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Updated on: 04/10/2021

Choose paragliding or hang-gliding?

They are both similar and different.
Paragliding and hang-gliding are two “PUL” (ultra light gliders). That is to say that they can be taken off on foot, by the muscular force of the pilot alone. Here we discuss their similarities and differences, via a comparison. Like rugby and football, hang-gliding and paragliding each have their aficionados, and their detractors. Opinions are divergent depending on whether one addresses one or the other. I practice both, so maybe I'll be more objective and nuanced.

Delta and paragliding learning

A sign that does not deceive: during the training in hang-gliding or paragliding, your instructor will give you a free flight passport which will accompany you during your teaching.
This booklet is to make sure that you have seen the different points of the training.
90% of these points are similar. Special features, when applicable, are simply identified by a corresponding icon as shown below:
ffvl free flight passport

In my opinion, the delta requires a little longer learning on a school slope to get to the first flight (when you start from zero), but then you get to thermal flight more quickly, because the wing is easier to master. The delta approach needs to be built, in paragliding you can “improvise” a little more. On takeoff, there is less room for error (difficult to stop when you are launched), but the profile is already in shape, since the wing has been mounted. No problem with keys, ties, turning the harness ...

Delta and paraglider position

Have you ever seen a bird fly showing you its ass?

Almost 20 years ago, I remember this interesting remark from a German hang glider, I met in Italy: A point for him.

In hang-gliding we are lying down with our heads forward. For that alone we are closer to the flight of the bird. But in the long run this position can be less comfortable than the sitting position of the paraglider, especially for the neck. We can retort that we get used to this position ... question of training! In paragliding, you are comfortably seated and you mainly steer with your hands, which operate flaps on the trailing edge.

History of the hang glider and paragliding

Historically the delta was born first. Francis Rogallo gave his name to the first wing which resembled a delta. An engineer at NASA, he was working on a way to bring down the “boosters” of American rockets. Compared to a hemispherical parachute, its system made it possible to glide and be airship. But NASA did not follow through. Rogallo offers his patent to the community, and goes down in history.
In November 1961, “Popular Mechanics” published an article on the “flex wing”. Shortly after, plans were sold by mail order, several thousand copies. The principle is generally the same, but the original structure is stiffened by a frame, which allows to take off with. From there handymen are busy in their garage. The tubes are first in bamboo, then in aluminum. Australians are also developing the concept on their side.

This very interesting documentary retraces the history of the delta:

We must have a lot of respect for the hang gliders who opened many sites from which the paragliders then took advantage. Likewise, it was during this pioneering era that free flight progressed through empiricism, and some left feathers there.

In paragliding, the story takes place in France, near Mieussy, in 1978. Three parachutists find the means to train for precision landing by launching from a steep slope. They survive: the Choucas club was born and emulated. Little by little, the wings became more specialized, so much so that today the parachute is no more than the distant ancestor of the paraglider (which etymologically means slope parachute).

Delta vs paragliding: practice sites

Hang-gliding and paragliding share the same playground: the air.
We can say that they coexist, insofar as they do not have the same trajectory or the same speeds of evolution. A hang glider has difficulty seeing above him, because of his lying position, and the proximity of the sail which acts as a shield. Paragliders are not always aware of this.

Lift-off

A hang glider must be more selective in the choice of his take-off sites: Due to the size and weight of the aircraft, it is imperative that the take-off site be easily accessible by car, and that there is a dedicated preparation area for the assembly of the wing.

Landing

Interesting remark from an American hang glider (also airplane pilot, and helicopter pilot in the army), met in Valle de Bravo: A paraglider poses a bit like a helicopter: Due to its low penetration into the wind, it goes down almost on the spot in the final. In hang gliders, you have to apply your approach, which is closer to that of a plane, or a glider

In addition, when it reaches the final, a delta experiences theground effect : Due to the proximity of the sail to the ground, an air cushion is created, thus extending the final. However, it is enough to pull more or less on the control bar to incline its descent plane (which is not really possible in paragliding), and with a single surface wing, this ground effect is very limited.

In summary, a hang glider will generally require a larger landing field than a paraglider. A paraglider should remember to quickly get out of the landing field, reach the dedicated folding zone, and not inflate so as not to interfere with an approaching hang glider. This is the case at Peñon, so think about it, if you already fly a paraglider and plan to travel this winter.

A hang-glider can be towed, like a glider, while this remains impossible in paragliding (speed too low). We can therefore practice in the plains, from a glider base.

Piloting

In addition to the lying position, mentioned above, the piloting of the delta is done only with the transfer of weight of the pilot. By pulling or pushing on the bar in pitch and roll, it will speed up, slow down or tack its kite.

The delta is piloted with your fingertips (in calm conditions). Its handling is however a little more physical, because it requires permanent adjustments. It awakens unsuspected muscles in the upper back, and develops the shoulders. During my first thermal flights I was posing voluntarily after 20 minutes completely rinsed. But I was probably a little tense, and I was doing it wrong. The delta was a bit big for me: I was at the bottom of the PTV. It was a deliberate choice of the instructor at the start (less landing speed, but more difficult to master in thermal conditions).

Comparative performance for hang glider and paraglider

Even if the performance of the first paragliders was poor compared to that of the deltas, they tend to come closer. This gently laughs the hang gliders who call paragliders “jellyfish”. In Mexico, we talk about boyas (buoys). All is said.

A hang glider has overall better finesse (around 16 for a hang glider against 10 for a paraglider), and a higher speed reserve. Competition paragliders reach 70 km / h, the best hang gliders reach 150 km / h. If you have the opportunity to see the finish of a competition round, you will understand that we are clearly in another world.

Assembly, weight, size: hang-glider or paraglider?

