Converting old Hang Gliders to Simple Ice Sailing Vehicles

A conceptual exercise in inexpensive winter fun.

Deane G. Williams Jan 2003



The fantastic sport of Hang Gliding has grown rapidly in the past 25 years with many advances in technology making older gliders obsolete. These old gliders are hidden away in garages and cellars just waiting for a new life. This is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for! Cost is often less than $100. Be sure to tell the owner you won’t be flying it as there have been too many cases of old gliders being used improperly by totally inexperienced persons (usually kids) and causing injury. So use of all their valuable components in a new sport is a win-win situation. If you are handy in the workshop you can probably do the conversion in a few weeks.

A typical hang glider contains enough high-strength aluminum tubing, strong steel cable and high quality hardware to create a simple ice sailing rig.


The wing fabric is made from Dacron sail cloth and can be made into two sails by simply cutting it apart in the middle. Most have batten pockets sewn in already. One half may be used as is to get you sailing quickly with a few minor changes and use of flexible battens. (Many pre-1982 gliders will have flexible battens included.) The other half of the wing can be used to experiment with a smaller or different style of sail.

Half of a Wills Wing Duck glider as an ice sail on a simple wood boat:


The most specialized parts not present on the glider are the three ice runners. These cost up to $500 if purchased new but can be made from ¼” thick steel plate by machining or grinding a 90 degree V-point edge. The runners are supported by a single, large diameter bolt slightly behind their center, so that the blade is free to ride up and down over bumps in the ice.



Construction Hints

First disassemble the hang glider completely so that you can see exactly what you have for materials. Measure all tubes. Note that tubing junctions often use plastic saddles to provide solid mounting surfaces at right angle tube junctions. Be sure to re-use these when building the ice craft.

n      Use the nose plate at the front of the glider as the joining plate at the front of the craft.

n      Make a strap of aluminum sheet metal to hold the sail boom to the mast. Tie a rope to this bracket down to the mast base as a way to keep tension on the sail at the mast.

n      Cut the wing sail in half in the middle and sew a 6 inch wide pocket for the boom. Put grommets in the sail to tie it to the boom end as needed.

n      The wing sail may have a double surface area or pocket on one side. Generally this can be ignored. If it impedes the operation it can be removed by cutting the stitches.

n      The sail will already have a nice leading edge pocket for the mast but if it has stiff Mylar plastic inserted around this pocket you should remove it because it will only be effective for tacking in 1 direction.

n      Use the cables to brace the mast in 3 directions: 2 from each end of the rear runner tube and 1 from the front of the springboard tube. This cable is most easily cut by use of an abrasive cut-off wheel on a Dremel tool or similar high-speed device. The cables are connected by means of small cable U clamps available at hardware stores. Be sure to tighten fully and use 2 on each connection.

n      Use a 1-½ inch pipe floor mount and 3” pipe nipple for a mast base. Mount on the nose plate. Wrap the 3” long pipe with about 10 layers of duct tape to protect the mast base.



Finding an old hang glider

Try contacting one of the larger flight parks or instructors in your area as a start. If they don’t know where there is one for sale they probably know who to ask.

To find an instructor in your area look at

The best models will be the ones from about 1977 to 1985 that have flexible battens. Since these are among the oldest, they will be more available and cheaper. Just be sure none of the main tubes are broken or severely dented. Minor dents or bends that may affect flight will not be a problem… except on the mast because that is highly loaded.



Where to Sail

Be safe and always sail with others. Check the ice for minimum 3” thickness everywhere. The Internet is a great way to find open ice and get in touch with others in your area. Do a search on “iceboating”.