Spion Kop, a few kms west of Aireys Inlet on the Great Ocean Road (in Victoria, Australia), is a well established launch site for hang gliders and paragliders. It is located at the low end of a ridge (160 feet above sea level) near where Moggs Creek flows across the beach into the sea. It’s a site with something for pilots of all levels of ability. Wind blowing in from over the sea rises when it strikes a coastal ridge such as this. It is that rising air which allows hang gliders, paragliders and sailplanes to soar without engines. It also of course allows birds to soar without flapping their wings.
A handful of experienced pilots with high performance hang gliders regularly tackle the coastal run (with a great record of success) from Bells Beach to Apollo Bay whenever conditions are right. But when conditions are not quite right for that run, they may fly shorter runs such as Spion to Lorne and back. They utilise ridge lift in favourable winds, and also gain lift from thermals which sometimes occur in suitable conditions and locations along this coast. In simple terms, a thermal is column of air which rises because it is warmer than the air surrounding it.
For others, simply getting airborne in this beautiful location and cruising up and down the 6 or 7km stretch of coast between Aireys Inlet lighthouse and Eastern View (the next point west of Aireys Inlet), or perhaps even just the 2-3km ridge on which the launch site is located, is what keeps them coming back to this place.
In still air a hang glider can take off from a hill and descend at around 200 feet per minute to a landing below. It is fully controllable in such a flight. If wind is blowing up the face of the hill at say 400 feet per minute a hang glider can take off from the hill and still descend through the rising air at around 200 fpm. But because the parcel of air through which it is descending is rising at 400 fpm the glider will gain height at the rate of 200 fpm until it reaches the top of the lift band above the hill. To express this without numbers, a hang glider is always descending through the parcel of air in which it is flying. But if that parcel of air is rising at a higher rate than the hang glider is descending, the hang glider will gain height relative to the ground.
The following photos were taken on two separate flights at Spion, a week apart, in November 2021. Each flight was just over an hour in duration. I am a low time hang glider pilot flying an Airborne Fun 190 beginners’/recreational hang glider. This is the fourth hang glider I have owned.
Over 5,000 individual readers from around the world (60 different countries) have visited my blog so far this year. Most of them would not know anything about hang gliding. I have written this post with these readers in mind.
Takeoff in a stronger wind
Soaring the ridge and gaining altitude
Soaring in strong lift over 1000 feet above sea level
Airspeed and wind noise
Video of flying through another hang glider’s wake turbulence
Landing location on the beach near the creek
On the left is data (from my most recent flight at Spion) collected by an app on my iPhone. Top right is the route download from my Garmin GPS watch which I use for swimming. It also has a running mode which I used to record a plan view of the exact route I flew. This was a bit of an experiment The colours in the GPS watch download show relative speed (red is fastest, green is slowest). On bottom right, a big improvement on the Garmin sports watch is this 3D download of my track colour coded to show the range of my altitudes at which I conducted the flight. This was produced by the aforementioned app on my iPhone, with the route being manually transferred to Google Earth after the flight. The purple line is where I was briefly 1000 feet or so above sea level, and red is the lowest I flew which was when I landed on the beach at sea level near the Fairhaven SLSC. (The incoming tide was rapidly shrinking the landing area near Moggs Creek and so I used a wider section of beach near the surf club). Note the shadow of the 3D track on the terrain. None of this data recording is even faintly necessary for my flying enjoyment. But it is fun to play with between actual flights.