Hang Gliding in New Hampshire
Want to be a bird? Try a little flying
Taking flight at Charlestown's Morningside
Photo courtesy of Morningside Flight Park
If you’ve ever wanted to try hang gliding, then it’s likely somewhere on your bucket list between hot air ballooning, skydiving and bungee jumping. Or maybe you’ve scratched a few of those others off but haven’t gotten to hang gliding just yet. Regardless, summer in New Hampshire is an ideal time and place for this sport that gets you as close to flying as a human can be.
The very earliest forms of hang gliding came from China, and, by the end of the sixth century AD, the Chinese had built kites large enough to carry the weight of an average man. Since then, the hang glider has evolved over time to better accommodate the user and better enhance the gliding experience. Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminum alloy or composite frame covered with a synthetic sailcloth to form a wing.
The pilot is suspended from the airframe by a harness and can control the glider by shifting his or her weight in a controlled manner. The design of early hang gliders restricted pilots to gliding down only fairly small hills, but, since the 1980s, advancements in gliders have allowed pilots to soar for hours.
I had a chance to catch up with Paul Mazzoni, marketing manager for Morningside Flight Park (an outfit based in Charlestown that happens to be the largest and oldest hang gliding school in the US), and he offered some advice for first-time hang gliders.
He acknowledged that, to the uninitiated, hang gliding seems like an “extreme sport for extreme people,” but explained that, in reality, hang gliders tend to be “more peaceful than anything.” While there is a bit of a learning curve in operating a glider, the overall experience, he says, is not one of a loss of control.
“Hang gliders and paragliders fly slowly and descend even more slowly. They’re also fairly easy to control once airborne, which makes flying them extraordinarily fun for the average person,” Mazzoni says. “Launching and landing them is an art form, however. New students will spend many lessons working their way up the training hill.”
He also added that weather conditions can dictate the amount of time spent training, so the overall process can take a good deal of time, with the average student needing about 24 hours of instruction to receive certification. But to experience the thrill of gliding without all the training time, tandem glides with an experienced instructor are only a phone call away.
The Thrill of Gliding
However you find yourself ready to take the leap, Mazzoni says that the reaction to someone’s first hang gliding experience is practically universal.
“A student’s first flight almost always becomes his most memorable ever,” he says. “There is absolutely nothing like becoming airborne with just a little bit of leg power. Every student who gets his or her feet off the ground for the first time has the same, awe-inspired reaction. The flying sensation is hardly human, so you can imagine that a human who flies for the first time experiences a feeling of total bliss.”
And because gliding is so practiced and controlled, the flier can completely enjoy the experience knowing that it is very safe.
Hang Gliding in New Hampshire is Pretty Awesome
According to Mazzoni, “Part of what makes the life of a hang gliding or paragliding pilot so special is that he or she gets to fly alongside birds and clouds. Unlike a powered airplane, hang gliders and paragliders fly silently. Instead of scaring birds away, they invite them. This is because hang glider and paraglider pilots rise in thermals, or upward-moving air, just like birds. When a bird sees a pilot rise, it will join him in the thermal, and vice versa. Hang gliding and paragliding are closer to bird-like flight than any other form of aviation.”
And then, of course, there is the scenery. Most of us who have spent any time in the mountains of New Hampshire can appreciate what the bird’s-eye view would be like. Mazzoni says New Hampshire is special because of the landscape and because it’s home to Morningside, one of the most respected training facilities in the country. Mount Washington is “one of the country’s most demanding flying sites,” Mazzoni says. “As a result, our state attracts pilots of all skill levels from all over the world.”
Mazzoni concludes that apart from the breathtaking scenery, hang gliders get to experience what is known as “the glory ring,” which happens when a pilot flies over a cloud: “The shadow of his or her wing is cast down on the cloud and encircled by vibrant rainbows caused by the reflecting sunlight.”