Hang-gliding and Paragliding
Since its inception in the 1970s, hang gliding in Northern Ireland has developed into a practical and relatively safe sport, using simple yet sophisticated machines built of aluminium, carbon-fibre and high-tech sail fabrics. Hang glider pilots, suspended from their gliders by a special harness, launch from hills facing into wind, from winches on flat ground or by being towed aloft from an airfield behind a microlight aircraft. The objective is always to stay airborne in lifting currents of air and - for many - to undertake long cross country flights. The Irish record for distance currently stands at over 140km.
Developed from parachuting canopies in the late 1980s, modern paragliders can be soared effortlessly on windward slopes and across country in good conditions. It is the same freedom that hang glider pilots have, but a paraglider is more portable and a little easier to learn to fly. They are more hampered by strong winds than hang gliders but are easier to land in small fields. Paragliding in Northern Ireland is a thriving sport with 60+ local pilots countrywide. The NI distance record for an unpowered paraglider flight is just over 100kms.
How to get started
The Ulster Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club (UHPC) is a member club of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA) which is the controlling body for the two sports within the United Kingdom. The BHPA has a network of regulated schools to ensure that those wishing to learn to fly can receive proper training in a structured programme to enable them to progress safely to a basic level of proficiency, and on to advanced and competition level if desired, through a graded system of pilot certification. BHPA pilot ratings are recognised world wide, and would usually be needed to prove ability before being allowed to fly sites in other countries, or on UK sites where you are not known to the local pilots. The BHPA also regulates airworthiness of gliders.
Is it easy?
The good news is that there are a number of paragliding schools operating in Northern Ireland teaching complete beginners to Club Pilot Novice level.
Is it expensive?
Gliders are not cheap, although they represent one of the least expensive ways to get into the air. A new paraglider suitable for a recently trained pilot will cost around £2,000 with a Hang Glider costing around £3,000. Apart from a glider you need a harness, helmet, flight suit and boots; later in your flying career you may choose to buy instruments and other useful accessories. Secondhand Gliders can be obtained for much less.
Training to the level at which you can fly your own glider in a club environment costs around £900; introductory courses cost around half that. A one-day ‘taster’, where offered, is usually a good way to try the sport.