will cause a weaklink to break?
O. What is scooter tow?
P. Does it take any training to learn to fly a hangglider
Q. How about flying a paraglider under tow?
R. What are the exceptions?
S. So, what is a lockout?
T. How does a pilot recover from a lockout?
U. What if the pilot is in a lockout or other trouble
situation and the release fails?
V. What is a hook knife?
W. What is an observer?
X. Does everyone use a winch operator or observer?
Y. When is an observer imperative?
Z. Is towing hanggliders or paragliders more dangerous than
C. The Equipment
D. Extraordinary People
A. What does SUPINE mean?
B. What does SUPRONE mean?
C. What are the advantages to flying supine?
D. What are the disadvantages?
E. Is there a glide ratio disadvantage?
F. Can a supine pilot be a good XC pilot?
G. How is a glider altered to fly it supine?
H. Can I get factory-made cables for supine flying?
I. If I decide to modify the cables myself what is the best way?
J. Where can I get a supine harness?
K. Any other equipment recomended while flying supine?
L. Can a supine pilot be platform towed or aerotowed?
M. Where can I get more information?
Credits & Version information
1. Basic Performance Questions:
Fred Vachss <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
USHGA Advanced Instructor / Examiner, Ventura County, CA, 1992
1.A. How do you steer ?
Hanggliders are controlled by shifting the pilot's weight with
respect to the glider. Pilots are suspended from a strap connected to
the glider's frame (hence the name "hang" glider). By moving forward
and backward and side to side at the end of this strap, the pilot
alters the center of gravity of the glider. This then causes the
glider to pitch or roll in the direction of the pilot's motion and
thus allows both speed control and turning.
1.B. How high/far can a hangglider go ?
This depends a lot on the conditions in which it is flown, but
flights in excess of 300 miles in length and altitudes of well over
20,000 ft. MSL have been recorded. (These last have all been with FAA
permission for the rules lawyers reading this). More typically, pilots
in the summer in the western US will frequently achieve altitudes of
5,000 to 10,000 ft AGL and fly for over 100 miles.
1.C. How long do flights last ?
Again this depends on conditions, but a high altitude flight is
frequently several hours in duration. On good days, pilots don't have
to land until the sun goes down.
1.D. Where can gliders launch and land ?
Pretty much any slope that is relatively free from obstructions,
is steeper than about 6 to 1 and faces into the wind can be used to
foot launch a hangglider. The pilot just runs down the slope and takes
off when the air speed reaches 15 to 20 mph. Alternatively, when no
hills are available, towing by trucks, stationary winches and
ultralight aircraft allows gliders to get into the air .
Where a hangglider can be landed depends somewhat on the skill of the
pilot. An experienced pilot should be able to put a glider safely into
any flat spot bigger than about 50 by 200 ft and clear of
obstructions. This area requirement can vary somewhat, though,
depending on wind conditions and the surrounding terrain.
1.E. How safe are hanggliders ?
Like any form of sport aviation, hanggliding can be dangerous if
pursued carelessly. That said, however, hanggliding can be a very safe
sport. Gliders in the US are now certified for airworthiness by the
Hang Glider Manufacturers Assn. (HGMA) so structural failures on
recent equipment flown within its placarded limits are a thing of the
past. In addition, reserve parachutes are used on all high altitude
hangglider flights now and provide a measure of safety in the rare
instances of severe glider damage or complete loss of control.
Also, hanggliding instruction has been standardized and most students
learn from certified instructors using a thorough, gradual training
program. So the days of untrained pilots trying unsafe maneuvers at
dangerous sites are also largely gone.
Despite these advances, people still make judgement errors and
aviation is not very forgiving of such. The bottom line is that out of
about 10,000 active pilots in the US, 5 to 10 will have a fatal
hanggliding accident in a given year and perhaps 10 times that many
will have an injury requiring treatment. The majority of pilots fly
their entire careers without sustaining a serious injury.
2. Flying Conditions:
Fred Vachss <email@example.com>,
USHGA Advanced Instructor / Examiner, Ventura County, CA, 1992
2.A. Is lots of wind necessary to launch/fly/land ?
