As most of you know, hang gliding is a recreational sport where the pilot flies a, non-motorized flipper/foot-launched, light-but-heavier-than-air aircraft called a hang glider. Typically, the pilot is suspended from the "aircraft", by a harness. The pilot controls the aircraft by shifting his weight in opposition to a control frame.
In the early days of hang gliding, there was a low lift-to-drag ration and pilots were restricted to gliding down small hills. By the 1980's, however, the lift-to-drag ration had been signicantly improved and and, now, pilots can soar for hours, gain thousands of feet in altitude (lucky me...), perform aerobatics (I can promise you won't see me doing any) and glide across the countryside for hundred of miles.
The earliest forms of gliding can be traced back to China. By the end of the 6th century A.D. the Chinese had built large kites, with enough aerodynamics, to lift the weight of a then-averaged size human. These early gliders weren't particularly safe; the builders of them didn't have a clear understanding of the underlying priciples that make a bird's wings work. Fast forward to the 1880's and enough technical and scientific advancements were made that led to the first really practical hang glider. Otto Lilienthal built the first controlable glider in 1890's. Lilienthal is considered to be one of the most influential early aviation pioneers. His aircraft was controlled by weight shift and is very similar to modern day ones. From the 1900's on, there have been many major developments in the construction and design of hang gliders; stiffened flexible wing, a triangular control frame, and the bi-plane glider...to name just a few.
By 1948, Francis and Getrude Rogallo had applied for a kite patent for a fully-flexible kited wing with approved claims of it's stiffening and gliding uses. The flexible, or Rogallo Wing, was tested by NASA in 1957 as a possible recovery system for the Gemini space capsules. In 1960-1962, Barry Hill Palmer adapted the fleible wing concept and made it into the foot-launched hang glider. The Rogallo Wing has been the most used airfoil of hang gliders.
As for safety, pilots carry a parachute contained in their body harness in case of any serious problems. Pilors wear helmets and carry other safety devices such as knives, light ropes, first aid supplies, and radios for communication. Anyone wanting to try hang glinding should always take lessons and rent equipment from a reputable dealer who checks it often for damage and general wear-and-tear.
Knowing I'll have lessons first, and will have safety equipment "on board" with me, makes me feel a little safer. I think I might actually be getting excited by the idea of soaring free like a bird!
Whatever your weekend plans include, please stay safe. And I hope you'll join me back here on Monday.
Look, I'm flying!