A personal view of the differences between hang gliding & paragliding.

Learning to fly in Wales

The following story offers a personal view of the difference between hang gliding and paragliding.

Paragliding - The Soft Option
by Sean Myles

After 4 days of paragliding as against 15 years of hang gliding the contrast between the two sports became clear.

Paraglider pilots do it back to front.

Let me explain. I learnt very early on that when in trouble on a hang glider you pull on speed. You do this by pulling the base bar to your waist. The equivalents on a paraglider are the control lines. If you pull these to your waist, when in trouble at takeoff, you cause a stall. This certainly provides an exciting specticle for anyone watching.

It also confuses the pilot who, whilst panicking, can't work out why the wing isn't accelerating like a hang glider. To fly at maximum speed you let the control lines go away from you.

With a hang-glider letting the base bar go causes a stall.

Launching a hang glider is simple. Get the wing level, hold the bar in, run like fu** ( the missing letters for the benefit of paraglider pilots are ry), ease the bar out and you sail into the sky, rapidly climbing as you convert speed to height. Can you do this on a paraglider? No way. To get airborne on a paraglider first you have to build a wall. Not just any wall, it has to be made of cloth, arranged in a semicircle, facing takeoff, with the ends lower than the middle. I tried making one of stone on my first lesson, but I must have misunderstood the instructor, Paul Williams, because what ever I did I couldn't get it to fly neatly above my head.

First build your wall (use one you made earlier if you wish), facing it and attached to it by strings. Using a trick (licensed by the Magic Circle) which involves pulling these bits of string, the wall is supposed to arrange itself above your head in the shape of a wing.

In my case I am still understudying the Sorcerer's Apprentice and haven't mastered this yet.

The next problem is that you are looking the wrong way if you intend to fly. This is obviously why paraglider pilots never see hang gliders when they take-off. Now for the really tricky bit! You let go of everything! Not one bit of control are you allowed retain to fly this great bag of washing flapping above your head. Supposedly you then do a chaise reverse turn (any one remember ballroom dancing?), and grab the two control lines. You have to do this without getting them wrapped around anything, and before the wing flies away dragging you after it.

We are now getting ready to launch!

The next stage of this pantomime is to attempt to force this overgrown windsock to the edge of takeoff. This takes the form of grunting, and leaning forward like a kid imitating an aeroplane, bending at the waist with arms outstretched behind. Then, just as you fall over the edge of take-off, if you get any forward movement at all instead of accelerating you have to Break slightly to lift off! Well weird.

Once in the air you sit in an armchair (a great improvement on the plank of wood hang-glider pilots used to use) and swan around admiring the view, whilst keeping a wary eye out for hang-gliders. Paraglider pilots need to keep an eye open whist dozing in their hammock because heh, heh, a bit of glider wash doesn't half wake you up. When I fly a paraglider I will be ever, ever so nice to my hang-gliding colleagues just in case. Of course, if a hang-glider did upset me it would be rather unfortunate if I just happened to fly down wind of him with brakes on as he was about to flare!

Once airborne a paraglider is very nice to fly, all controls are light, precise with loads of feedback. Very easy to soar, but no speed or penetration to speak of. Maximum speed is around 20mph, not a lot to play with compared to the 50+ mph of a hang glider. Landing is unbelievable. Pick a spot close by, fly a little down wind of it, a very little, pull two bits of string, and you lightly touch down. None of this rubbish about needing to find a big field, approach it at 20+mph, stuff the bar out at 15mph and hope you got the flare right, or it's £50 for an upright.

The other nice thing is that it weighs the same as a harness and parachute. That's it. No 80lbs of a 19ft metal and canvas contraption to lug up a hill, plus the harness. Instead you take a gentle walk up the nearest mountain, forgo the usual cardiac arrest, unpack the canopy, eat your sandwiches, have a drink, pack everything away in the harness, fly around for awhile and land back at the car when you have had enough. If you should go XC, (blown over the back is more the case I suspect, but paraglider pilots would never admit to that) then merely pack it away in the bag when you have landed, and make like a backpacker or even catch a bus. Try that with a hang-glider!

Paraglider pilots are brilliant for use as wind dummies on sites like Cwmbran, Rhigos and any other areas with hostile bottom landings, so they do have a use. On the iffy days of light wind why not have a waft around on a paraglider until the wind is strong enough to fly a glider, it only takes a few minutes to unpack and pack a paraglider away. Think of the extra flying opportunities, of being able to land on the slope rather than going down.

All right I know the sky gods can do "fly on the walls", but mere mortals don't have the bottle.

So all you other hang glider pilots out there try out the soft option. It has potential, but at the end of the day it takes commitment to fly a hang glider so don't expect to be able to sell your old training glider to a paraglider pilot. But be careful, in my view, paragliders are more dangerous because of their limited performance, and quaint penchant for folding up if they don't want to play. I think the answer is to spend time on ground handling and being very selective about when to fly. After all you still have a glider to fly, a paraglider just opens up a wider range of conditions.

PS Why do Paraglider pilots use easy access hang gliding sites on hang gliding days?

Is it laziness one wonders, are they really that soft that they cant handle a walk, do they get lonely, or are they envious of the performance?

For further training information contact one of the BHPA registered schools operating in Wales,
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