How do I learn to fly?

Working towards your first pilot rating will be an exciting and memorable part of your journey into free flight. Everything is new and even the smallest flights will be immense accomplishments. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably dreamed the dream and are ready to get started.

After choosing an instructor/school you would like to learn from, talk with your instructor to see when is the best time and day to begin your adventures into free-flight. The most important items you’ll need to bring are sturdy ankle supporting boots that you can also run in, and water. Whether you choose to fly a hang glider, a paraglider, or a speedwing you’ll begin with learning vocabulary important for the training and flying process. This new vocabulary will help you and your instructor over the coming weeks, months, and years. Your first days, depending on weather, are usually focused on ground handling the glider.

With a paraglider or speedwing, this means a lot of time spent learning how to kite the glider, or controlling it while you are hooked into the wing. Kiting is the most important building block for developing as a pilot and while initially a bit frustrating; it does click and becomes extremely fun and athletic. Everything that you do on the ground directly correlates to how the wing will react in the air. So, it is possible to have a very good understanding of wing dynamics before your feet ever leave the ground.

In a hang glider you will spend the first days learning how to set up the glider, and get comfortable carrying it and getting ready to run with it to simulate a launch. Once you get comfortable with it on your shoulders and feel good in the harness you’ll being running hooked into it down a gentle hill under direct instructor supervision. If you are learning at a school that uses aerotowing (towing a hang glider behind an ultra-light aircraft) as an instruction technique you will take tandem flights with your instructor. Foot-launch instruction also utilizes tandem flights for training purposes later in their curriculum. The small first flights that result from your early days at the training hill will be some of the most memorable of your career.

During the training period you will be under the radio guidance of professional USHPA instructors. As you proceed through the course you will hear less and less of them on the radio, until eventually the radio will be silent until after you land when you’ll hear heartfelt congratulations!

In your early days of flight you will attend ground school, theory classes, and be asked to perform various witnessed flying tasks. The tasks range from successful launches in a variety of wind conditions to consecutive spot landings within 100 feet of a defined target, to name a few. This training program, which has been implemented by USHPA for the last 25 years, is designed to give the student the tools to safely and confidently navigate the early stages of their flight career. A full list of what else is mandatory to achieve the various ratings is located here.

Regardless of what you chose to fly, flight training is exciting, physical, and challenging. Learning a new skill set, vocabulary, and muscle memory can be difficult—but the reward of flying is worth it! The most important aspect of beginning any learning endeavor is to enjoy the process.

1. Choose an instructor
2. Take lessons
3. Hang out with pilots
4. Buy your equipment
5. Learn about weather

To get started, first find a school or instructor in your area. You can also get connected to the national pilot community by joining a local chapter and by following USHPA on Facebook and Instagram.