Flying a World Record Flight

After a spate of successful paragliding World Record flight attempts in South Africa during the early to late 1990s, as well as some fairly successful attempts by local and foreign pilots to fly long distances since then, there will hopefully be many more long distances and records in the coming season(s). At the end of the main article, there is a section on how to become an Official FAI Observer.

Here are some guidelines to fly records (hang gliding and paragliding), specifically goal and distance records, and making sure that they are going to be validated.

If you do not want to read all the explanations, but want to see the step-by-step instruction list, just scroll down to "Rules" to fly the record by or click here.

To see the requirements for height gain records, out-and-return or triangle records, look in the Sporting Codes on the FAI and CIVL websites


These rules are applicable to hang gliding and paragliding, although this commentary was written from a paragliding perspective. They are also applicable for OFFICIAL National Records.

The Sporting Codes (General and Section 7 Class O) that became valid from 1 May 2005 have some significant changes to the previous requirements. Those changes alter some of the record flight criteria. After some years of discussions, gps verification has finally been accepted. However, pilots must make sure to absolutely adhere to the criteria as there are many pitfalls, and have as many possible confirmations of a flight as can be done.

The best is still an approved flight data recorder that comply with the IGC standards. I could not (yet) find the Log-it on the list of recorders approved by the IGC or as an approved instrument on the CIVL list of approved barographs.The IQ Compeo and Competino or Flytec 5020 and 5030 does not appear on the list yet (it may be because they have 3D gps functionality), but I have written to CIVL to ask for the latest list.

Some sections of the General Sporting Code has to be read and understood.

The National Aero Club (or National Airsport Control) of the pilot's country of origin is the "controlling NAC".
The National Aero Club (or National Airsport Control) in the country in which the attempt is taking place (hosted) is the "organising NAC".

It is not an outright requirement that there has to be an organising NAC involved, but a pilot who wants to have no hassles with his record attempts, will ensure that he complies with all the rules in the host country (if he is not flying in his own country). A host country can object to acceptance of a world record if it is perceived that the pilot did not comply with all the regulations in that country, even if it did not know about the pilot's record attempts at the time.

Notification of successful record attempts must be made by the pilot, Official Observer, the organising or controlling NAC, or the Sport organisation, within 7 days of the attempt taking place. (6.8.4) There is chance for extension in exceptional circumstances.

The controlling NAC has to certify the flight as a National Record before it can be accepted as a world record. The flight must be certified as a national record within 90 days of the flight taking place. Usually the NAC will work in conjunction with the pilot's Sport Association (e.g. SAHPA) to do so. The controlling NAC must submit the file to the FAI within 120 days of the flight taking place. The file shall include a statement that the attempt was made in accordance with the regulations of the Sporting Code including the provisions of on Unsporting Behaviour. reads:
"Unsporting Behaviour. Cheating or unsporting behaviour, including deliberate attempts to deceive or mislead officials, wilful interference with other competitors, falsification of documents, use of forbidden equipment or prohibited drugs, violations of airspace, or repeated serious infringements of rules should, as a guide, result in disqualification from the sporting event."

Flying a World Record is a sporting event.

If any delay is experienced that could cause the file to reach the FAI past the allowed date, the controlling NAC must apply for extension before the deadline has expired.


This is what Section 7 Class O of the Sporting Code says about having an accident towards the end of the flight, or on landing:

1.6.4 Uncompleted flight

An accident (after one or more of the goals have been achieved), does not necessarily mean that the flight or record attempt is invalid, unless any of the above occurred.

With our modern equipment, a major deflation of a paraglider resulting in the reserve being deployed could actually lead to the glider being jettisoned via quick release carabiners! Sometimes a steerable reserve is used. In such cases, will it invalidate the flight or record attempt? Up to now throwing the reserve has not invalidated flights or record attempts, at least not in theory. It is unclear what effect dumping the glider has on the claim. I have asked the CIVL to provide an answer to this paragraph with regards to this possibility, and the answer I received is NOT good news (not for competitions either).

"If it is a paragliding competition, a paragliding pilot must fly a paraglider (not reserve) to gain points. If no rule makes the flight invalid, then the flight is valid up to the point where the pilot stops flying the paraglider (switches to reserve). You are not allowed to change wings in middle of flight :-)

Paragraph 1.6.4 (same for both 7a and 7b) seems to make flights invalid (uncomplete) if the pilot releases the glider (hg or pg) from the harness. So incomplete flight, no points in comp, and no record if in record setting."

RECOMMENDATION for those flying with steerable reserves such as Papillon, etc - do NOT release your glider from your harness if possible. Pull it in, or release one side only, but do NOT let it fly off by itself. If there is any objection to your flight, it could be invalidated on this point.


