Buying a used Hang Glider

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Hang gliding is great fun!

Buying a hang glider on ebay - can be easy as clicking on a button, but you need to make sure the aircraft you are buying is (1) suitable for your level of competence, such as a beginner (2)  is the correct size for your weight, and (3) is airworthy.  I'll address the issues in order..

(1) Suitable for a beginner - You cannot just buy a hang glider and go to a hill or cliff then go running along and expect to fly!  This approach will undoubtedly end in tears / broken bones / damaged hang glider / damaged pride and at worse a death or disability - Oh, by the way, all of those have happened to experienced hang glider pilots!

Hang gliders are available for different levels of experience from beginner to intermediate to advanced, and all have their own characteristics, from "forgiving" for intermediates to "twitchy" for advanced.  You need to make sure the glider you are buying is suitable for your level of experience.  

Learning through a hang gliding school is the best approach to ensure that your learning curve is as safe as possible!  So before you buy, or consider buying, find out about taking a taster course (or just take one), or a course that will give you your Elementary Pilot Certificate (EPC), which should take about a five days to complete - subject to weather.  At the end of the EPC course you will be competent to rig and pre-flight inspect a hang glider, assess the weather conditions and their suitability for you to fly, make a simple flight plan and you will also have an understanding of simple flight theory, such as why a wing flys, and things such as wind rotor, roll, yaw, pitch, ground effect, airspeed and groundspeed, minimum sink and maximum glide angles .  Upon completion of the EPC you will also be able to initiate left and right turns, and have flown a number of flights with a ground clearance of 300 feet (I believe it is a minimum of three fights for the EPC).   Once you have achieved the EPC you can then go onto the next level of competence, which is the Club Pilot Certificate (CPC) this involves "ridge soaring" and "top landing".  Check out the British Hang and Paragliding Association (BHPA - . co . uk or do a Google search for "bhpa uk") for more information on schools / clubs etc,. 

(2) Make sure the hang glider you are buying is the correct size for your weight - This is very important as if you attempt to fly a "wing" that is too big or too small, you may not have the correct level of control of the hang glider and the glider may be inclined to "stall".  A stall is basically when the wing stops flying and dives towards the ground, if there is enough room between the ground and a "stalled" glider, the stall can be recovered and normal flight continued, if there is not enough height between the glider and the ground, the the glider will hit the ground. 

Modern gliders are designed to carry pilots within a specified weight range, so make sure the glider size is suitable for your weight and the weight of the harness combined.  The harness is another vital bit of kit for hang gliding (this is the bit you strap yourself into, then clip into the hang glider) and it is designed to take a pilot of a specific height range, so you need to make sure that the harness you get is the right size for you.  The correct size of the glider and the correct size of the harness are vitally important to get right. 

(3) Make sure the hang glider is "airworthy" - The BHPA carry out tests on hang gliders and issue a "Certificate of Airworthiness" (CoA) to confirm that a glider is suitable for pilots of specific weight range(s).  These are silvery sticky labels with a blue and red logo, which is usually on the "keel" of the glider, they have indented typeface on them.  The BHPA also tests hang gliders to destruction to make sure any model is safe to fly before a  CoA is issued.  New gliders leaving manufacturers have to be flight test flown to ensure there are not any quirks’ in them - such as a tendency to dive or turn one direction or another.  If you intend to buy and fly a second hang glider, make sure that it has a CoA, if the seller does not know, or cannot find a label on the keel, the chances are it probably does not have a CoA. 

Without a CoA you will not be able to get insurance.  Insurance is vital, not for you but for those around you that you might fly over.  You will need third party liability in case you crash into say, the EuroStar train or injure a spectator or crash into their car - you can find insurance details on the BHPA site. 

If possible inspect the glider before you bid and TRY and get someone with hang gliding experience (hang gliding clubs usually have a "club coach" who would be ideal to bring along to inspect the glider).  Check out the British Hang Gliding Museum ( . co . uk or do a Google search to find them) who have a database of all UK hang gliders from the 70's onwards.  

