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>Hang Gliding - an introduction to the sport by Mark Warrender

It's a bird! No it's a plane! No its Mark Warrender with that flippen hang glider again! Take cover every one!

When Mark Warrender (a.k.a. Mr. Cool) is not racing his streetluge, or fiddling with his motorcycle you'll probably find him either at work, or cruising around on his hang glider.

Since Mark is a very skilled 'hang glider-er' and has been actively involved in the sport for years, we asked him to prepare a brief report on what the sport is really like and whether or not it's as dangerous as most people consider it to be.

Here's Mark's report...


Equipment list & cost
Glider used £1,000 new £3,000
Harness £200
Helmet £50 to £200
Training approx. £600
Gloves £30
Altimeter £200
Vario £200
GPS £200
Roof rack/ladder £50
Initial interest: It's something I've always wanted to do 'when I was older' since the age of 7, when I first saw it being done on a TV documentary. This guy took off from a steep slope and a buzzard took off after him, and landed on the king post of his glider. All this in dazzling sunshine across the Andes mountain range.
First course: Fast-forward 13 years to the Peak District (UK), the start of making the dream come true. I was enrolled on an EPC (hill) course with a few heads from work and Jenny. This is like part one of the bike test, where you learn to take off, land and fly in a straight line. Starting with ropes tied to the glider on the gentlest of slopes, we all got airborne on the first day (albeit by about 3 feet). The rest of the week saw us to progress to flights of about 50 feet, passing the EPC. I've never been so knackered as during that week, running up and down hills 30 to 40 times a day!
The next stage was the CPC course, for which you need to buy your own glider. At the time I had no money and no car. I didn't want to swap my motorcycle to get a car and a glider, and Jenny wasn't too keen on doing any more so I left it at that.
Action: Fast-forward another 10 years. I longed for the feeling of being in the air, so back in the Peak District I enrolled on a CPC (hill) course. This is like part 2 of the bike test. There's an exam and lots of flying tasks to complete. Knackered again, I was soon thwarted by foot and mouth. The school I was under then closed down as the instructor hadn't done his paperwork. Bugger! Rather than give up, I enrolled with the Airways Park in Ashbourne - the single best thing I could have done to get flying.
Tow: Airways run a tow school, so I was starting more or less from scratch. In the next 4 weeks I was being towed up gradually higher each time to 20, 50, 120 and finally 500 feet. From this height you have to fly a circuit, you can't just fly straight ahead and land - you'd be in the next field! The 'high flight and circuit' is a tremendous milestone when learning the tow. At this point most people buy their first glider, but I'd bought mine the year before
Gliders: The training gliders handle sweetly and don't do anything unexpected, so are ideal for training. They don't perform well enough for serious flying, so most people buy an intermediate wing when they're ready. An intermediate should handle well and be forgiving, but have performance that allows hill soaring and thermalling. As a general rule, the higher the performance the higher the glide speed. Top class gliders will fly at 70mph and are very sensitive to your inputs, imagine trying to land one of those when you are just learning!
My glider is an Airwave Calypso, which is about 10 years old. It's been looked after and has very little airtime, it's not uncommon for new gliders to last more than 15 years if treated properly. Most of the guys who are new tend to go for an Avian Rio, a very nice looking bit of kit. Price wise, I paid a grand for mine (not bad for an aircraft!) and new wings tend to go for about 2,500 to 3,500. Higher performance machines are much cheaper second hand, like 300! When it's time to upgrade I can get a better performance wing, sell mine and have cash in hand.
Equipment: Other costs have been a harness at 220, I already had a helmet but these go for as little as 50. Later on I will get some instruments, like an Altimeter, Vario and GPS, which can be pricey (200 each) but useful.
Training: The training has cost about 600 all in. I guess it's similar in price to many things, but once you have the gear it's virtually FREE!
So what's its like? Absolutely brilliant! The combination of feelings as you go through a flight is so intense. NERVES before the flight, even though you've been properly trained and briefed. When the toe line is tight and you're about to call 'all out', balancing the wing in the breeze, your legs are like jelly. This is worse at the top of a big hill! COMMITMENT as you launch. There's absolutely no turning back (especially on a hill), run run run, faster, keep it level and listen to the wind. RELIEF as you take off. All your nerves disappear (for now) and you relax on the tow, or above the hill. Once at the top of the tow, or away from the hill you can get your legs up into your pod, admire the view and really RELAX.
In the upper air you are at one with your wing. Lean left and it banks and turns left. Lean right and she swings right. Pull on and the speed increases, fantastic. Admire the view, look down at the people (looking up at you!), but remember you've got to land soon. The approach (if done properly) will bring you round into wind about 50 feet above the ground, back from your landing spot. CONCENTRATION is at the max for this vital last part of your flight. Landing where you want is very tricky. Plenty of speed is required for the final glide, before leveling off just above the ground. Timing the flare right will make your day, wait for it, wait, then a hard push as you drop gently on your tiptoes - mostly!

Future: Although I've got my CP rating, I'm by no means finished. There's thermalling, soaring and cross-country to do still. Then there's league competitions, a duel license and powered harnesses after that. I can honestly say this is the hardest thing I've ever done, the most rewarding and the most fun. How can something be so good when I've done so little? If you are into thrilling and dangerous sports than this may just be the sport for you.


Mark Warrender

e-mail: m.warrender@btoo.com