There are as many reasons to participate in extreme sports, as there are participants. From challenging the mightiness of the ocean, to conquering a mountain peak, to soaring like an eagle we mere mortals certainly have big dreams. Hang gliding matches the description of the last set of lofty thinkers. This extreme sport offers the freedom of flight for the land-locked among us who wish we had wings. We can now soar for hours, rise on thermals and fly hundreds of miles with just the wind, the view and our thoughts.
There is documented evidence from China of hang gliding craft dating back as far back the 4th century AD. It wasn't until the 1800's that Otto Lilienthal of Germany anthologized and improved the information and engineering to become one of history's aviation pioneers and the father of the hang glider. Today we have much improved materials, computer modeling and a better understanding of the principles of flight. That said, hanggliding is still a very dangerous endeavor due to the unpredictable variables of weather and the use of worn or damaged equipment.
In order to learn the art and science of hang gliding you must attend ground school. Here you will learn the equilibrium and stability qualities of yaw, roll and pitch - critical information if you want to stay airborne! You will receive practice with the control frame, harnessing and takeoff and landing procedures. There are also instruments to learn such as the variometer that will indicate your rates of climbing and sinking while aloft. These skills are very specific to the hang glider and will take practice to master. The equipment is a bit awkward to store and transport and can be quite expensive. Beginners should avail themselves of group association for rentals and instruction until they become more proficient.
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale is the premiere association for all things hang gliding. They monitor competitions and maintain records for this extreme sport. Depending on the class of glider, gender of the pilot and multiplace, records are meticulously maintained and updated daily. The list of competitive categories is comprised of straight distance, straight distance to declared goal, distance around a triangular course, out and return distance, height gain and various speed competitions. To date the longest straight distance is an amazing 437 miles. The standing record for top out and return speed is 45 miles per hour and the best height gain is 12,250 feet over Horseshoe Meadows, California.
Whether you find that you prefer a rigid wing or flexible wing glider, the extreme sport of hang gliding will call you back time and again. You might find that you enjoy soaring in tandem with another person to gaze down upon the Earth, or take a trip abroad to really get a view of foreign lands. This is also an option in many areas. Safety and training are the key words for this lofty, yet dangerous, pastime. Harness up, take a deep breath and run off the edge of that mountain. There is no feeling of freedom like flying!
Philip Sebastian Schilling. Read more about Hanggliding and join our Extreme Sports Forum on the Pivian Extreme website.
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