The Wallaby Ranch

Learn to fly hang gliders

at the Wallaby Ranch


Basic information to help prepare you for your first flights.

I. Introduction

On behalf of the entire staff, welcome to the Ranch. As you already know (or strongly suspect), hang gliding is FUN! (That's why we're here.) Unlike traditional methods of instruction, in which students ran down hills over and over (and over and over and over), tandem aerotow training enables you to experience the thrill of high altitude free flight right at the beginning of your hang gliding career. That means more airtime with less hassle, less stress, and no sore or pulled muscles the next day.
The tandem glider will be your "classroom in the sky;" it is a concentrated learning environment where you will be exposed to plenty of new and exciting sensations in a short space of time. To get the most out of each tandem flight, you should take a few minutes to carefully study the following material. It has been prepared by our instructors, who have taught hundreds of people how to fly, and who know what information a person needs in order to optimize his or her rate of progress.

Learning to fly takes practice. Once you understand what the glider is doing, why it's doing it, and how to make it do what you want it to do, you will find that your practice becomes much more productive. In short, the more you know, the faster you will acquire the skills needed to solo. So before, after, and between flights, think about flying. Recall what you did wrong, and imagine yourself doing it right. This helps! Psychologists have proven that creative visualization accelerates the learning process. And remember these three things:
1. Relax! This is all about having fun. (You will learn faster if you are not tense.)
2. Everybody learns at a different pace. Ups and downs are normal. (If youíll excuse the expression.)
3. Any flight in which you enjoy yourself, learn something, and land safely is a success, and you should feel good about it. Be positive!
The number of tandem flights it will take before you are ready to fly solo depends on several variables. Few people get there in less than ten; most people do not need much more than twenty. You will know when you are ready. When you can consistently launch, tow, fly, and land with no help from your instructor, then itís time to go by yourself. Weíll start you out with a beginner glider, which is even easier to fly than the tandem trainer. But first things first.

II. Tandem Aerotowing
As a student, at first you will fly in a hang glider built for two--a tandem glider. Your instructor will be right next to you the whole time. He will demonstrate maneuvers while you watch and follow him on the control bar, and then he will allow you to try them yourself under his supervision. You will be in a harness that looks like a sleeping bag, securely supported in a prone position. To get up into the air, you will be towed behind an airplane called an aerotug, or just a "tug." The tug will pull you up to 2,000 feet, and then you will release. You will then have some time during which to fly around, enjoy the scenery, and practice your maneuvers. You have five things to learn: how to launch,how to aerotow, how to free fly, how to set up your approach, and how to land. Once you have mastered each of these skills, you can begin to learn to soar, which means to seek out lift (rising air) and ride it up for extended periods--this is the joy of pure flight, like in your dreams. And itís only a few lessons away.

III. Flying a Hang Glider
By pushing or pulling on the control bar, you will be able to shift your weight in all directions. This is how a hang glider is flown. By pulling your weight forward, for example, (pulling the bar in is really pulling yourself over the bar), you cause the nose of the glider to go down, which in turn causes the glider to fly (and descend) faster. Moving your weight to the rear (by pushing out on the bar) slows you down. If you push out too much, and the nose gets too high, you will enter a condition called a stall, in which the glider is no longer able to support itself in the air. It will feel "mushy" and start to sink. A mild stall is no big deal; it is barely noticeable. A drastic stall, on the other hand, can be more serious and lead to a large loss of altitude. To recover from a stall, simply pull in to lower the nose, and the glider will immediately start flying normally again.
If you move your weight to the right, the glider will go to the right. Think about how that works. Go ahead and pretend you are flying. Suppose you are flying straight and level and you want to turn left. Both hands are on the control bar. Pull your right hand towards your hip; this results in an apparent sideward motion of the bar to the left, but what is really happening is that your weight is shifting to the right. The glider will tend to bank to the right. If that sounds confusing, don't worry; it will begin to make sense after you've tried it a few times.

IV. Launching
The tandem glider has wheels, two big castoring wheels on the control bar, and one smaller pair of fixed wheels in the back. After the ground crew hooks up the tow line and takes out the slack, you will find yourself looking down the runway at the tug ahead of you. At a signal from the tandem pilot, the tug begins to roll and so will you. You will lift off before the tug does, because hang gliders can fly very slowly. You want to climb to a height of about ten feet above the grass and then stay there until the tug gets into the air. At that point, you will need to match the tug's climb rate by pushing out or pulling in as necessary on the control bar.
LAUNCH:
1. Roll along the ground until you have flying speed (a few seconds).
2. Rise about 10 feet and remain there until the tug lifts off.
3. Match the tug's climb rate.

