While I had never had a pressing desire to go hang gliding, when I saw a LivingSocial deal I was intrigued. The offer was for Wisconsin Hang Gliding located in Whitewater, Wisconsin – a reasonable 2.5 hour drive from Chicago.
I got in touch with a few of my friends who I previously went skydiving with and asked if they were interested. They said they were, so we all purchased the deal and reserved flight times for an upcoming Saturday morning.
On our drive up to Wisconsin there was some terrible rain. The rain was so bad that the roads were starting to flood and motorcyclists were stopped under the bridges waiting for the rain to let up. All of us started to wonder if the rain was going to screw up our hang gliding reservations and wondered how long our delay would be. Luckily about 20 minutes after the rain started, the skies cleared, replacing the rain clouds with puffy white clouds.
We arrived and were expecting a very long delay but surprisingly we were not delayed very much. After completing our paperwork we only had to wait about an hour before we were up in the air. There were 3 of us but only 1 instructor so we all had to wait for each other to finish before the next person was able to go up.
We all sprung a little extra money to have a GoPro record our flight. We figured that the extra money to have documentation of our hang gliding was money well spent.
What to Expect When Hang Gliding
Getting secured to the hang glider
You are strapped into a harness where you hang below the hang glider. While this sounds scary, you are connected to the hang glider in several different places and feel very secure in the harness. Once you are secured and the instructor is secured, you’re ready to get up in the air.
Getting up to altitude
Since Wisconsin is a very flat state, there wasn’t a cliff that we could run off of to hang glide. This meant that we needed to be pulled up to altitude by a plane. The hang glider is pulled behind with a rope which is unclipped once altitude is hit.
The plane that pulled us up was extremely lightweight and small with room for only 1 in the plane. Prior to our hang gliding experience we all had a good time sitting in the plane pretending that we were flying it.
I have to say I was shocked how high up we went. In hindsight I should have asked what the altitude was but I did not. We then started our slow descent back to the ground. The feeling is extremely different from the rapid falling feeling of skydiving as hang gliding is a very slow peaceful descent.
All of the steering is done by steering the hang glider with the bars below you. If you want to make a turn, you push down on 1 side. I was able to try driving the hand glider but after a while decided I was more comfortable with the instructor taking control for me. If the winds are right and the pilot is skilled, a single flight can last for several hours.
The thing that struck me most was once the plane disengages there is almost complete silence. The plane engine is gone and it is too high up to have any noise from the city below. It was a very peaceful feeling and very different than what I thought it was going to be.
Whenever I tell people that I went hang gliding they usually wonder if I have some death wish and worry about not only my safety but also my decision making skills. It may be surprising but hang gliding is actually one of the safest extreme sports. As with anything, the safety is always contingent on the pilot.
Even though it is relatively safe, I still laugh whenever I watch Wedding Crashers and hear the line that Will Ferrell’s character Chaz says “Yeah, her boyfriend just died. Dude died in a hang gliding accident! What an idiot! Aaaahhh, I’m hang-gliding! Take a good picture, honey, I’m dead!”
I had a great time hang gliding and would absolutely go again. Not sure that I would return to Wisconsin, next time opting for a more scenic view like the ocean below me.
I think that it would be a great introduction to extreme sports for someone who prefers the calm rather than the chaos. While skydiving is great, it is a much more intense and scary activity than hang gliding.