Hang gliding preparation
To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail.
Note: The BHPA pilot handbook is essential reading on this subject, as it is on most aspects of hang gliding. See the BHPA web site (linked later on this page). The USHGA also provides pilot reference materials. See the USHPA web site (linked later on this page).
Things to do the day before you fly
The more things you can get ready the day before you set out, the more you will be able to concentrate on flying on the day.
For completeness, although this article is about what I do after I have decided to prepare to fly the next day, it is perhaps worth mentioning that weather forecasts (including watching the sky using the Mark-1 eyeball) trigger that decision. At the time of writing this, in Britain, XCWeather is the main forecast web site for wind speed and direction (and cloud cover, and so on) together with RASP, which predicts thermal activity. Your club web site should also provide links to other resources. For example, for coastal sites where I fly, some coastal webcams are invaluable for checking on fog and orographic cloud.
Reconfigure your vehicle, if necessary. I fold down the rear bench seat, put roof bars on, and attach a lightweight aluminium ladder to the roof bars to support the glider evenly. A double Gliderrider supports the front of the ladder. (You can obtain Gliderriders from Simon Murphy.)
Refill drinking water bottles. I take three military-style plastic water canteens that go in the back of the car and a water bottle that started life as an energy drink (you pull the top up a little way to drink from it without unscrewing the top) in a side pocket of my harness. (The latter is instead of a CamelBak, which is what to use if you are really serious and need to drink in flight.) I find that a drink of water just before take-off is sufficient, but I do not often fly for more than an hour.
Check for any airspace restrictions in your area. In the UK, that entails checking the notices to airmen (NOTAMs) which is most easily done via the NOTAM Info web site (notaminfo.com). The sites where I fly tend to be shut down for part of one day every year for military exercises and an air race. (One year the racers flew right through a handful of thermaling hang gliders.)
Also check for any site access notifications; the hang gliding club for the site is likely to have a web site with that info. Again, the BHPA magazine contains a list of club sites officers and their contact info. Some flying sites are closed periodically for grouse shooting or peasant-rearing.
If you use a rechargeable battery, such as that in a GoPro camera (which recharges via its USB port) recharge it the day before you fly. Check the state of any non-rechargeable battery you use.
Additional things to do the day before you fly on weekdays
We might be ‘free fliers’, but weekday flying in Britain involves extra admin. It helps reduce the likelihood of a disastrous collision between a military aircraft and a hang glider or paraglider.
Inform the air traffic authorities in your area of your flying plans. In Britain that entails contacting the RAF low flying booking cell (contact details are in the BHPA magazine) and providing input to their civil air notification procedure, ideally before the 20:00 NOTAM deadline. (Info received after that results in the distribution of a late warning rather than a NOTAM, apparently.)
Incidentally, Harriet was munching food to meet the minimum weight requirements for the Hawk’s ejector seat in her 2001 investigation of military low flying. Gary Wirdnam was still flying hang gliders in 2021.
Further, to find out what happens to the NOTAMs we raise, paragliding instructor Dean Crosby flew in the back seat of a Tornado attack aircraft. (See SkyWings, June 2007.) Fast jet pilots download the day’s NOTAMs to a memory stick and plug it into the aircraft’s navigation system, which displays the information at the appropriate juncture during the mission.
Our end of the process is documented on the BHPA web site:
It contains a link to a new (in 2020) online form, so you no longer need to send the RAF tactical booking cell an e-mail message. (I tested the form in March 2020 and it seems to work.)
On the day before, we are not always certain which site we will fly. Therefore, initiate the civil air notification procedure for each site you might fly, then cancel the redundant ones the next day.
Where I live, a Coastguard helicopter patrols the area. We are advised to phone them to inform them of our whereabouts if we are flying certain coastal sites.
Paraglider pilots who fly a particularly high-profile site also have to telephone a local government office before flying.
