How Hang Gliding Works

Extreme Sports Image Gallery Hang glider Ramy Yanetz over Rio de Janiero. See more pictures of extreme sports.
Photo courtesy Ramy Yanetz

Imagine soaring like a ha­wk thousands of feet above the ground. Although the air is somewhat chilly, the view is tremendous and the solitude is relaxing. You search for­ updrafts of air to keep you aloft so that you can enjoy this feeling for hours. This is the experience of hang gliding.

The hang glider's wing, called a delta wing or Rogallo wing, is an outgrowth of NASA engineer Francis Rogallo's research on kites and parachutes in the 1960s. Rogallo ­had proposed the wing as a method of returning spacecraft to Earth. The delta-wing parachute was lightweight, durable and highly maneuverable. Later, John Dickenson, Bill Moyes, Bill Bennett and Richard Miller developed the Rogallo wing into the modern hang glider and launched an immensely popular sport shared by millions of people worldwide.

The hang glider is actually a triangle-shaped airfoil, a modified parachute (known as a flexible wing) made of nylon or Dacron fabric. The triangular shape is maintained by rigid aluminum tubes and cables and is designed to allow air to flow over the surface to make the wing rise. Newer, high-performance hang-glider designs use a rigid wing with stiff aluminum struts inside the fabric to give it shape, eliminating the need for supporting cables.

Hang gliding is often confused with paragliding, though the two sports are quite different from one another. Check out the paragliding article, video and images at Discovery’s Fearless Planet to learn more.

In this article, we will examine the sport of hang gliding. We'll show you the details of the aircraft, the equipment involved, how to fly it and how to become a certified hang glider.