XC Tales: The Class War — Paragliders vs Hang Gliders

On 23/24 August 2014, two teams met to decide once and for all, who was better: hang gliders or paragliders?

Class War: Day One

Hugh Miller instigated the Class War concept: a team of 5 top hang-gliders vs a team of 5 top paragliders, in a head-to-head XC meet. We all know hang-gliders are faster in the air, and have better glide at speed, but they seem to spend an awful long time on the ground, fiddling with their wires... And paragliders, on the other hand, well they sort of fluff themselves out in the wind and then get blown over the back of the hill and land somewhere, like, a few kilometres away, don't they? Huh?

On this first day of the Class War, conditions looked good for a long run from Frocester in Gloucestershire. There was a great atmosphere of friendly rivalry on the ground, and everyone was eager and ready to prove, finally, which aircraft was superior. It would be a race to goal, and the goal was ... Falmer, just beyond Devil's Dyke!

Frocester launch site
^ Hugh Miller fires the first shot for the paragliders

Conditions were light to begin with, with clouds that developed quickly and began to spread out ... this wasn't going to be easy!

Clouding up
^ Light thermals under a rapidly overdeveloping sky

Most of the paragliders shot off ahead. Here's Guy Anderson gliding beside Carlo.

Some Guy

We were winning! We were winning! But then we raced ourselves down on to the ground early, after taking an over-optimistically long glide to a big shady cumulus that didn't deliver the much hoped-for thermal. Doh!

This cloud sucked, by not sucking at all
^ The cloud that didn't suck

The hang gliders did brilliantly, and flew really well as a team, Carl Wallbank and Luke Nicol were the only two pilots to make the 171 km goal at Devils Dyke.

Luke Nicol's track

The best paraglider pilot was Al Wilson who made 92 km.


Carlo landed after 25km near Garsdon, where he met Mark White, by total coincidence an old friend of Carlo's old paragliding mate Chris Harland. Mark kindly offered a lift to Malmesbury and even took a detour to pick Nancy up from Oaksey Park Airfield nearby, where they saw some fabulous old Ryan planes.


More photos >

The Class War: Day Two

The second day of the hang gliders versus paragliders fun competition was very different to the first. We flew from Milk Hill in Wiltshire, which looked rather subdued when we arrived. Lots of top cover and light winds.

Milk Hill under a milky sky
^ Milk Hill, milky sky

We optimistically set a cross-wind out and return task under very overcast skies. Only a few of us managed to get up as it wasn't really soarable on the ridge and thermals low down were few and weak. The lucky ones were rewarded with surprisingly good thermals considering how little sun was reaching the ground. Most of the time it was a bit of a scrabble but for some of the flight we were straight lining for a kilometre or more, dolphining along under good cumulus clouds!

What, Mark Watts again?
^ Mark Watts, Enzo 2 ... how did he get up there?

Only 3 paragliders managed to complete the course: Mark, Adam and Carlo. Great fun, even without the sun!

So in the end, it was a draw: on Saturday the hang gliders reigned supreme, able to cross the long glides between clouds with ease; on Sunday the paragliders were able to climb away from the hill in light conditions, and then stay up in the better air aloft.

It was an interesting concept and good fun meet. Like all freeflight competitions, best not taken too seriously.

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