One activity I always wanted to try was hang gliding. So when I saw the DC/MD/VA Adventures meetup group plan a trip out to Highland Aerosports for tandem hang gliding, I signed up!
I arrived a few minutes late, but in time to meet the group and receive the flight briefing, which covered the basics of hang gliding including how to steer. 14 or 15 people signed up to hang glide so we split into two groups. I was in the 2nd group which turned out to be six people.
Since Highland Aerosports is located on the Eastern Shore near Ridgley, MD, and the area is flat in general, our hang gliders were towed aloft by ultralights. No running launches off the side of a hill or cliff! Instead, the instructor lay in a hammock-like bag, we got in our own on top, and were towed to the right altitude.
The tow line is basically fishing line, and once we hit the proper altitude (I chose to do 2500 ft), we disconnected.
At this point, the instructor did a few turns and let me practice a bit. With a hang glider, shifting your weight controls everything. Pull forward to speed up, push back to slow down. Pull right to turn right, pull left to turn left. In the picture, I am holding the frame and doing the moves as he called them out.
After getting comfortable with steering, I flew over farms, taking gradual turns and heading over other landmarks. Steering wasn't too difficult, but I found accuracy was tough - the glider takes a few seconds to react, so I would continue to turn past the heading I wanted. More experienced pilots can compensate for this oversteering by coming out of a turn a few seconds early and make smaller adjustments.
I had 12 to 15 minutes aloft since the glider constantly descends. If you are license to fly solo, you can try to find thermals and stay aloft for as long as possible.
The overall experience was a lot of fun, more enjoyable to me than the tandem skydiving I tried - that was all adrenalin, where this was calmer. I felt like a bird, soaring over the countryside and making slow turns to change directions.
Once we dropped to low enough altitude, the instructor took over controlling the glider and landed us. Tandem gliders have a frame with wheels, so we didn't need to land on foot, stalling the wing and the right height and dropping. Instead we landed like a plane and it was very smooth.
Everybody really enjoyed this trip. Sunday's group is larger, with 40 or so people signed up, and I bet if the feedback continues to be so positive they'll schedule another trip out.