One last thing: Another phone number is provided in the BHPA magazine for checking for late airspace restrictions arising from unplanned manoeuvres by the RAF aerobatic display team, the Red Arrows, ‘royal flights’, and other ‘Temporary Restricted Airspace.’
If it is a weekday and you initiated the civil air notification procedure for more than one site (the previous day) contact the RAF low flying booking cell again to cancel the redundant notifications when you have decided where you are going.
Take with you the following in addition to your flying equipment:
- Fresh drinking water
- A bottle of drinking water in your harness that you can reach before you take off (rigging and maneuvering on the hill require a lot of effort) and after you land. Long distance cross-country pilots use a Camelback for drinking in-flight.
- Cerial bars
And in colder weather, add the following:
- A thermos flask of hot water
- Powdered tea (and sugar if required)
- Pot noodles
Time is short on flyable days, so you do not have time to make or buy sandwiches or do unnecessary things.
I have a brief hand-written rigging check list stuck to the keel tube of my glider with clear sticky-back plastic. It is easy to forget something like pulling the nose cone out from the leading edge pocket (if you store it there during transport) and it can be a struggle to get it out after the sail is tensioned.
Sewn to each man’s left gauntlet was an ordered checklist of EVA tasks. Even though Neil and Buzz, through repeated simulations, knew from memory the order of events, they still used the checklists consistently, as professional pilots did, no matter of well they knew the procedures.
— From First Man, the Life of Neil A. Armstrong, by James R. Hansen, 2005
See Check list in Hang gliding equipment.
In the photo I am pulling a chord (secured by a jamb cleat on the base tube) to tension the sail a bit more. It improves glide and sink rate, but at the cost of stiffer roll handling. The rigging check includes testing that it operates and that the backup restraint cable engages when you release the chord.
Incidentally, that is not a fancy fin with a wheel gizmo on the keel tube immediately behind the trailing edge root. It is a car in the middle distance; parked beside the fence.
Whether you use a written check list or not, many experienced pilots recommend that you touch every part that you examine in you pre-flight inspection. That helps overcome visual complacency where you see what you expect to see rather than what is actually there. That problem is not unique to hang gliding…
Now Jake checked the gear handle, armament switches, circuit breakers, and arranged the switches for engine start. He had done all these things so many times that he had to concentrate to make sure he was seeing what was there and not just what he expected to see.
— The Intruders by Stephen Coonts, 1995
A self hang check is a last resort because, as in all endeavours, a second opinion can only improve things. In hang gliding that second opinion can save your life.
Your view upwards when clipped in to a hang glider is restricted. The wire assist can point out the positions of other gliders and hazards.
You have to be in the right place at the right time — and ready to launch. The only sure way to do that is to rig early in the day and wait; possibly all day. Unfortunately, I find the local hang gliding sites — farmland with some trees and bushes — devoid of any interest. After I have gone for a walk, had lunch, and read a few chapters of a book, there is nothing else to occupy me, so I have no choice but to go home and possibly miss a good evening flight into the sunset.
Therefore, I have to choose between setting out early, by which I mean mid- to late morning, to fly during the afternoon, or set out later to fly during the evening. Each involves a roughly fifty percent chance of missing the best flying conditions.
And I must not forget to take a book to read!
The psychology of ‘hang waiting’ is hard to appreciate if you have not done it. The last word on this is from New Zealander John Veysey. Towards the end of a day in the mid-1970s of waiting out unflyable conditions, the weather changed for the better. The site ‘turned on’ and others turned up — at last — with their hang gliders:
All day long I had been watching dark grey clouds come charging in over the sea and pass overhead. Down on the dunes I had come to accept that there’d be no flying today. I was no longer keyed up. That frantic urge that had brought me here in the morning had slowly diminished and now I was thinking of a hot bath and book for the evening. It was already getting dark. Wasn’t it?
— John Veysey via e-mail on August 11th, 2020
“No Sweat” Flight Safety Training with the F-86D Sabre Jet instructional video in which an F-86D pilot fails to read the day’s NOTAMs… (YouTube)