So you want to be a hang glider pilot? First things first. You need to find a reputable school from which to take lessons. Sure there really is no law saying you need to take any lessons, but I would highly recommend doing so. Here in the northeast there are four schools to select from. They are TEK Flight in Winsted, CT, Morningside Flight Park in Claremont, NH, Ellenville Flight Park in Ellenville, NY, and Fly High in Pine Bush, NY. I personally recommend TEK Flight for expert, thorough instruction from the ground up, and beyond; however, the choice is entirely yours. What is important is that the school be accredited by the United States Hang Gliding Association (USHGA), which all of these are, it offers a program that will give you the results you alone desire, and it be close enough to where you reside so as not to make the frequent trips you will need to make to the school any longer than they have to be.
Aside from lessons, you need some equipment. All of the schools above offer the use of their own equipment for training, but you really should consider purchasing your own once you decide that flying a hang glider is for you. Gliders come in all shapes and sizes. The best one for you is one you can fly easily and most importantly have tons of fun using. Instructors are the best persons to speak to when making a selection, especially those instructors who have been involved with the sport of hang gliding since its inception. And now the most important consideration, cost. Well, at an approximate price tag of $4000.00 (yes that's 4 triple zero) you can buy everything you need including lessons, glider, harness, safety parachute, and helmet. Did you get scared about having to carry a parachute? No need to worry, you will never use it. I mean your skills and judgement will be at such a high level once done with proper lessons you will never put yourself, or glider, in any situation that would warrant its use. Oh, you got spooked by the price. Considering what you get for your bucks, it's a real bargain. You can always consider used equipment, but make certain it is fully checked out by a reputable instructor or manufacturer before buying.
OK, you have finished your training, you have a new glider and all the necessary gear. Now you are ready to venture out on your own. Well, let me say this, you are never really finished with your training. Each and every flight becomes a new learning experience. With each flight your comfort level should increase.
Unfortunately this is not true for some pilots. Today some have quit hang gliding altogether, or are at least thinking of doing so because of a lack of comfort. This could be for a number of reasons. Aside from any personal ones, those that are skill level and equipment related, are the easiest to overcome. Many pilots flying today actually trained themselves way back (only a short 20 years ago) when gliders where mere sheets of cloth attached to spindly looking frameworks. Today's gliders are real wings that are made to fly with very little input from the pilot. Back then no one really knew what they needed to fly safely, and still have fun. They learned by mistake and by watching others. Today we have the ability to learn from all the accumulated knowledge of the past, as well as, from very good, disciplined, certified USHGA instructors. Once you learn proper skills, and fly the glider that is right for you, comfort in the air should never be an issue. There should be no other reasons for leaving the sport except for personal ones.
My personal experience has been great. Sure I've had a few flights, so far, where I felt like I was in pretty heavy turbulence, but I handled it with no problem, knowing that neither my glider nor skills would fail me. This comfort did not happen overnight, and it is constantly evolving with each successive flight I take. Because I have the right glider for me, and received excellent instruction, I suspect I will be enjoying the freedom of flight that hang gliding offers for a very, very long time.
If you remember, earlier I told you that training to become a pilot takes place on a series of slopes from very shallow and short to steep and long. Above is an example of the hill you would typically start out on. At this site at TEK Flight, the glider is attached to a cable system above the glider. This does two things. It carries a little bit of the weight of the glider and it prevents the glider from veering off course. This aid helps the newcomer concentrate on developing the necessary skills to have a perfect launch every time. Here Mary shows you what a typical flight is like on this gentle but demanding slope.
Below is a picture of me flying from the next larger training hill. Notice I'm really in the air! This hill gives you your first real flight experience, even though actual airtime is only about 20 seconds or so. Here is where you continue to practice your launches, but more importantly, your handling of the glider and your landings. Even though all flights here are relatively short, you get a good feel for what Mother Nature can, and will, throw at you. Remember also how I said the training can be hard work at times? This hill is one of those times, in that you get to carry the glider up the hill for each flight. The reason for this is certainly not to make it more difficult on the student, but rather to teach the student proper ground handling of the glider. Just remember the result is worth every ounce of the effort.