Tag Archives: motorized hang-glider


Reading my last post, I realised I alluded to the Zee PHG photo without actually publishing it.  Daft.  Here you go:

Brent flying his powered hang-glider with Hout Bay in the background

While the uninitiated might presume this tiny aircraft to be a microlight, it is actually a powered (aka motorized) hang-glider – the wing is a perfectly normal standard hang-glider with which (unlike a microlight) you could run off any handy hill or mountain and have a soaring or thermic flight sans engine or undercarriage.  The undercarriage and engine are designed to be super light-weight, allowing the entire assembly with pilot to fall within the allowable maximum weight for the glider wing.  This means that if flies just like a normal hang-glider, albeit with slightly more drag.  They are designed to allow pilots to take off from a handy spot, fly to the nearest hill or thermic area, turn off the engine and soar.  Yes, you do need a license – first as a hang-glider pilot, and then a power conversion to fly the PHG.  You’ll recall from earlier blog posts that I went off and learnt to do this some time ago, before unexpected circumstances landed a powered paraglider kit in my hands.

Looking down the Cape Peninsula from 3000ft - click for enlargement

This was the first time we’ve flown the PHG and PPG together, and although we didn’t do formal tests we made a number of observations.  Launching the Zee in zero wind was an absolute breeze (hur hur), with the machine accelerating smoothly across the beach on its big bubble wheels.  By comparison, I took three sweaty attempts to get the PPG airborne: no-wind takeoff in deep sand with a paraglider and 30+kg of kit on your back is a challenge.  Once in the air, the paraglider (I fly a MacPara Eden 4 Powered with a PAP125 engine and on this occasion a 125cm carbon prop) seemed to climb more rapidly, or at least at a steeper angle.  Cruising speed was identical at trim, with the PPG a little faster on cruise with the trims open.  Both aircraft felt the rotor turbulence behind the big peaks; I had one 60% asymmetric collapse and Brent described a few significant bumps, but I think he had more confidence in his rigid wing.  I could lose height very rapidly by putting the paraglider into a spiral, but lack the hang-glider’s ability to accellerate into a steep descent in a straight line.  Landing the PPG in a limited space is of course  very easy; by the time we returned there was a 10 knot wind blowing, and I was able to make a precision landing a few meters from the car, whereas the Zee needed a bit more space and rollout.

Considering flying to Rio for tea?

For about 1h20 flying time, including several climbs from low level up to 3000ft, we used 5.5 litres of fuel (petrol) for the PPG and 8 litres for the PHG.  We didn’t have anyone specific to assess the relative noise, but onlookers who I spoke to said they couldn’t hear either aircraft from the moment we climbed out over the bay until we were setting up for landing – good news for environmental and noise-abatement reasons.  Grins on the pilot’s faces were equally wide, and the post-flight beer/cider at Dune’s Restaurant 50m from landing tasted equally good!

What’s the verdict?  We need to fly more 🙂

Whale Shark Aerial Photos

Yowzer…I loaded the same pictures from my last post onto Facebook last night, and the response has been phenomenal.  Imagine my surprise when I get a forwarded forwarded forwarded email from the surf community including my picture as evidence of a huge shark terrorising the surfers at Noordhoek!  Well, lads and lasses, a big shark it was, but the terror is misplaced: you can’t see it well on the Facebook photo, but it’s a gentle giant – a Whale Shark.  That makes it much more special than “just another” Great White (something I prefer to see from the air than the water, unless I’m on the bottom with a regulator in my mouth), as a sighting of a Whale Shark in the Atlantic is rare.  Wikipedia will tell you all about them and their tropical/subtropical range – seldom south of 30 degrees – but I was very tickled to learn that the species was first described when one was harpooned in Table Bay.  Yay for African science, bummer for environmental consciousness.

A couple of pictures from the flight:

Kommetjie from the air
3000ft on the powered paraglider, working on my sunburn
Lots of surfers in the water at Noordhoek
Whale Shark and surfers


There’s been some bruhaha about the species and size of the shark, so I referred it to our guru, Johan Anderson, of Wings and Whalesharks fame.  Johan flies all sorts of things (and is the man behind the Zee PHG pictured above), but one particular project of his is flying a microlight in the Seychelles for whale shark research and spotting program.  He confirms that it is indeed a whale shark (not a great white) and not quite the 7m monster suggested by some sources.  As whale sharks grow to around 12m, this is a smallish specimen.  For comparison, I’ve cropped together (at precisely the same scale) the shark and surfers, so that you can decide for yourselves.

Whale shark and surfers cropped to the same scale

What a great sighting, and a lovely flight.

Heading back to Hout Bay at 3500ft to avoid the turbulence from the mountains

UPDATE:  This just in – get the story from the surfer’s seaside perspective on the Wavescape website, as well as some expert opinion from more shark experts.  Compelling reading…I can imagine the guys in the water had a good tachycardia.


Very special sighting

Short story (longer one to follow): I was joined this morning by a fellow powered hang-glider pilot for a sortie from Hout Bay, on the western coast of the Cape Peninsula. Due to my current lack of a PHG, I was flying my PPG while he took to the sky in a Zee PHG trike of South African construction (more on that in a later post). We flew high most of the time to avoid some turbulence from the low-level south-easter, but not too high to notice this in the water near some surfers and kayakers off Long Beach, Noordhoek:

What lies beneath

Closer inspection reveals it to be a small (large = 12m!) Whale Shark – a very rare find in the cold Atlantic.

According to an expert I consulted, it is exceptional to spot a whale shark anywhere on the West Coast, and the specimens that are found are usually dead. One theory is that they drift around in warm eddies of the Mozambique Current and then become “lost” and die when the warm water dissipates. I think they are like my mother, and only dive in warm water.