Hanggliders can be launched, flown and landed in winds from zero
to about 30 mph safely. When winds get above about 40 mph, the
associated turbulence makes all aspects of flight substantially less
comfortable. Generally, ideal winds for launching and landing are from
5 to 20 mph depending on the flying site. Wind speed is less important
in flight since the pilot controls the air speed of the glider
whatever the wind speed may be.
2.B. How do gliders gain altitude ?
In addition to the horizontal wind we're accustomed to on the
ground, air moves vertically as well. If a glider encounters an rising
chunk of air, it will go up along with it. The whole trick of soaring
a hang glider (or any other glider for that matter) is to figure out
where the air is going up and then to get there. While there are many
sources of rising air or "lift", the most commonly used by hang
gliders are ridge lift and thermal lift. Ridge lift occurs when
horizontal wind hits an obstruction (like a ridge, for instance) and
is deflected upward. Thermal lift occurs when terrain is heated by the
sun and transfers this heat to the surrounding air - which then rises.
Typically ridge lift exists in a "lift band" on the windward side of a
ridge and pilots get up by flying back and forth through this
band. Thermal lift on the other hand usually starts at some local
"trigger point" on the ground and then rises as a column or bubble of
air. To get up in a thermal, pilots typically circle in this region of
2.C. What range of temperatures are encountered in flight ?
Hanggliders are flown in sub-zero conditions in the winter and in
the hottest deserts in the summer. Since the air temperature typically
falls by about 4 degrees (F) for every 1000 ft gain in elevation,
however, high altitude hangglider flights are frequently cold. Pilots
expecting to fly over about 12 - 14,000 ft in the summer will
generally wear warm clothing to protect against exposure.
3. Pilot Requirements:
Fred Vachss, <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
USHGA Advanced Instructor / Examiner, Ventura County, CA, 1992
3.A. Is hanggliding physically demanding ?
Almost anyone can fly a hangglider. If someone can jog while
balancing a 50 - 70 lb. weight on their shoulders they can learn to
fly. While flying does not require great strength (since the straps
not the pilot's arms - hold the pilot up) long duration flights in
turbulent conditions require a moderate degree of upper body
endurance. This typically develops as the pilot progresses through
training to these longer flights.
3.B. Do pilots need to be of a certain age, gender, weight or size range ?
Hangglider pilots range in age from teens to octagenarians. The
limits are more mental than physical. If someone is sufficiently
mature to make decisions significantly affecting their safety and has
sufficiently good reflexes to make such decisions promptly, then they
probably are of a reasonable age for flying.
Since flying depends more on balance and endurance than on brute
strength, woman and men make equally good pilots. While the fraction
varies regionally, about 10 - 15 % of the hangglider pilots in the US
While pilots of virtually any size can fly, the limits here are mostly
dictated by available equipment. Heavier and lighter pilots require
commensurately bigger and smaller gliders. Since most hangglider
pilots weigh between 90 and 250 lbs, however, it may be difficult to
find equipment appropriate for pilots beyond this range. Specially
designed tandem gliders are available, however, and may be used for
extra heavy pilots. While height per se does not determine who can
fly, again, equipment tends to be most available for those between
about 5 and 6.5 feet tall. Harness and glider modifications may be
necessary for individuals outside this range.
3.C. Do pilots need to be licensed to fly hang gliders ?
NOTE: this answer is specific to the USA. In other countries
different organizations and different legal requirements apply.
Not really, but a program analogous to FAA licensing exists and is
administered by the USHGA (US Hang Gliding Association). This program
consists of a specific set of flying skills corresponding to a series
of pilot proficiency ratings (Beginner through Master) each of which
carries a set of recommended operating limitations. Beginner rated
pilots, for instance, should only fly from hills under 100 ft in
height in mild winds and under the guidance of an instructor. While
these ratings don't carry the force of law in quite the same way as
FAA pilot's licenses do, the majority of flying sites in the US
require that pilots hold some specific USHGA rating to be allowed to
3.D. How does a student go about learning to fly ?
In the USA, the USHGA certifies hanggliding instructors and
schools. One of the major reasons hanggliding is safer now than 20
years is this certification program and all students should thus learn
from a certified instructor. Lists of certified schools can be
obtained from the USHGA at (719) 632-8300; a copy of this list is also
available at School list
You may also get information by posting a request to the hang gliding
mailing list at:
or by posting a query to the hanggliding newsgroup
The time required for training varies considerably with the student's
innate skills and with the type of training conditions. Typically,
though, a student will spend 5 - 10 lessons to obtain each of the
first two USHGA pilot ratings (Beginner and Novice) - a process which
generally takes from 3 to 6 months. At the end of this primary
training process, the student is usually flying from moderate
altitudes (several hundred to a few thousand ft) in relative mild
conditions. Progression to more difficult flying conditions continues
from then on under the supervision of more experienced pilots or
3.E. How much does all this cost ?
