Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I think we should have a new membership category.

I was a student pilot when hang gliders first became popular. In those days, their safety record wasn't very good, and I was told by my instructor that I was smart to stay away from that thrill-seeking cult of daredevils.

I have to admit that it was easy to adopt the prejudice that those guys weren't real pilots, and that they were just an aerial version of a motorcycle gang. I had never met one, and they were easy to ignore.

I was already totally immersed in gliding when paragliders came around, so they were easy to ignore, too.

Over the years I have become vaguely aware of the advances made by hang glider pilots, both in the capabilities of their aircraft and in their attitude toward safety. The USHPA is a mainstream organization with over 10000 members - they can't all be outlaw bikers, right? Also, I began to meet sailplane pilots (Rick Roelke, Steve Arndt, Tim Donovan, Tim Chow) who had a background in foot-launching, and they didn't seem crazy at all.

At the beginning of this season I was comfortable in my belief that there are two different sports, and that I am interested in only one of them. That suddenly changed when I met Greg Hanlon, Dan MacMonagle, and Dennis Cavagnaro, cult members all, who joined our club all at once.

I have to say that these guys know a lot about micro-meteorology and its application to soaring. And they really know how to fly. Here's a picture of Greg outclimbing a sailplane (which one, anybody know?) at Newport, NH.

It has been a real eye-opener for me as the person tasked with introducing these guys to sailplanes. Learning, in this case, has definitely been a two-way street.

Here's what I have learned:

They are really good at thermaling and knowing when to stay and when to go. They are really bad at using the rudder properly. They are really good at looking where they're going. They are really bad at aerotow (at least at first). They are just mediocre at keeping the home field within range. They are really good at helping other people fly, fixing things that are broken, and partying after flying.

For their part, they have learned (I hope) not to dive or do S-turns on final, not to pay too much attention to 200-foot fields, and not to throw their bodies around the cockpit when we hit a bump.

These guys are in a class by themselves, and we need a new membership category for them. They aren't Students, Private Owners, or 304 pilots, and, so far, only one of them is a Weekday Slacker.

All we need is a name for their sub-group. ("Hell's Angels" is already taken). Hey, I know...



Anonymous said...

One of themlightweights went over 700 km in TX today.

Rick said...

Wow. Got a link?

Anonymous said...

I built one of them lightweights when I was in 8th grade and was starting to get the "hang" of gliding it down a hill when somebody with more cash than brains drove by, stopped and watched, then offered me way too much money for it. I'm still alive, I dunno about the guy with the light wallet and the long bundle strapped to the roof of his Ford stationwagon (remember the ones with the fake woodgrain on the sides?).

PMSC Member said...

From the HangGlide Yahoo news group at 0240 EDT today (via Dennis):

"It has been reported that Jonny Durand and Dustin Martin have both flown approximately 470 miles from Zapata, TX during the World Record Encampment to set a new Open Distance world record for hang gliding."

Truly amazing!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful picture. Who took it. It looks like 10,000 agl.

Rick said...

The first family car I remember was a '56 Ford station wagon with the fake woodgrain sides and no seatbelts.

Rick said...

Moshe found this link to the world record story:


They flew right over Uvalde and made it all the way to Lubbock. Pretty much the same route my pal Leo took in the Silent a few years back.

Anonymous said...


It was before I started HG, but some time in the 70s-80s that they lost the crazy surfer dude innocence and turned into real aviators. RR could probably give you a good time frame.

The HG pilots are transition pilots, like power pilots. But, they are transitioning from a very different place. They already understand soaring, but are calibrated for a different set of performance parameters. They (mostly) have no experience with stick and rudder, and have a very feel based, no instruments approach to flying. The aerotow issue is interesting, because most of these guys have aerotowed their HGs. Maybe it's the stick VS weight shift control re-training.

Also, they are extremely used to flying low and slow near mountains. But are very aware of the dangers of sink and turbulence. They might also not feel that a 300 foot pattern is low. Nor would a 300 foot save be considered that "low" in a HG.

Have fun.
Todd Smith