V. Towing
The key to a good tow is to keep the wheels of the tug on the horizon. Push out or pull in as much as you have to in order to stay in such a position that the tug's tires appear to be right on the line where the earth meets the sky. That is the perfect tow position. If you find yourself drifting to the left or the right, slide the control bar in the opposite direction with a smooth, brief "bump," then return to the neutral center position. There is a control delay: be careful not to overcontrol and then overcompensate!
For example, if you see that you are drifting to the right behind the tug, bump the bar briefly (and gently!) to the right with a sliding motion. Then relax and wait. The glider will begin to drift back to the left. If your control input is already over by the time the glider is centered behind the tug, it should tend to stay there. If you are still making the correction, however, you will blow right past the ideal position and then have to make the reverse correction! Visualize doing this until it begins to seem natural.
Most students seem to want to undercontrol in pitch (in/out, down/up) and overcontrol laterally (left/right). Remember that if you keep the wheels of the tug on the horizon, everything else will be much, much easier. Your instructor, of course, will be assisting you as you learn how to aerotow. At first he will help you physically. Later, he will only offer suggestions and advice. Eventually he will do nothing, and then you will be ready to solo.
TOWING:
1. Keep the wheels of the tug on the horizon at all times.
2. If you start to get low, push out and climb.
3. If you start to get high, pull in and descend.
4. Correct left and right drift with smooth sliding "bumps" of the bar.
When the tug begins a turn, relax and wait for the turn to begin. DO NOT begin to turn as soon as the tug does, or you will wind up inside the turn. Just like a water skier who gets inside the boat's turn, you will slow down and sink. Instead, let the tug pull you around. Once you feel the tug pulling you into the turn, make a short sliding bump to establish your own turn, roughly matching the tug's bank angle (amount of "tilt.") Don't be anxious or impatient on tow; this makes it seem much more difficult that it really is. Let the tug and glider do the work. The fewer and smaller your movements, the easier it will be to follow the tug. Early recognition and compensation are the keys here. By anticipating and correcting early, you avoid the need for large control inputs. HINT: You will find that good towing technique is often more about not doingthings than doing things; a hang glider pilot with a lot of aerotow experience moves the control bar less on tow than an inexperienced one. Correct EARLY, correct LESS.
TURNING ON TOW:
1. Wait for the tug to pull you into the turn, then follow.
2. Match the tug's rate of turn with smooth sliding "bumps" on the bar to the left and right.
When you reach 2,000 feet, you will release by pressing firmly on the release handle. Now you are in free flight. Relax your grip on the control bar. Watch the tug; it will head directly back towards the Ranch. (You might have lost sight of the field during the tow.)

VI. Free Flight
Be careful to stay upwind of the field at all times. Notice your drift over the ground right away; hang gliders are very wind-sensitive and you can find yourself out of gliding range very quickly if you allow yourself to float downwind. Stay near the perimeter of the field.
This is a hang glider's speed range:
<< Slower (bar pushed out) Faster (bar pulled in) >>>
*Stall* *Minimum sink* *Trim* *Best Glide* *Dive*
For most hang gliders, especially beginner gliders, this entire speed range may encompass just twenty miles per hour. The difference in performance, however, is significant. You will learn to control your airspeed with precision, and fly as efficiently as possible.
Trim is the speed the glider flies when you leave it alone. The glider is easiest to control at this speed. (In fact, the glider will continue to fly along just fine even if you take your hands off the control bar.) Minimum sink speed gives you the most airtime. Best glide speed enables you to cover the greatest possible distance. A speed in between best glide speed and dive speed (maximum speed) is good for flying your final approach.
Pull yourself in and out of turns. Take a moment and visualize straight and level flight. Both hands are on the control bar. Pull your left hand towards your hip. Next, relax and let the bar "float out." The hang glider will begin to turn left by itself, and will tend to stay in the turn. Remember that there is a control delay. To stop the turn, simply reverse this procedure. Hang gliders are very easy to fly, and soon steering one will be second nature to you, like walking. Small, smooth movements produce the best results.

VII. Approach & Landing
Be patient when flying your approach. Use speed and direction to get where you want to be, but do not hurry. Rushing to land leads to sloppy approaches. First, pull in for some extra speed. This gives you more control and also provides a buffer against a stall. Fly to the downwind edge of your landing zone (but not too far downwind--just to the edge). The best approach pattern for beginners is called the figure eight. To fly a figure eight, go back and forth perpendicular to the wind line, descending at a steady rate (do not dive), making all turns into the wind, and towards the field. Do not allow yourself to drift too far downwind, and do not encroach over the landing zone, either. Stay over the downwind edge. When you are low enough to turn onto final approach, make a smooth turn into the wind. Pull on a little extra speed to increase maneuverability.
APPROACH:
1. Learn to estimate your altitude, sink rate, and glide angle.
2. Make all turns into the wind.
3. Keep your speed up.
4. Do not let yourself drift too far downwind, or encroach over the field.
When you are just a few feet above the ground, begin to smoothly push out on the control bar. Try to stay just six inches above the grass for as long as you can, and you will have a soft and gentle touchdown. The wheels of the tandem glider will enable you to roll gradually to a stop.
LANDING:
1. Keep your speed until it is time to flare.
2. Flare smoothly by pushing out on the bar.
3. Try to stay six inches above the ground as long as you can.
That's it! Most students find that free flying is fairly easy, and they learn that part quickly. Towing is more difficult to master. And the thing that takes most students the longest to figure out is approaches and landings, because they require a lot of careful judgment and decision-making. Be assured, however, that in a very short time you will find it hard to imagine that any aspect of smooth-air hang gliding ever seemed difficult at all! Then you will be ready to begin your graduation to soaring, and that's where the real excitement begins.

VIII. Training Policy
At the Wallaby Ranch, we are very conservative with regard to safety, and would rather do it right than cut corners, even if cutting corners meant making more money or saving ourselves some extra effort. We pride ourselves on producing the best-trained hang glider pilots in the world. Therefore, we maintain a few rules about how and when we conduct training operations.
We only do tandem training and first-time solo flights when the air is still and calm, which usually means early in the morning and later in the afternoon. Flying in rougher air is frustrating and counterproductive to a beginner. This is not as convenient as flying in the middle of the day, but it is more beneficial (and safer) for the students.
We recommend that our students transition slowly and cautiously from entry-level gliders to higher-perfomrance gliders, one step at a time, and furthermore we require that all transition flights be made in smooth air. We want to keep you safe and happy, so you will keep coming back year after year.

Welcome to hang gliding, and thanks for being a part of the Ranch.

Instructional material developed by Malcolm Jones and David Glover © 1995.
Edited and formatted by Austin Collins and David Glover.