If a student goes to a certified school in a large urban area and
buys all new equipment at retail prices, learning to fly can cost
$5000+. If one purchases used equipment, however, this price can
easily drop to around $1000. Whenever used equipment is purchsed,
however, it is IMPERATIVE that an experienced pilot familiar with the
equipment inspect it thoroughly.
Costs vary a lot, but as of 1992 figure on:
Training through the Novice level: $400 - $1000
Training glider: $400 - $1500 (used) $2000 - $3500 (new)
Harness $50 - $300 (used) $150 - $600 (new)
Parachute $200 - $300 (used) $350 - $400 (new)
Helmet $80 - $300 (new)
Fortunately, this can be purchased in stages. Usually instructors will
provide training equipment as part of their package through the
Beginner rating, but will expect students to obtain their own
equipment beyond this point. Parachutes aren't really useful for
altitudes below about 300 ft AGL and thus usually needn't be purchased
until reaching the Novice level.
3.F. How to get more information: (Jean Orloff, 4/95)
There is an active mailing list dedicated to hanggliding,
paragliding and related issues. Pilots and other interested parties
worldwide participate and can offer a wealth of information on these
topics. Any mail you (or anyone else) sends to
email@example.com will get to all subscribers on the
list. To subscribe to a mailing list, simply send a message with the
word subscribe in the Subject: field to
[mails will then be sent in digests of about 32kB], or to
if you are prepared to cope with >30 messages a day (Please notice the
"-request" in both cases!!!). The -request adresses also supports the
following subject lines:
unsubscribe (to cancel subscription)
FAQ (sends out something like this message)
Back issues of articles (and other goodies) are available from
the hanggliding archive server automated e-mail response system. Send
e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with help in the message body.
is dedicated to hang-gliding, paragliding and all related subjects.
Mail sent to email@example.com is archived in
The "hang gliding archives" can be searched via the search engine
available in gopher.
Back issues of digests, photos, a pilot directory and other HG/PG
information are available on the WWW from the Hang Gliding WWW Server
(http://cougar.stanford.edu:7878/HGMPSHomePage.html) at SLAC.
Previous digest volumes may also be searched for keywords.
New (4/95) servers started collecting flying sites informations
over USA and elsewhere
even available through a sensitive map
There also is a server dedicated to Free Flying in Europe
Paragliders specifics can be found on the Big Air server
This is the first draft of a simple FAQ on Paragliding. Please direct
all corrections and additions to John Little
<gaijin@Japan.sbi.COM>. Last updated 20 Sep 1994.
4.A. What is a "Paraglider"?
A paraglider is a foot-launched, ram-air, aerofoil canopy,
designed to be flown and landed with no other energy requirements than
the wind, gravity and the pilot's musclepower.
4.B What are the main component parts of a Paraglider?
A canopy (the actual "wing"), risers (the cords by which the
pilot is suspended below the canopy) and a harness. In addition, the
brake cords provide speed and directional control and carabiners are
used to connect the risers and the harness together.
4.C. Is a Paraglider the same thing as a parachute?
No. A Paraglider is similar to a modern, steerable skydiving
canopy, but different in several important ways. The Paraglider is a
foot-launched device, so there is no "drouge" 'chute or "slider", and
the construction is generally much lighter, as it doesn't have to
withstand the sudden shock of opening at high velocities. The
Paraglider usually has more cells and thinner risers than a parachute.
4.D.What is the difference between a Hangglider and a Paraglider?
A Hangglider has a rigid frame maintaining the shape of the wing,
with the pilot usually flying in a prone position. The Paraglider
canopy shape is maintained only by air pressure and the pilot is
suspended in a sitting or supine position. The Hangglider has a
"cleaner" aerodynamic profile and generally is capable of flying at
much higher speeds than a Paraglider.
