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How Hang Gliding Works

Hang-gliding Equipment

Parts of a hang glider
Parts of a hang glider

The basic equipment for hang gliding consists of the glider itself, the harness and a helmet. In addition, some pilots have instruments and an emergency reserve parachute.

Hang Glider

The basic hang glider (flexible wing) consists of the following structures:


Aluminum tubes (aircraft grade) - make up the skeleton of the glider

  • Leading-edge tubes (2) - form the triangle shape
  • Keel - bisects the forward angle (nose) of the triangle
  • Crossbar - sits back from the nose and provides support by rigidly connecting the keel with the leading edges
  • Control bar - smaller triangle-shaped tube connected at a right angle beneath the keel and behind the crossbar, used by the pilot to maneuver the glider

Sail - the flying surface, usually made of nylon or Dacron

Kingpost - attached to the keel on the other side of the control bar, supporting the wires on the top of the glider

Steel wires (aircraft grade) - support the various weights and stresses on the glider

  • Nose wires (2) - connect the nose with the control bar
  • Rear wires (2) - connect the control bar to the back of the keel
  • Front wires (2) - connect the control bar with the junction of the leading-edge tubes and crossbar
  • Landing wires (4) - connect the kingpost with the nose, the back of the keel and each crossbar leading-edge junction
  • Plastic battens - insert into pockets in the sail to stiffen certain spots

Assembling a hang glider: control bar (left), connecting wires (right). Click on the pictures for a larger view.

The aluminum tubes are hinged so that the glider can be easily assembled and folded up for transport. Basically, the pilot unpacks the glider, assembles the control bar, unfolds the crossbar, stretches the sail out, rigs the various wires and inserts the battens.

Tandem hang gliding. The student (front) is wearing a strap harness, while the instructor (rear) is wearing a bag-style harness.
Tandem hang gliding. The student (front) is wearing a strap harness, while the instructor (rear) is wearing a bag-style harness.
Photo courtesy Footlaunched


The harness attaches to the center-of-mass of the glider, just behind the control bar. It suspends the pilot from the glider in such a way as to allow him or her to move freely. Harnesses come in many styles and hold the pilot in a prone position. Some are insulated especially for high-altitude flights.

Safety Equipment

The most basic piece of safety equipment is the helmet, which protect the pilot's head. Other safety equipment includes goggles for eye protection and glare reduction (similar to ski goggles) and a reserve parachute, usually for high-altitude flights (several-thousand feet up).


Some pilots carry instruments such as an altimeter, to keep track of the glider's altitude, and a variometer that keeps track of glider's climb or descent rate. In addition to visual displays, variometers have audio displays so the pilot doesn't have to look at the dial to know his climb or descent rate. Variometers and altimeters are especially important for high-altitude or long-distance (cross-country) flights.