In 1962, Science et Vie published an article on the Rogallo wing with a now comical passage: “It is foldable which reduces the eternal problem of congestion”.

On this point, it is clear that the paraglider wins hands down. It is not very complicated, nor very long to climb a delta, but when you compare to a paraglider, for which you just have to unpack your equipment, there is no picture! Especially since it will be necessary to repeat the reverse operation during landing (dismantling). Fortunately in Valle de Bravo, for a few pesos, a kid will offer you his services, not to say his expertise.
There are delta models whose tubes are in several parts, it saves space, but this is felt on the assembly time, as well as on the weight of the whole.

A parallel can be drawn with windsurfing, in decline, since the advent of kitesurfing (more compact, which fits in the trunk of a car).

Trip

Without being difficult, the hang-glider will have to be more selective on the free flight sites. The choice of take-offs and landings is smaller. On the other hand, deltas hold up well in areas where the wind is strong (such as Quixada, Brazil), because above 30 km / h, a paraglider begins to reverse. In the Canaries, paragliders are found in Tenerife, but Lanzarote, more windy, remains rather the domain of deltas.

A trip in a delta cannot be improvised, especially if you want to leave with your equipment. These are long hours in the car, because by plane, the additional cost quickly becomes a brake on travel. In Valle de Bravo, it is possible to rent your equipment on site (remember to take your harness anyway). This is still the best solution. Especially since this year (2021), the Wills Wing manufacturing center has moved from California to Valle de Bravo.

In paragliding, on the contrary, traveling by plane does not pose a problem, at most your paraglider will have to be registered in "oversize luggage".

Turbulence resistance

Due to its flexible profile, its longer line cone (the wing is eight meters above the pilot), the paraglider is more sensitive to turbulence. Some say that the hang gliding wing does not close, and that they will never go paragliding for this reason. The paraglider will retort that the fact that the wing closes acts as a kind of fuse.
While a delta wing does not close, on the other hand, like the fable of the oak and the reed, there comes a time when the wing passes over the roof (tumbling). The debate remains open ...
When the conditions get too strong (wind and thermal), at the end of February-beginning of March, I prefer to fly in a delta than in a paraglider, although I have so far had less than 30 flights. A tour of the jar enlarged in delta, what do you think?

Distance flights

As the hang glider has less choice of emergency landing fields, he has to be more reasonable and this reduces his exploration possibilities.
A paraglider, even if he goes slower, is more autonomous. He can land in more confined fields, fold his paraglider, approach a road on foot, and hitchhike back by train… It is obviously more complicated in hang-gliding. This requires real logistics, or lower ambitions. The fable that would apply here would be that of the hare and the tortoise….
Yet the distance record is held by a delta and exceeds 700 kilometers!

Safety and Accidentology in paragliding and hang-gliding

A good landing: you walk away from it,
A great landing: you can reuse your aircraft

-Jeff Hunt (flymexico.com)

Here again, opinions differ according to the chapels. Hang gliders consider paragliding to be more dangerous. And vice versa. What is certain is that due to its democratization, paragliding becomes accessible to as many people as possible, for better or for worse.

The paraglider is more forgiving, we arrive less quickly, and we are more mobile, lighter, without a rigid structure. A hang-gliding landing continues to fascinate me, 20 years after I started paragliding. And I'm not the only one. Overall, the trauma concerns the upper limbs and upper body in hang gliding, the back and lower limbs in paragliding.

The following study attempts to provide an initial answer:
https://outdoorasaurus.com/paragliding/which-is-safer-hang-gliding-paragliding/

Community

When you start paragliding, you become part of a big family. With its codes, its language and its values, even if it tends to get lost a bit. As hang gliding is now on the decline, this is even truer. Hang gliding pilots are forced to collaborate on logistics, and instructors help each other, rather than compete, to keep the activity going.

Equipment

Here too, the debate is open. A hang glider costs a little more to buy, but the inflation of paraglider prices in recent years is sobering. It is possible to equip yourself at a lower cost by buying second-hand in both cases, however a hang-glider generally lasts much longer (around 10 years, compared to 2 or 3 for a paraglider). Even if the delta continues to evolve, it is less subject to the planned obsolescence that we find in paragliding, especially in “light”. The marketing is less aggressive in hang gliding, and the lifecycles are longer. However, a failed delta landing sometimes results in a control bar or twisted side uprights that must be straightened out or changed. When you go under profiled or carbon uprights, prices soar.

Go from hang gliding to paragliding, or the other way around!

Many hang-gliders take up paragliding for its ease, but regret the glide and adrenaline provided by the delta. It is the choice of reason, more than of the heart: as they get older, these pioneers no longer run as well as before, especially with 30 kilos on their backs!
Some, more rare, do the opposite: After discovering paragliding, they want to get into the most successful form of free flight. I am one of them.

My friend Potro (Cf Illustrative image of this article / skyrides.mx) introduced me to hang-gliding during my first stay in Mexico. It was he who suggested it to me, I would never have taken the step. Yet it was an old dream.

The following year I went back there to learn: The position, the speed, the ability to dive and spin like a bird had remained engraved in my memory. Before returning to Mexico, I did a three-day internship with the Delta Club Annecy, and Sylvain Quievreux. I did only one flight, before returning to Mexico. The previous week, I told my students in paragliding initiation that I was jealous because they were about to make their first flight, and that it only happened once in a lifetime. Well, for my first delta takeoff, I was just as feverish as during my first paragliding flight (2001)!

Conclusion

If you practice one of the disciplines, it is relatively easy to switch from one to the other. However, each activity has its peculiarities, and it is wise to be accompanied so as not to remain stuck in your habits.

If you've never flown before, in order to get a better idea, your best bet is to try both. Whether in France or Mexico, it is possible to take a two-seater to discover the activity in safety.

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