4.E. Why would anyone want to fly a Paraglider when they could fly a
A Paraglider folds down into a package the size of a largish
knapsack and can be carried easily. Conversely, a Hangglider needs a
vehicle with a roof-rack for transportation to and from the flying
site, as well as appreciable time to set-up and strip-down. It's also
somewhat easier to learn to fly a Paraglider.
4.F.How much does a Paraglider cost?
This varies between makers, models, countries and phases of the
moon, but a middle of the range canopy and harness will normally cost
somewhere in the region of $3000 to $4000.
4.G. How long does a Paraglider last?
General wear and tear (especially the latter) and deterioration
from exposure to ultra-violet usually limit the useful lifetime of a
canopy to somewhere in the region of four years. This obviously
depends strongly on use.
4.H.What are Big-Ears (Rossette, A-Line Stall, Collapses)?
You don't wanna' know... yet!
Advanced Topics FAQ:
by Dave Broyles < firstname.lastname@example.org>
5.A.How do you tow a hangglider?
there are a number of ways, but they include using a static line,
a payout winch, a stationary winch or aero tow.
5.B.What is a static line?
A static line is a fixed length of rope usually with some sort of
quick-release on each end which is attached to a moving vehicle at one
end and the hangglider at the other. Often a tension gauge is inserted
in the towline to insure that the hangglider is not towed too hard.
5.C.What is a payout winch?
Have you ever flown a kite where you run along paying out string
from a ball as you ran while the kite climbs? Similarly, a payout
winch is a winch which is mounted in the back of a truck or on a
trailer, and pays out line as the hangglider gets higher. The line
tension is maintained by the use of a disk brake from a motorcycle or
car which is mounted on the side of the winch drum. The amount of
drag the disk brake exerts is controlled by the winch operator but if
set generally remains constant for all payout speeds.
5.D.What is a stationary winch.
It is a powered winch that stays in one spot and which pulls line
in under tension. All of the line on the winch is pulled out, then the
far end of the rope is attached to the glider. On a signal, the winch
pulls the line back in to make the glider climb. When the glider
arrives over the winch, the pilot releases the towline. The tow
tension is a function of the throttle setting of the engine powering
5.E.What is aero tow?
The tow vehicle is an ultralight aircraft designed to fly at the
very slow speeds needed to safely tow a hangglider. The towline is
attached at one end to a release on the ultralight and on the other
end to the hangglider. The ultralight flys up to altitude with the
hang glider flying under tow behind, then the hangglider releases.
5.F.How is the towline attached to the hangglider?
It's attached to a release which has lines which pass around the
pilot and attach to the glider at the same point the pilot
attaches. The release is positioned in front of the pilot so he can
easily operate it. There is a weaklinkbetween the release and towline
to protect the glider from overloads.
5.G.How does a hangglider take off when it's being towed.
The pilot may foot launch, platform launch or dolly launch the
glider, or even launch the glider from floats on the water.
5.H.What is Platform launch?
The glider and pilot are mounted on a moveable platform such as
the bed of a pickup or of a trailer in flying position. A payout winch
is also on the platform, and the line from it is attached to the
glider. The platform is driven or towed into the wind, and when the
glider is at flying speed it is released from the platform already
flying. The launch is very much like an assisted windy cliff launch.
5.I.What is a dolly launch?
The glider and pilot are mounted on a 3 wheel dolly in flying
position and the glider is towed to flying speed and flown from the
5.J.How is a glider foot-launched for tow?
The tow rope is attached to the glider and pilot so that the
pilot can keep the nose of the glider low on launch. The tow starts
and the pilot runs the glider off of the ground very much like a foot
launch from a slope.
5.K.How long are the towlines used for tow?
A static line tow generally uses a line from 1000 to 2000 ft
long. A payout winch may have up to 6000 ft of rope on it but more
generally will have about 3000 ft. on it. A stationary winch will have
anywhere from 2000 ft. to 5000 ft. or more of rope on it.
5.L.What material are the towlines made of?
Popular materials have been dacron, spectra, kevlar and
polyproplene. The stronger the line material, the stronger the
line. Towlines generally have line strengths of 600 to 1200 lbs.
5.M.What is a weaklink?
A weaklink is a slender piece of line or rarely a mechanical
device which will break or release the towline if excessive towline
tension is experienced.
5.N.What tension will cause a weaklink to break?
