Kickass Hang Glider Aerobatics and Spins in Citabrias

It’s my blog, so I’m going to indulge myself. Thank you, and you’re welcome…whichever.

I saw this little 4-minute vid pop up this morning and having watched hang gliders do aerobatics on video and in person for at least 15 years or more, I just can’t get enough of the righteous purity of this one.

…Let me set it up for you. First of all, note that the launch is near sundown. Why? You want very smooth air, no thermal activity, as thermals—especially in places like Utah in summer—can wreak havoc on a plan like this. If you hit a 2,000 ft per minute up blast whilst in the dives he’s doing, it could take you to over 10 G. The glider will be A-OK, but he’s not wearing a fighter jock pressure suit.

Next, pay attention to how the energy accumulated from the first dive is miserly guarded throughout (what I love the most). There was the first big dive and throughout the rest of the routine he just goes back to the till for some change here and there. Meaning: he never loses all his built up energy, but goes back in to keep it near the initial level. This is very important for aerobatics under glide, no power. He’s exchanging attitude.

Next, he uses that stored energy at the end of a loop, and not go into another loop (as so very many do), but to do a roll. Realize: the straps he’s hanging from are not rigid. Therefore, he must maintain positive G of 1+ throughout; otherwise he would immediately fall into the glider and that is hit & miss. These gliders are structurally designed to take negative G, but only for their own weight and structure—not a 170 lb guy falling into the sail at a point. Falling into the sail almost always results in a cute deployment (and a broken $6,000 glider).

OK, watch the video and then one more thing about it. …About 4 minutes.

Willard with Smokes from Ryan Voight on Vimeo.

Perhaps my favorite thing beyond the R.A “Bob” Hoover-esq thing of keeping 1+ G in a roll, so as to not spill any liquids in the cockpit, was his spin at around the 2-minute mark of the video.

Hang gliders won’t spin on their own. You have to put them in one and hold it (notice how he is fully pushed out). I’ve done these, but not while family is watching because it looks like a spiral dive. As soon as you relax, the glider recovers on its own. Do check that out, about 2m into the video.

As a final note, powered aircraft are fun and I did all my training in a tail dragger, a Citabria. I loved that, because even totally stock, they are moderately aerobatic and so from lesson 1 and way before my solo flights, I was doing spins. Here’s what it looks like.

That’s 28 spins and I’ve done 8 or 10 max (It’s an altitude thing). But the thing is, once you reduce power to idle, bring up the nose to a stall and at the point of stall, kick the rudder right or left depending on which way you want to go, the aircraft just loves the spin and will stay in it so long as you hold the stick back full. Relax that full back stick, kick in a bit of opposite rudder, and recovery is a cinch. Then add power. Fly home.

Alright, so there’s my built up flying indulgence…logged.

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  1. Matt on October 16, 2012 at 14:08

    Does he have all that planned out ahead of time or is that made up as he goes along? A few times he looked as if he was thinking “let’s try one of these.”

    • Richard Nikoley on October 16, 2012 at 14:15

      Good Q Matt.

      Almost certainly it’s not planned out. It very much goes to the need to keep on 1+ G when anything over 90 degrees to the horizon. Obviously, he’s done many of these sorts of things so he just “wings it” as he trades away about 3k of altitude.

      • Ryan Voight on October 18, 2012 at 11:52


        I am the pilot in the video, and first would like to thank you for your very kind words! To answer your question, yes and no. I did have much of it planned, however the timing on some of those maneuvers, particularly the “split-s” rolls, is absolutely critical. It feels a bit like playing chicken, coming out of a dive and beginning to pitch up wings-level as if to loop, waiting, waiting, then adding roll to get that (hopefully) 180 degree roll before the nose passes below the horizon.

        I have practiced this type of flying A LOT, and I feel I am able to perform these maneuvers with a reasonable level of safety (I’m not a fearless looney-toon, quite the opposite actually!)… but it does require a healthy respect for consequences… and have my full attention while performing. Maybe some day I’ll remember to smile as I go over the top LOL

        Back to the original question, after my string of planned maneuvers, I like to keep the end fairly open-minded to allow me to decide what I’ll do based on location/distance from my planned landing area, and how much altitude I have left… at that point I usually have an idea of the altitude and heading I want the LAST maneuver to put me, and I’m working backwards to link maneuvers that will put me there. Some days I do better at this than others… this day I did pretty well with it :-)

        Thanks for watching!


