Hang gliding, sometimes referred to as gliding, is a unique kind of aerobatically-powered sport or recreational activity where a pilot flies an unheated, lightweight foot-held glider (also known as a hang gliding board) over a specially designed course set out by a qualified instructor. The sport was originally developed for military purposes, to allow troops to practice the difficult skills required during combat. Modern hang gliding is popular with all types of pilots, even hobbyists.
Although the earliest forms of hang gliding only involved using a hand held glider, newer designs have developed to include an internal combustion engine. Modern versions can also be flown by pilots using only their feet. Many advanced models can even be flown by “autopilot” systems. In the simplest forms, the pilot is still in charge of maintaining the plane’s course and speed, although this is usually done through a computer interface. In more complex configurations, the pilot uses control buttons, sticks, and other mechanisms to manipulate the various flight aspects of the aircraft.
The primary distinction between traditional hang gliding and modern day gliding lies in the type of aircraft used.
Traditional pilots prefer a single seat aircraft that is relatively light weight so they can glide easily and/or move fairly quickly. Modern pilots, however, prefer larger, heavier hang gliders that are equipped with engines. Engines create lift, allowing the pilots to move the glider along at faster speeds. It is possible to control the direction of the wing with the use of the engine, and this allows the pilot to steer his or her course in almost any direction.
There are some differences between traditional hang gliding and modern paragliding. One of the primary differences is the method of delivery of power to the glider, which often results in slower speeds. Since the engines of traditional pilots are located under the wing, the actual delivery of energy can be much quicker than with modern hang gliding planes. This means more energy is available to the pilot, making it easier for them to move their aircraft through the air. In addition, the engines are often more powerful than those used in airplanes.
Another major difference between hang gliding and traditional flight is the amount of aerodynamic lift the glider produces. Although the overall size of a plane is increased through the use of bigger engines, there is no extra lift on board. This means that while the overall size of the aircraft is increased, so is its weight, yet airspeed remains the same. As such, it is impossible to gain altitude with a hang gliding plane as opposed to a powered paraglider.
Additionally, hang gliding does not incorporate the use of winglets, which allow the aircraft to gain lift by channeling airflow around the wings. Unlike a powered paraglider, where singles slow the flow of air to the tip of the wing, the lack of winglets makes a plane heavier and more awkward to fly. The extra drag is transferred to the pilot who must maneuver the aircraft to stay ahead of the curve in high winds. For many aspiring pilots, this is not a problem; however, for those who have done hang gliding before and are used to powered paragliders, they often find the lack of winglets cumbersome and difficult to control.
A popular variation on the hang gliding wing design is the rogallo design. Often called “rod wing” designs, these resemble large sticks attached to the wing, allowing it to be stored like a paraglider when not in use. When needed, the pilot will simply remove the wing and push a lever down into the “rod” section of the wing. This releases the wing and allows the engine to be ignited. Because there is no need for a tail, this is a favorite for hang gliding as well as powered paragliding.
Many modern hang gliding pilots insist that the most important factor in achieving optimum flight is agility. The sport requires the pilot to quickly respond to changing circumstances and to maneuver the aircraft with extreme precision. The development of highly sophisticated aerodynamic wings as well as lighter, more flexible materials has helped to improve the overall agility of modern hang gliders. With all the talk of ultra-light materials, one wonders if it is not easier to build a highly lightweight paraglider than it is to construct and fly a bulky fixed wing plane. says Klein.
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