Imagine shooting off a ridge clinging
to a pair of rudimentary wings.
Scary, isn't it? You would be hoping
your machine doesn't give way
and praying that nature stays calm
till you land. The sport is called hang
gliding, and it's an embodiment of the
human desire to soar like an eagle. But
it is an airy proposition; one tiny mishap
and your trusted crony could go for a
toss, and you'd be spiralling downwards.
In countries that have gliding schools,
the activity is a full-fledged adventure
sport. But most Indians got initiated
into it in unconventional ways. Take
Samarth Sharma (31) for example. Now
a pilot based in Jodhpur, Sharma was
a child when he first saw someone hang
glide on television. After some research,
he learnt that the materials of a glider
weren't hard to procure and could be
easily assembled. So he got hold of some
Dacron cloth and aluminium rods to
design a scant chassis.
But members of a hang gliders' forum
online advised him against flying the
machine. That's when Sharma imported
a glider from the UK, and took lessons
on YouTube from a US
army officer. Now, after four years,
he's ready for his first cross-country
expedition in Rajasthan this June.
Flying time is usually from 7 am to
5 pm. An ideal day has cumulus clouds
hanging in the sky, and a gentle breeze
of 15-20 kph, that indicates warm air is
rising from the earth's surface. The glider
runs against the wind to launch, using
the warm updrafts to rise in flight --
during which he has to circle upwards
-- and yaws away once he has gained
altitude. For the craft to go straight, he
must maintain his centre of gravity.
Flights last for an hour or so depending
on wind direction. On cross-country
expeditions, a glider might fly 15-20
km straight. Even before taking off, he
has to plan where he's going to land.
And before touching base, he has to
estimate the glide ratio (for every one
foot decrease in altitude, the glider travels
10 feet ahead) and decide when he's
going to flare out. "If you enter a cloud,
tug at the yaw bar; the turbulence
sometimes is massive," says Sharma.
An ideal landing ground is the size
of a football field, and shouldn't be compromised
on. "I tried landing on a small
field once, and wound up in a patch of
thick bushes," Sharma adds.
Over the years, technology has made
the sport easier and safer. N Javad
Hassan, a Bangalore resident, who has
hang glided across the Nilgiris, is one
of those who welcomed this change.
The 42-year-old moved to powered
hang gliding and set up a company that
sells motored gliders. "The motor is to
help you take off without a ridge, and
keep you adrift in the absence of an
updraft," says Hassan.
Even if you're flying a manual glider
and the updrafts stop, you won't
plummet down. "You'll keep gliding in
the air unless there's a problem with
the structure of the glider, which you
can prevent with good quality equipment,"
says 27-year-old Rajeev Barve,
a Pune resident, who has glided in the
Western Ghats of Maharashtra.
Using a motor, however, means doing
away with the thrill of being completely
unassisted by any kind of device. "The
motor means you can take off from anywhere
and you aren't at the mercy
of the winds. It's incomparable to flying
a manual glider though," says Barve.
The dangers aren't too many if you
use safety gear like a helmet and reserve
parachute. "Most mishaps occur due
to carelessness or inexperience. The
worst that's happened to me is a twisted
ankle," he says.
Start out on an expedition only if
you're confident that you've received
good training and have quality gear. You
don't need to have very high fitness levels.
Gliders say that if you can climb up
to a ridge with the glider and run 15-20
feet to launch, you're ready. Says
Hassan, "I've had gliding students up
to 65 years of age. You only shouldn't
have heart disease or a fear of heights."
It's never advisable to fly solo as you
need a group to report any misadventure.
"Flying together is more fun too.
That's when you experience what we
call the Superman syndrome -- the feeling
of soaring in the skies just like
Superman," says Sharma.
Start hang gliding
For powered hang gliders, contact N
Javed Hassan of Albatross Flying
Systems at +91-9945651775 or log on
For manual hang gliding lessons,
contact Samarth Sharma on
Companies like RnR Adventures,
Pankaj Tyagi Importers, Willswing
Manufacturers, Moves, and Airborne
Australia can help import gliders.