Weaklinks come in different sizes but generally are selected to
fail at about 1 gee or at a force equivalent to the gross load of the
glider. Weak links used with payout winches are generally a little
stronger so they won't break at launch.
5.O.What is scooter tow?
A small motorscooter or vehicle with a centrifugal clutch and
variable speed belt drive is used as a stationary winch usually with
the rear wheel replaced by a small winch drum.
5.P.Does it take any training to learn to fly a hangglider under tow?
A hangglider is somewhat more difficult to fly under tow, and the
pilot must also be aware of the various things that can go wrong in
order to react appropriately. The USHGA has tow administrators who can
rate people for tow. Most of those are also instructors and can train
people to tow safely.
5.Q.How about flying a paraglider under tow?
Paragliders are relatively easy to fly under tow with several
exceptions. However, learning to fly a paraglider under tow should be
done under the supervision of a qualified instructor.
5.R.What are the exceptions?
A paraglider may lockout if not flown directly behind the
towline. Under tow the pilot will be less aware of canopy alignment
and must be sure to keep it straight. The pilot should hold little or
no brakes except for directional control unless tow tension is very
light. Pilot must be able to manage a surge properly if releasing
while tow tension is still being applied.
5.S.So, what is a lockout?
For a hangglider or a paraglider, a lockout is a situation where
the glider is turned away from the direction of the towline and the
pilot can't turn the glider back.
5.T.How does a pilot recover from a lockout?
The best way is to avoid entering one, but secondarily, the pilot
may release from tow, or the tow operator may reduce tension to allow
the pilot to take corrective action. (hangglider and paraglider)
5.U.What if the pilot is in a lockout or other trouble situation and the
A pilot should fly with a hook knife. The winch operator or
observer, if there is one, should also have a hook knife to cut the
towline in an emergency.
5.V.What is a hook knife?
A hook knife is a knive designed to cut line and straps but
5.W.What is an observer?
It is a person who faces the pilot under tow and who's sole
responsibility during the tow is to facilitate the tow and deal with
emergencies usually by reducing tow tension or cutting the towline.
5.X.Does everyone use a winch operator or observer?
Many tow operations dispence with an observer prefering to let
the driver perform some of the observer functions. In some cases such
as aero tow, there is no possible way to have a separate observer. In
platform launch, a second person may ride on the platform to try to
deal with emergencies by slacking pressure on the winch or cutting the
rope. In static line tow, the observer may face rearward to operate
the release at the vehicle end of the towline in an emergency. In a
stationary winch tow, the operator faces the pilot and operates the
winch and there is no driver needed.
5.Y.When is an observer imperative?
In training situations or very demanding conditions or whenever
the pilot requests one, a separate observer should be provided.
5.Z.Is towing hanggliders or paragliders more dangerous than foot launch?
Probably not, but it's hard to say as we don't actually know the
proportion of towing activity to foot launch. As towing is more
complicated than foot launch and more equipment intensive, there is
more room for error and equipment failure. However in some areas of
the US, towing is the primary method of launch and many pilots seldom
launch any other way.
6. Aerotowing - High Tech Hanggliding on a Leash
Article by Brad Kushner, Raven Sky Sports,
Whitewater Wisconsin (414)473-2003
(This article originally appeared in the magazine HANG GLIDING Special
New Pilot Edition III. It has been copied with the author's
permission. Unfortunately, the excellent photos could not be included
There are quite a few ways to fly a hangglider. One of them is
aerotowing, and it offers a unique, fun and rewarding way to begin a
A foot-launch free flyer is as free as a bird from the moment he
clears launch. That's why most of us pursue hanggliding - the
swooping, the soaring, the controlled carving of turns through unseen
powder-snow air molecules that give us the same giddy euphoria as our
childhood dreams of flight did.
Aerotowing, on the other hand, starts out a lot more like taking a dog
for a walk on a leash - wandering in different directions, the master
and obedient pooch who learns, sooner or later, that to "heel" or
"follow" is in Rover's best interest after all. But, that leash thing!
It's definitely something that takes getting used to. Fortunately,
it's well worth it. The leash is a small price to pay for a trip to
the park, especially since we know we can slip off the leash once we
Aerotowing has opened up new hanggliding opportunities that never
existed before, in parts of the country and in weather conditions that
are now much more rewarding to sport fliers than they ever
were. Experienced hangglider pilots get familiar with aerotowing after
brief training and earn an "AT" special skill sign off on their rating
cards. Many get spoiled by the convenience of the launch and landing
zones being one and the same.
