Learning to Fly


Turning Interest Into Action

Below are a few brief things to consider when taking up this sport.  What is the flying lifestyle like?

Sandia Soaring Association does not offer any instruction. Instructors and flight schools mentioned below are not affiliated with Sandia Soaring Association.


Typically, people choose either paragliding or hanggliding to focus on first, then they can learn the other later if they like.  These days most people decide to fly paragliders. They are easy to travel with on airlines, they fit in the trunk of the car, are hike-able, and fly within nearly the same parameters as hanggliders.  Some folks choose hanggliders because they can be flown in much stronger winds, and have better glide ratios and faster air speeds. Hanggliders require a vehicle accessible launch, sometimes paragliders do not.  Paragliders require a smooth launch area that doesn’t rip the fragile wing, hanggliders do not.  Hang gliders have a longer set up time and require more area in which to land. Both have their drawbacks.

Both are typically launched with groups of pilots to be able to retrieve a vehicle back at the top (launch site) once everyone has flown down to the landing zone (like rafting a segment of river, and returning to the put-in to get the vehicles).  The exception to this is that paragliders can hike up to a launch then fly off returning to their vehicle parked at the landing zone. This is another reason some people like paragliding more than hang gliding.


Like other small aircraft, paragliders and hanggliders are affected greatly by the conditions in which the pilot flies.  Mountain valleys can become like rivers, and the open New Mexican flatlands are like an ocean.  Calm and rowdy conditions can be found, and predicted, through forecasts.

Thus flying is a lot about what the pilot wants. Some folks just fly calm conditions in which a smooth glide down is the goal.   Some folks prefer looking for longer flights and ply the hot rising thermals.  Others like ridge soaring where a ground feature makes the air rise and pilots can ride a pillow of constant streaming flow. Like river kayaking or rafting, the pilot gets to choose the flow into which they go. And, even though it is invisible, there are ‘ranges’ of acceptable/desired conditions that can be worked out before take off.  The saying is “It’s always better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, rather than in the air wishing you were on the ground.”  Whatever the case, you are always on mother nature’s schedule for the air flows she gives you.


Hanggliding and paragliding is aviation first and a hobby second.  It is regulated by the FAA’s Part 103 regualtions.  Like any pilot, a paragliding or hang gliding pilot needs to keep their skills current, follow checklists every single time, understand the limitations of their aircraft and their training, and commit to putting themselves into airflows that their skills and aircraft can handle.  They are required by law to not put others in danger through their actions.

Due to this, flights schools and clubs are a mostly regulated by our national organization, USHPA, the United States Hang gliding and Paragliding Association. 

USHPA certifies pilots into various levels of ‘ratings’ of skills and experience. Launch sites maintained by clubs require certain ratings, but many launches in New Mexico are unmaintained and do not require a particular certification to launch.  Beginners have less options due to their beginner/novice rating, but they learn to read the flying conditions more accurately because of this so they can fly more.  This is one reason new pilots go on trips to gain experience in coastal flying, etc.

Options for a basic solo-pilot certification training exist

1. Flexible and Local: Chuck Woods of Enchanted Air Paragliding runs intensive 7-days a week instruction for those who can take a week long course.  He also offers multi-month or year long paragliding instruction in Phoenix and seasonly in Albuquerque as a local instructor.  This is sometimes preferred if only weekends and evenings are times available to train. Benefits are that this is in local conditions, and requires a student to keep practicing over a long period of time. Downfalls are that this can take longer than you want due to your schedules. It gives you time to see if you like it, and also provides you towing experience, which is the only type of flying available in some areas of the country.

2. Non-local week-long Intensive: This options provides a certification and the hours needed to fly alone within just a short period of time. This is nice because you can build each day on the previous day’s lessons.  The downfall of this, and it is a pretty big downfall, is that you do not get to practice in the local conditions because these courses are only given in a few areas of the country.

First few years:

Practicing regularly and Getting Trained.  You will need to dedicate time every week or so to keep your skills up to date.  Taking your wing to a local park to practice ground handling and launching is a huge key to being able to launch the local areas easily, quickly, and Safely. You will mostly tow-launch locally initially. You'll also go to our La Bajada and Blue Springs ridge soaring sites. You will also go to the Merriam Crater site in Arizona.

Again it is aviation, and well-practiced pilots do not make mistakes and errors that unpracticed pilots do.  Pilot errors are the umber one cause of aviation incidents.  So in this early stage you will practice a ton!

Driving to and following good flying conditions:  Until you become a P4/H4 rated pilot (250 flights and 90 hours), you will be looking for places to fly besides Sandia Peak.  Reading the weather to know when to look for good flying will become a big part of the hooby once you get your P2/H2 certification. This is the flow of nature, and it is one of the great lessons of the sport.  The better a pilot becomes with weather knowledge the more flying and less waiting a pilot does.  

Launch Site Requirements will be a big factor in where you can fly.  The more experience you gain the more launch sites you will be allowed to fly.


Are gatherings of pilots usually done for a whole weekend or longer.  We have a few annual fly-ins in New Mexico, and they are on our website. These are a good way to meet others

Trips are a great way to expand knowledge, gain experience, and meet other like-minded pilots.

Paragliding and Hanglding Schools

Local Instructor are

Other Schools outside the local area

Also checkout our Links page for lots of other resources.