World records may be attempted in the following categories: Distance flight: A flight measured for distance between either a take-off place ( or a departure point ( and a finish point ( Goal flight: A flight from a departure point to a finish point specified in writing before take-off. A goal flight may be measured for distance and/or speed. Duration flight: A flight timed from take-off to landing. Note: FAI does not recognise duration as a category for hang glider records Height flight: A flight measured for height achieved or maintained. Height is defined as the vertical distance from the take-off place or release from tow. Note: FAI does not recognise height flight as a category for hang glider records Altitude flight: A flight measured for altitude achieved or maintained. Altitude is defined as the vertical distance from mean sea level. Note: FAI does not recognise altitude flight as a category for hang glider records Gain of height flight: A flight measured for gain of height between any low height and the subsequent greatest height during free flight. Speed flight: A flight timed for speed between a departure point and a finish point.

There are also out-and-return and triangle records, and speed around such courses.


New definitions have been incorporated to accommodate the use of gps's.

Every flight must have a point from where the flight is measured. It can be the take-off place or a remote departure point, which can be a specified physical point, or FAI sector or observation point that must be declared BEFORE the flight commences. Take-off place: The point from which the take-off is made. If operating from an airfield, the point may be taken as the centre of the airfield. Departure point: The take-off place; or the point of release of tow; or the crossing of a start line; or a ground feature photographed from the correct photo sector; or departure from a FAI or cylinder observation zone recorded by an approved flight recorder. Start Sector: A designated sector, marked either by physical features on the ground, or a specified shape and size which is oriented around a physical feature on the ground, or a specified shape and size which is orientated around GPS co-ordinates (or a set of GPS co-ordinates). Sectors are only used optionally when flight data recorders are used for flight verification. Landing place: Either the centre of the airfield or the precise place at which the landing is made. Finish point: Either the landing place or the entry of an observation zone (or optionally a sector, if a flight data recorder is used instead of a GPS). Finish line: A gateway of designated width and height with the base indicated on the surface. Observation Zone - - - NEW! Observation Zones replaced Finish Sectors
If the flight performance is validated by GPS, a cylindrical observation zone shall be used. If an approved IGC flight data recorder is used, a cylindrical observation zone is preferred, but an FAI sector, as defined in 1.2.9 of Section 3 (Gliders) of the Sporting Code, as reproduced below in, may be used. Cylindrical observation zones A turnpoint cylinder may be specified by GPS coordinates and radius. The record or badge distance will be the minimum distance it is possible to fly by entering the specified observation zones. For badges and records, the radius of the turnpoint shall be 400m equally all around the turnpoint coordinates. FAI sector observation zones A sector observation zone is the airspace above a 90-degree sector of a cylinder with its apex at the waypoint. This sector is:
  • for a turnpoint: symmetrical to and remote from the bisector of the inbound and outbound legs of the turnpoint;
  • for a start point: symmetrical to and remote from the outbound leg;
  • for a finish point: symmetrical to and remote from the inbound leg. Observation Zones If the flight performance is validated by GPS, a cylindrical observation zone shall be used. If an approved IGC flight data recorder is used, a cylindrical observation zone is preferred, but an FAI sector, as defined in 1.2.9 of Section 3 (Gliders) of the Sporting Code, as reproduced below in, may be used. ( does not exist, so perhaps is the correct number). Cylindrical observation zones A turnpoint cylinder may be specified by GPS coordinates and radius. The record or badge distance will be the minimum distance it is possible to fly by entering the specified observation zones. For badges and records, the radius of the turnpoint shall be 400m equally all around the turnpoint coordinates. FAI sector observation zones A sector observation zone is the airspace above a 90-degree sector of a cylinder with its apex at the waypoint. This sector is:

  • for a turnpoint: symmetrical to and remote from the bisector of the inbound and outbound legs of the turnpoint;
  • for a start point: symmetrical to and remote from the outbound leg;
  • for a finish point: symmetrical to and remote from the inbound leg.

    New record claims must provide improvements on previous records as follows:

  • Straight distance - 1km
  • Straight distance to a declared goal - 1km
  • Out-and-return distance - 1km
  • Distance around a triangular course - 1km
  • Speed around triangular courses of 25, 50, 100, 150, 200 and 300 km - 1%
  • Speed over out-and-return courses of 100, 200 and 300 km - 1%
  • Gain of height - 3%

    Taking these rules, let us apply them to record flights.

    What is a distance record?

    It is a record flown from a known point (the take off or departure point), specified on the pilot's declaration, to an unknown "finish" point. Normally the finish point in paragliding and hang gliding will be the landing point. Distance records must improve the previous record by at least 1km (previously 1%) (Section O, 3.4).

    What is a goal record?

    It is a flight from a take off or departure point, specified in writing, to a finish point, also specified in writing.

    The rules in the Sporting Code make it clear that if the release point is to be used as the departure point (see also the next paragraph), this must be specified in writing on the declaration before the flight commences. If the airfield is used without a clear specification of the departure point on the declaration form, then the centre of the airfield will apply for distance measurements.

    A declared goal flight has the same rules, and the starting point as well as the goal point has to be declared before take off.

    Anyone using point of release for verification, must be able to prove that the gps co-ordinates offered is correct. Co-ordinates used for verification purposes should be able to be verified on a map easily and corroborated by photographs of land features that is visible on a map.