Most hangglider pilots view aerotowing as just an alternative way to
get "up there" and, once up, use the same strategies they have always
used for soaring in available lifting air. Thermaling and ridge
soaring are easily accomplished if the tow aloft brings the pilot to a
thermal source or a soarable ridge. Aerotowing has an advantage over
automotive towing in that the hangglider can be taken to expected
sources of lift that are away from the launch area or runway. Part of
the fun of aerotowing is planning the tow portion of the flight: going
upwind or across the wind to known thermal sources and staying on tow
until a thermal is encountered. Releasing in a thermal is a wonderful
Novice pilots who are learning to aerotow benefit greatly from tandem
instruction. During a lesson plan of three to five hours of dual
airtime, a newcomer can learn how to be a good Rover on the way up and
how to pilot a free-flying hangglider on the way down. During 10 or
more half-hour flights with an instructor, the student learns to
coordinate with the aerotug through the launch sequence, then follows
on course behind the tug through air currents which inevitably have
their ups and downs. The student learns quickly about proper control
input and corrections in both speed and direction while on tow. After
the tow up and release, typical lesson plans include coordinated
turns, stalls and recovery, and landing approaches, all of which are
just like any other free-flight hanggliding curriculum. Usually the
landing is at the same spot as the launch, and repeat lessons and
flights on the same day are very convenient and productive. First solo
flights are usually performed in near calm conditions, with the
additional support of the instructor's reassuring voice on a two-way
To set up for a typical aerotow hanggliding flight, the tow rope is
stretched out on the ground between the aerotug and the hangglider,
and all are lined up into the wind. Any available headwind will make
the takeoff roll very short. The tug accelerates up the runway and
the hangglider follows. Most aerotow launches are made from a dolly or
launch cart, which makes for easy, no-running launches either for solo
or tandem lessons. The tug and the hangglider achieve takeoff speed at
roughly the same time. Once they leave the ground and throughout the
rest of the tow, the pilots must cooperate and coordinate their
altitude and airspeed. Rover has to stay just behind his Master and
try to keep a light but steady tension on the leash if this is going
to be a fun outing.
Usually the tug is the faster of the two, and the hangglider has to
speed up a bit to match speed. If he doesn't, he'll likely fly too
slowly and loft above the aerotug. A well-coordinate aerotow flight
usually involves the hangglider pilot pulling in and diving a bit at
various times during the flight in order to keep a horizontal
relationship with the tug. The tug pilot adjusts airspeed and altitude
too, while watching the rear-view mirror to keep the hangglider on the
horizon (see photo). If it's done right, the hangglider pilot will see
the aerotug right on the horizon in front of him, plus or minus 30
feet of altitude (see photos).
The glider pilot also has to keep his glider aligned with the tow. If
Rover makes a spontaneous turn right or left, within moments the two
aircraft will want to pull apart and break free. That isn't as
hazardous as it might sound, but near the ground it can be cause for
alarm. A hangglider pilot should have confident control of speed and
direction in order to aerotow. Typically, we stay on tow about five
minutes to 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the ground. The hang glider pilot
then triggers a release and flies free, and the tug brings the rope
6.C. The Equipment
The Moyes-Bailey Dragonfly is the most popular of the aerotugs. It was
designed for the sole purpose of safe aerotowing, and has a tow mast
and release mechanism built into the airframe. The horizontal
stabilizer is built low so the tug pilot has a good view in the
rear-view mirror. The special wings and ailerons afford very low speed
capabilities, even though the frame is sturdy and the engine is
powerful. Several other types of tow planes are also in use today. The
trike wing type of motorized hangglider is well suited to aerotow, and
motorized paragliders, or paramotors, have been used experimentally to
tow paragliders air-to-air at extra low airspeeds, which the other
aerotugs cannot do. All aerotowing in the United States is performed
under the USHGA aerotowing exemption granted by the FAA.
