All pilots are encouraged to review the following excellent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) manuals: the FAA Pilot's Handbook and the Powered Parachute Handbook. Although the content in these manuals is not specific to hang gliding or paragliding, the information is useful to hang glider and paraglider pilots.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains these instructional materials as free online resources to provide essential information for all pilots, and content from both manuals is integrated into USHPA’s pilot training program as applicable. Please see below for common topics in hang gliding and paragliding and the corresponding chapters in each handbook for further study. There is also an overview of FAR part 103, which governs hang gliding and paragliding activities in the United States.
FAA Manual Topics
Preflight and Other Flight Preparations
Chapter 5, Powered Parachute Handbook
Before you launch, it’s important to complete a preflight to ensure that everything is flight-ready. A key part of the preflight is confirming that everything is assembled correctly and is in good condition on your hang glider or paraglider. You should also make sure that you (and your instructor if you’re flying a tandem) are mentally and physically prepared for the flight, the weather conditions are appropriate, and no external pressures should disrupt the flight. Finally, before launching, you must ensure that you are securely attached to the glider.
Responsibilities for Tandem Students and Decision-Making in Flight
Chapter 2, Pilot’s Handbook
Chapter 1, Powered Parachute Handbook
During tandem flights, your tandem instructor will be the pilot in command. He or she may teach you the basics of controlling the glider, but you still have responsibilities even when you’re not actively flying the glider. Your instructor may ask you to assist with several tasks, including:
- Watching for other air traffic
- Looking for possible landing locations during an emergency
- Checking altitude and rate of climb/descent, if available
- Pulling the emergency parachute if the pilot is incapacitated
If you’re unsure of your ability to assist with any of the above responsibilities, or have any questions, your tandem instructor will be happy to help.
The Weather and How We Fly
Chapters 4 and 12, Pilot’s Handbook
Hang gliders and paragliders have no engines, yet can fly for hours and travel hundreds of miles. Pilots stay aloft by using warm, rising columns of air called thermals. When the sun heats the Earth’s surface, warm air rises because heat causes air molecules to spread apart, making the warm air lighter and less dense than the air around it. When you see birds circling and gaining altitude without flapping their wings, they’re riding these columns of warm air. Hang gliders and paragliders do the same thing, often with the birds!
As you fly, you may notice that your glider gets more lift over rocks, sand, and barren land, while it may sink more quickly over water, trees, and other areas of vegetation. This is because rocks and sand tend to absorb heat quickly, warming the air above them, while water and trees absorb and release heat much more slowly. This uneven heating results in thermals that help you fly longer, further, and higher. Finding thermals, and using them effectively, is a key part of being a hang glider or paraglider pilot.
Medical Conditions in Flight
Chapter 17, Pilot’s Handbook
Chapter 1, Powered Parachute Handbook
Medical factors may influence the safety and your enjoyment of the flight. These could include motion sickness, anxiety, dehydration, fatigue, hypoxia, hyperventilation, and stress, among others. The use of any alcohol or drugs is prohibited before flying a hang glider or paraglider.
Motion sickness is probably the most common complaint among hang gliding and paragliding students. Symptoms include discomfort, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. If you’re prone to motion sickness, let your instructor know. Avoiding turbulent conditions, making wider or fewer turns, and using other techniques may help decrease any symptoms. Once you take several flights and become a solo pilot, motion sickness also tends to decrease.
Where We Fly: Types of Airspace
Chapter 8, Powered Parachute Handbook
Chapter 15, Pilot’s Handbook
Hang gliders and paragliders can fly in the mountains, in the flatlands (via truck, ultralight, or other forms of towing), or over the water via boat towing. But where we fly also depends on airspace, an FAA designation that helps control air traffic over defined areas.
There are 6 classes of airspace—Class A, B, C, D, E, and G—largely defined by altitude and/or proximity to an airport. Hang gliders and paragliders are generally not allowed into Class A, B, C, or D airspace, so typically fly in Class E (controlled airspace that is NOT Class A, B, C, or D) or Class G (uncontrolled airspace).
Your instructor will be familiar with the airspace and any restrictions related to your first flights. As you progress in your training, you will learn to read a sectional chart, which is a map showing airspace boundaries and other areas that may be restricted, used by the military, or have other special uses.
Chapter 2, Pilot’s Handbook
There is an element of risk in every flight. That’s why it’s called risk management, not risk elimination. Talk to your instructor about each flight plan, your tendency to experience motion sickness or other medical conditions, and your comfort level, and don’t be afraid to ask any questions you have.
FAA Part 103 Overview
In the United States, hang glider and paraglider flights are governed by Federal Aviation Regulation Part 103 for ultralight vehicles. All pilots must be familiar with and abide by this text.
According to part 103, ultralight vehicles (which include hang gliders and paragliders) must be used only for recreation or sport. They may only be flown during the day, must yield right-of-way to all aircraft, and have to stay at least 500 feet or further from clouds. They are also not required to meet FAA airworthiness certification standards, although manufacturers adhere to their own stringent standards. Please click here for the full list of FAA restrictions and requirements.
Another main restriction of part 103 is that ultralights can only be flown with a single occupant. To allow student pilots to take tandem flights, the USHPA has obtained Exemption 4721 from the FAA for tandem operations.
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