      • Richard Nikoley on October 18, 2012 at 12:13


        Thanks for showing up. Having flown for about 15 years or so (a lot in the first few, only a few times per year, now, usually at Hat Creek Rim) I’ve seen any number of aerobatic vids. This was just really hit that nerve with me. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to enjoy that kind of artistry.

        Hope to run into you on a launch somewhere, someday.

      • Ryan Voight on October 18, 2012 at 14:06

        Hat is a great site, you’re very fortunate if you live close to there! I’m out at Point of the Mountain, and we have a bunch of lesser-known mountain sites too (like Willard). If you’re every looking to take a flying trip, give us a visit! :-)

  2. Bill Strahan on October 16, 2012 at 14:16

    And just like a moth to a flame, here I am. :) Just got back from a 2500 mile round trip to visit my boys in DC, so flying is on my mind.

    Intentional spins are phenomenal. I’ve told pilots who have never spun that they’re just operating in 2 dimensions. They argue, but they don’t get it. Taxiing out, you’re in a plane parallel with the ground. Climbout you’ve inclined that plane and you drone along but no real feel for the height involved. Cruise is like taxiing with a better view. Just motoring in one plane.

    So I take them up for that first spin, and there they are, slowing down at 5000′, and just operating in that plane parallel to the ground again. Nose comes up…up…up…shudder…full rudder and with a buck and shimmy, the nose drops OVER then down as a wing comes up over the top, and you SUDDENLY get that third dimension. The 2nd video is great, but field of view is insufficient to capture that sudden feeling…

    It’s the realization of the incredible VOLUME of space within which you’re operating. Flying to go places, we think in terms of distance over the ground. Again, our mind is really operating in 2 dimensions. As soon as the wing comes up and over into that first spin, and you see the world rotate beneath you, there is this moment where your brain suddenly swallows the reality of the VOLUME involved. No sooner have you realized how big everything is and you suddenly feel very tiny in the universe. I suddenly feel humbled and gloriously alive at the same time!

    It never stops being breathtaking.

    And it’s like learning to ride a bike. No words will properly convey it to the inexperienced. But if you have experienced it, about the best I can do is get you to nod knowingly nod your head.

    Now, to go read the posts I missed while out of town…

    • Richard Nikoley on October 16, 2012 at 14:26

      “And just like a moth to a flame,”

      I almost called you out in the post. But I said, nope, he’ll show up.

  3. Dane Miller on October 16, 2012 at 17:22

    My palms are sweaty just watching this.

  4. Bert on October 16, 2012 at 20:04

    Good Christ almighty I have to start hang gliding. I have been lurking here for a bit and this post almost forces me to comment.

    I am now changing all of my life plans to live in an area where I can do this.

    • rob on October 17, 2012 at 12:58

      I’m a Floridian so the hang gliding thing isn’t possible for me either, you might want to try sky diving, the modern parachute is an air foil so you aren’t falling so much as gliding, you actually steer on your way down.

      You can do a static line jump or an accelerated free fall jump (tandem jumps are not appropriate for a man).

      I tried it and discovered I am prone to “sensory overload” during the free fall part but I was quite copacetic during the gliding part.

      The aerobatic and spinning thing would almost certainly lead to my early demise, if your brain freezes up in that situation you will have a few seconds to realize you picked the wrong sport.

      • Richard Nikoley on October 17, 2012 at 13:17


        I’ve had great flights in Florida. I have friends that fly almost every day, year round. Some go XC for 100+miles and KMs.

        Google: Florida Ridge. Quest Air. Wallaby Ranch. There are others, too. I have personally aero towed up at Wallaby a number of times. And I was barefoot.

      • Richard Nikoley on October 17, 2012 at 13:20

        Oh, btw, I did skydiving in the 80s

        My 4th jump was a total cannon ball main malfunction. Got my reserve out though, obviously. Sky diving and bungee jumping are taking rides. Hang gliding is flying a wing as pilot in command. There really is nothing analogous about it. Not even a tiny little bit.

      • Bert on October 17, 2012 at 21:48

        I’ve done a static line jump years ago. Quite possibly the most fun I’ve had getting off of an airplane. I have always wanted to try hang gliding but not until I saw this video did I realize that aerobatics was even feasible.

        That first dive in the video is awesome.

      • Richard Nikoley on October 17, 2012 at 21:59

        You can see tons, Bert, just google or YouTube it. This is one of the more elegant I’ve seen.

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