The launch dolly permits the hangglider pilot to take off from level
ground without any running, allowing him to concentrate on flight
control while the tug does all the work getting both up to
airspeed. During the rolling launch, the glider is cradled and
supported both by the basetube and the tail. The pilot is suspended
about a foot off the ground, prone in his harness. A signal is given
to the tug that the hangglider is ready, and the tug accelerates down
the runway. Castering wheels on the dolly allow it to track smoothly
in the direction of the tow. The dolly is left on the ground when the
hangglider lifts off, and usually rolls only 50 yards or so before
takeoff. Since most traditional hangglider launches are accomplished
while running upright, the prone launch off of the dolly is noticeably
different for an experienced pilot. New pilots training on aerotow
will wish to supplement their learning with bunny hill lessons for
The leash or tow rope used in aerotowing is 200 to 300 feet of
brightly colored lightweight rope. Polypropylene is what most
aerotowers use. We've found a neat little manual reeler at the
hardware shop. It's meant for extension cords and stores our 300 feet
just right. We keep two tow ropes available at all times, for those
occasions when one is accidentally dropped in a hard to find place
like Wisconsin. We also discovered (the hard way) that bright yellow
polypro becomes invisible in corn or hay fields, so we found some
neon-orange rope and hardly ever lose one anymore. It takes only
minutes to unspool a tow rope and attach it to the plane and glider.
The tow rope is symmetrical, that is, it is finished with a metal ring
at each end so that there's no front or back. The bridle (or V-line,
for its shape in flight) on the Dragonfly tow plane's tail functions
exactly like the bridle or V-line on the hangglider pilot's harness
front. They both have a release mechanism and a safety weak link, and
any way you detach, the result is a trailing orange rope and ring. We
plan on keeping the rope attached to the Dragonfly but it doesn't
always work out that way. So Rover has to be prepared to be
unexpectedly turned loose, maybe even with the leash trailing from his
collar. A hangglider pilot can wrap that rope around some anchor down
there, with hazardous results. We've lassoed cornstalks and dragged
them down the runway with the aerotug. A hangglider probably wouldn't
win that tug o' war. One should be prepared to get custody of the
rope unexpectedly, and if low, release it before it catches on
something. (If high, of course, one should bring it back and drop it
where it can be found.)
The safety weak link is a very important part of the system. Its
purpose is to disconnect the hangglider from the tug at any time the
tow forces rise above a certain level. There's one at the hang glider
end of the rope, and another slightly stronger one at the other end,
on the tug. A pilot experiencing a challenging flight, as a result of
inexperience or turbulence, will likely break a weak link before the
tow is complete. This "accidental" release often prevents a rough ride
from developing into a dangerous one, and the glider returns to the
launch area and lands.
6.D. Extraordinary People
Physically challenged student pilots, some in wheelchairs, are also
discovering the joys of aerotow hanggliding. The rolling dolly launch
method is ideal for the hanggliding enthusiast who cannot
alternatively do running launches off a hill. Regular safety training
wheels are sufficient for most intentional roll-in landings, and
larger custom wheels are used for both launch and landing by some
mobility impaired hangglider pilots at a variety of U.S. flying sites.
Heavyweight pilot trainees are finding that their weight isn't as much
of a concern when rolling launches are made off the dolly. Even in no
wind, the large pilot can achieve takeoff speed effortlessly, even
with a tandem instructor aboard! Students weighing more than 250
pounds have flown tandem on aerotow and gone on to solo flights. Since
hanggliders come in many different sizes, small people and large
people can use the best available equipment to meet their needs.
A call or letter to the friendly office staff at the USHGA can get you
a current list of aerotow operators around the country. See you at
by Deane G. Williams <email@example.com>, (203-677-3095),
USHGA Hang V.
Last update: March 16, 1995
7.A. What does SUPINE mean?
Flying in a seated position with the legs extended forward (to reduce
drag) below the basetube. Control is by the normal method with hands
on the basetube. Legs are supported by a line and foot stirrup from
7.B. What does SUPRONE mean?
(from SUpine and PRONE) Flying in a seated position within the
confines of the control bar. Feet may rest on a stirrup or on the base
tube. Control is by hands on the uprights. This position is far less
common than supine and requires placing ones feet up and over the base
tube after launch and back behind the base tube before
landing. Perhaps the best advantage to this method is that more speed
may be achieved and that the glider's control bar does not have to be
re-rigged from the prone position. This is the postion used by the
Wills Wing Sky-Floater system utilizing modified paraglider harnesses.
