NOW PANDEMIC restrictions have been eased, some much-needed airtime for Sky Surfers Club pilots has been clocked up on slopes surrounding Petersfield, writes club member Brian Parkins.
Harting Down in West Sussex and the hills around East Meon have been busy with paragliders and hangliders.
Of course, freedom of the skies would not be possible without the local farmers and landowners who generously allow pilots to launch from their land.
The sport can trace its origins back to the 1890s when German Otto Lilienthal developed a fleet of unpowered, foot-launched aircraft, but it really took off in the 1970s, and the Sky Surfing Club was formed in 1974 flying from Butser Hill.
A hang glider is a swept-back wing with no tail with an aluminium, or carbon fibre, frame supporting a precision steel cable braced sail.
The paraglider canopy looks similar to a parachute connected to the pilot by suspension lines, and it is dependent on wind to inflate the lightweight fabric; the entire assembly can fit in a large rucksack.
Many pilots are captivated by dreams of flying, but for most, the joy of sharing the skies with the birds, with the unique perspective of the world below is sufficient.
However, to turn a flight of fancy into reality, the outlay in time and money is significant, but the ongoing costs are quite modest.
Newcomers must undergo rigorous training; every UK hang glider or paraglider pilot must be a member of the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA); the governing body oversees the sport through training programmes, airworthiness standards, and pilot certification.
Once qualified, fledgling pilots join a club and develop their skills under the watchful eye of a coach.
The pursuit of records drives some pilots while many enjoy the camaraderie of competition.
Recent design and construction innovations allow hang glider pilots to fly impressive distances; the UK record is currently 338km (210 miles), and the current UK altitude record stands at an astonishing 16,000ft. Quite some achievements!
Hang gliding and paragliding competitions usually involve flying a pre-defined course of 100km or more, as fast as possible.
Flights may last several hours and test navigation, endurance and the ability to remain airborne, as coming back down to earth for hang gliders and paragliders is not often a problem! The Sky Surfers Club boasts the current hang gliding British champion, Grant Crossingham, as a member.
He is also one of the world’s leading competitors and is regularly the top Brit in European and World Championships. Grant and his wife, Luisa, can often be seen flying from the local hillsides.
Hang gliding and paragliding are life-changing and life-affirming pursuits – anyone can fly!