Questions  to ask once you've established the glider has a CoA...

(a) Has the has glider been stored indoors / outdoors - outdoors is not good as like all metal outdoor kept suff, gliders are liable to corrosion, which is not good.  Garaged is good. 

(b) Has the glider been serviced, by whom and when - was it the manufacturer or just someone who may or may not know about hang gliders. 

(c) Has the glider been involved in any crashes, if so what parts were or needed replacing and who carried out the work - gliders often crash and break "uprights" which may not be severe, depending upon the speed of the crash and if any other bits were damaged.  The same applies to the leading edge (the front of the wing), which usually comprises 3 parts on each wing, some or all of which may have been replaced.

(d) When were the rigging wires last changed - the wires are part of the structural integrity of the glider and should be changed every after every X hours of flying, this is specified in the manual for the glider, along with other important information such as the maximum "do not exceed" speed and flight angles. 

(e) How many hours has the glider flown - this may help to give those of hang gliding experience an idea of the age of the glider & often the "wing" which is made of nylon / mylar / etc, may have stretched / become knackered over the years. 

(f) Does the glider have all the battens (these are thin aluminum rods which fit into the wing and keep the aerofoil section - essential for flight), and also does the glider have a batten profile plan (which you use to make sure the aerofoil section is correct by making sure the shape of the battens matches the profile - you may need to re-shape the battens from time to time - done gently by bending over a suitably shaped object - usually your knee).  

(g) Why are they selling the glider - is it crap - are they upgrading, often people stop because they feel it's too dangerous or have a bit of a scrape, but don't let that put you off!

(h) Does the glider come with a manual and is there a log of repairs & replacement parts - like a service history for a car - everyone know how important a Full Service History (FSH) is when buying a car and with any type of aircraft this is even more important!

(i) Has the glider got a Certificate of Airworthiness? Just incase you forgot to ask! 

What to avoid

What to avoid - anything without a CoA.  Don't bugger about with flying, take it seriously and do a course before you buy a hang glider, don't be a smartarse - it is not worth it!!  You will need to spend say £800 to £1000 to do a EPC course or maybe find a taster for £80 - £100 for a day course.  Spend the money and find out if it is for you first.  Learning to hang glide involves lots and lots of walking up a hill with a glider that might typically weigh quite a lot, so be prepared to get knackered a lot to start with.

If sellers are saying "I bought this hang glider from a friend and don't know anything about it, but it all seems complete and in good condition" BEWARE! 

If something is a "delta wing" shape with a bellowy wing / sail cloth and has rounded A frame corners, it's just really best in a museum, or as a talking piece for the garden, or it belongs on a scrap yard.  Even some ok looking gliders that were flown in the early / late 80's are not (and were not) airworthy, so find someone who knows what to look for or do some in depth research, go to your library - remember those places with books in them, we used them before the Internet - which may have some hang gliding books in stock, so check that out too.    

You should always wear a helmet for hang gliding, this should again be the right size for your head and specialist helmets are available which are designed for hang gliding, so do a bit of research on that too!

PRICES ?

No CoA - here is a thought - How much would you pay for a washing machine that you have only ever seen pictures of - say someone is selling it on ebay - but you knew that it would not work?  What is its scrap value? Well that is like buying a hang glider without a CoA - only with a higher risk and only with a scrap value.

With CoA - Expect to be looking at £ 300 - £ 1000 and above depending upon age and condition.

Final comments...

Hang gliding is a fantastic sport and like any sport, part of the enjoyment is the progression that you make.  In hang gliding the learning curve goes from "top to bottoms", where you just run off the hill and land at the bottom, to "soaring" flying along a ridge in the "lift band" for hours, gaining height and landing back on top of the hill, to "cross county" where you go off in thermals gaining height and trying to go as far as you can.

Discerning vendors will only sell to a pilot who has an EPC or is going to do one, and I have seen advertisers on ebay say that, which is very positive for your health and safety. 

 

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