7.C. What are the advantages to flying supine?
Increased visibility (due to the head up position) helps in searching
for active clouds and other pilots, increased comfort, less neck
strain and better abliity to perform windy cliff launches due to the
ease with which the nose may be pointed into the lift vector.
7.D. What are the disadvantages?
Re-rigging of glider required, some adjustment to launch technique
(due to loose support straps on a running launch), modification of the
landing flare by using the rear wires. These technique changes will be
easy for most pilots. The primary performance disadvantage will be the
limiting of the gliders top speed to about 40 to 45 mph (64 to 72
km/hr). This speed range has been sufficent for all normal flying but
will probably not do for all out competition racing.
7.E. Is there a glide ratio disadvantage?
Supine is usually percieved as being a higher drag position than prone
but actual tests performed over long glide paths side by side fail to
show any significant difference at best glide speeds. high speeds
there may be a slight disadvantage.
7.F. Can a supine pilot be a good XC pilot?
Yes. Bob Thompson of Phoenix, Arizona, USA held his state's XC record
for many years at over 210 miles (over 320 km.). He consistently
outflew many prone pilots during this period. In New England there are
several dedicated supine XC pilots with site records which still
7.G. How is a glider altered to fly it supine?
The control bar front and back cables must be altered or replaced to
so that the base tube is swung back 12-16 inches (30-40 cm.) from the
prone position. On gliders with loose side wires the side cables need
not be altered. On other gliders the side cables may be altered
(usually slightly longer) or a longer base tube may be used.
7.H. Can I get factory-made cables for supine flying?
Yes. Many manufacturers know the correct lengths and will make up a
set for you. Check with your manufacturer.
7.I. If I decide to modify the cables myself what is the best way?
Set the glider up and place on saw-horses at a normal flying angle of
attack. The base tube should be just off the floor. Mark the location
of the base tube on the floor with chalk. Lengthen the front wires the
required amount listed above. Use the shorter measurement for
long-armed pilots and the longer one for short-armed pilots. The
cables may be easily lengthened by adding cable segments (with
thimbles) to the existing cables. Use a known good Nico-Press tool to
swedge the Nico sleeves. Now shorten the rear wires enough to tension
the lower wires to the same extent they were before modificaton. This
may be done by carefully slicing open the Nico sleeves with a Dremel
tool with an abrasive cut-off wheel and then spreading them open. Now
install new Nicos, pull cable through the thimbles until tight and
crimp the Nicos. Use Dremel to cut off excess cable.
7.J. Where can I get a supine harness?
Ask around. Some pilots have old, unused supine harness they will sell
for a small amount. Sky Sports and Sunbird made very strong and
comfortable harnesses. Also several major harness manufacturers will
custom make one for you. Paraglider harnesses may be modifed by a
harness maker to create a quality supine harness.
7.K. Any other equipment recomended while flying supine?
A speed bar will increase top speed over a straight bar. Gloves should
be worn during all flights to provide a safe grip on the rear wires
during the landing flare.
7.L. Can a supine pilot be platform towed or aerotowed?
Yes. Both have been done. The lines normally attached to the prone
pilot's shoulders should be connected above the hips and run below the
7.M. Where can I get more information?
For lessons contact Desert Hang Gliders in Arizona at
602-938-9550. For information on the Sky-Floater system contact Wills
Wing. For harness manufacturers contact High Energy Sports or
Ultralight Soaring Software.
Hang/Para-Gliding FAQ Version and Credits
Version 2.13.1, Last modified: Mon Dec 10 13:24:37 1995
Hang Gliding FAQ:
Fred Vachss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
USHGA Advanced Instructor / Examiner, Ventura County, CA
Para Gliding FAQ:
John Little <gaijin@Japan.sbi.COM>
Dave Broyles <email@example.com>
Brad Kushner, Raven Sky Sports,
Whitewater Wisconsin (414)473-2003
Deane G. Williams <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
(203-677-3095), USHGA Hang V.
Collected by Bob Mackey <email@example.com>
conversion to HTML by Jean Orloff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Minor editing Joco Geada <email@example.com>
Name : Joao M C Geada Phone: (508) 262 6225
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: (508) 262 6636
Post : Cadence Design Systems, 270 Billerica Rd, Chelmsford MA 01824-4140
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