After all the progress aviation has made in the last 100 years, all the frontiers it has opened, and all the abilities it has provided us, it is a sad commentary that modern aviation frequently gets summed up with the adage:
I quickly tired of boring holes in the sky with aluminum "spam cans." General aviation today is more about getting somewhere than actually enjoying the sensations of flight. An electronics junky might enjoy the time spent in a modern cockpit, but jeez... I can play with electronics at home. But the part about the hours of boredom, sadly, contains more than a grain of truth. For those who sometimes find cross-country automobile trips boring, Point A to Point B aviation will probably (eventually) impress you in the same manner.
Ultralights are better. If you just want to leisurely poke around in the sky and enjoy the sensations of flight, it's hard to beat the offerings of these low, slow and easy to fly machines. But after a few hundred hours in my ultralight, after overflying and ogling every patch of ground worth looking at in a 30 mile radius (several times), after the landings became no challenge whatsoever, even this extra-terrestrial activity became boring to me. I found myself struck with the desire to go flying at larger and larger intervals, instead of my original once or twice a week.
But hang gliding... that's a completely different animal! For it I would change the above adage to:
I almost used the word FUN instead of SPORT, but chose the word carefully because a sport, while generally pursued for fun and fulfillment, isn't always fun. Sports tend to be activities that are difficult to master, and this can make them incredibly challenging and frustrating at times. But this helps make the payoff -- the FUN -- incredibly rewarding. Such is the sport of hang gliding, and in particular hang gliding soaring.
Soaring, or flight sustained by rising air currents alone, is nothing new, and is certainly not a human invention. Birds have been showing us how to soar for many thousands of years. If you're unfamiliar with the methods of soaring, take a few minutes the next time you see a hawk or buzzard in the sky to watch the fascinating way they travel large distances. They'll climb to a low level by their own power, find a column of warmer, rising air (a thermal), circle in the rising air to a great height, and then use that altitude to glide to their next destination. These are exactly the methods employed by hang glider pilots (and sailplane pilots) to stay up, gain altitude and traverse long distances (although finding and staying in thermals is much easier if you're a bird!) . When you're turning in a good thermal, quickly winding your way up to the clouds, it is one of the most (fun, incredible, unbelievable, rewarding, unimaginable) things you'll ever do in your life.
I can't imagine getting bored in a hang glider, because there is seldom enough time for it. You're usually too busy trying to find or stay in lift to think about anything else. In really good conditions, such as when you have made it up to cloudbase, the lift is more plentiful and you can kick back a bit and just take in the incredible view from up there. Words cannot adequately describe the view and the feeling of floating a mile off the ground, amongst those glorious clouds, totally unencumbered by an enclosed fuselage, a noisy powerplant, or even a plausible explanation of how this simple contraption managed to get you up there with no engine!
I like hang gliding :)
I could go on an on about the sport, such as the different kinds of gliders, the different kinds of soaring, the different launch methods, etc. But for now the following link will have to suffice. Since we're located in the breadbasket, my friends and I are flatland flyers. That means that our launches involve a rope more often than a mountain. We've established a new hang gliding park in the Kansas City area to help beginners as well as experienced pilots get airborne*. If you follow this link you'll learn more about that and also find a photo gallery of our flatland hang glider activities.
(*web site still works, but airpark no longer in operation)