    The allowance of the release of tow point ( Point of Release - The place vertically below the hang glider when it releases from a tow) is for the use of aerotows, for example. (6.1 Control of flights shall be affected by official observers except that aero tow pilots may certify the altitude, time and point of release from tow.) Winch operators/drivers are not (yet) allowed to certify this, perhaps because it is not possible to reliably state how high or the exact position the pilot was when he released.

    The centre of the airfield is the departure point where a declared goal flight is done, in the absence of a remote declared departure point. However, it should be understood that for aerotow launched declared goal flights, the pilot must be free flying at a specific departure point. This must be certified by the Official Observer. For example, a hang glider may be towed up at Kuruman, but will have to be free flying before he reaches the specified departure point (whatever it is) on his way to the goal, and will have to be observed and will have to take photographs of his departure point from the correct sector (of the point in the direction of his planned route/goal). (He must be free flying between the departure point and the goal.) If the middle of the airfield is used as the departure point, the pilot can be towed as far away in the opposite direction of the goal and as high as he likes, but he must be off tow when he gets back to the airfield, and he must overfly the middle of the airfield (or its extended line in accordance to the regulations) in free flight, as he must be certified as being in free flight at the departure point.

    A pilot towed up by a winch must take a photograph of the airfield before leaving the vicinity. Preferably this photograph must be in sector, but it has been found that even if it is not in sector (it can be very difficult for the pilot to get into sector on a strong day), FAI will accept the photograph. The important part is that the pilot shows his departure or take off point on his first flight photos, on every attempt. Now that 3D GPS units are acceptable, it should be easier to prove that one has been in sector, but photographs will enhance a record attempt and make verification much easier.

    The finish point in the case of the declared goal flight has to be the point as declared on the sheet. There MUST be a photograph of this point in sector, i.e. showing the feature looking back towards the take off. A pilot can carry on to fly an open distance record (provided he declared this on his sheet at the same time) after crossing the goal point. Now with GPS verification accepted, this should also not be a problem anymore, but again, having photographs will enhance the application.


    There have been statements that it will be easier to fly World Records because no declaration is required. That is not true according to the Sporting Code. One still has to make the necessary declarations as always and photographic evidence in uncut film of the claim statement, take off, declaration of goal & turnpoints is needed. Nowhere does it state that declarations or photos are not required. It is just easier because the gps will just make it easier to prove the claim.

    One still has to fly into the correct sectors or cylinders, on goal flights as well as open distance flights.

    3.5.1 Advance notice No advance notice or permit is required for a record attempt provided that the necessary official observers are present and proper arrangements have been made to control the attempt. Only a single declaration may be made for a record attempt, except that straight distance and distance to a declared goal may be declared together.

    The "no advance notice or permit" refers to the pilot informing the CIVL or his NAC that he is going to attempt a World Record. He just has to make sure that he is compliant with all the regulations, and that he has at least one Official Observer with him when he makes the attempt.

    NB!! One may not "accidentally" break the World Record, and then try and get the gps tracklog validated. Everything must be in place PRIOR to the attempt - the Official Observer, the declaration, etc. Hence, in my opinion, the photos are still going to be important in order to oil the verification of the attempt. (In future, it could perhaps be easier to falsify claims for "accidental" flights, which would mean that the flight in all likelihood was done without proper observance and declarations.)

    3.5.4 Task Declaration When a record or badge flight is to be validated by use of a GPS or flight data recorder the task declaration must state the type of start, turn and finish points to be used e.g. FAI Sector or cylinder. If a GPS is being used to validate the flight, a paper copy of the task declaration must be filled out, signed and presented to the official observer prior to the start of the flight. If an IGC flight data recorder is being used, the declaration shall be made in in the instrument itself.

    Barograph and/or GPS
    NEW! One can now use the following instruments to verify a record attempt: The barograph need not be calibrated for distance or goal flights. It must be calibrated within the preceding 12 months or within 1 month after the flight, for height gain altitude records.

    The type of barograph used must have been accepted by FAI before the record attempt. A list of approved barographs can be found on the CIVL website but it is not up to date.

    As at this date (June 2005) the Bräuniger Compeo (Galileo), Competino, and Flytec 5030 and 5020 have not yet been approved as barographs, but possibly because they are 3D gps units. The LogIt and MaxLogger units are not accepted devices for record verification either yet. Neither have I been able to get a list of approved gps instruments, although the Sporting Code refers to it.

    5.4 GPS and flight recorders, and Barographs A serviceable GPS or flight recorder approved by CIVL, and optionally a barograph, must be used for all record and badge flights. It is the responsibility of the official observer to be familiar with the equipment used. A serviceable GPS or approved IGC flight recorder, and optionally a barograph must be used for all badge and record flights. No instrumentation is required for duration flights made locally and under continuous surveillance. The GPS or flight recorder must record altitude in the tracklog (i.e. the tracklog is 3D); alternatively, a non-altitude encoding GPS (i.e. a 2D tracklog) may be used if supplemented by an approved barograph; however, no barograph is required with a 2D GPS for the bronze badge.

    5.4.1 The GPS A GPS tracklog with altitude encoding (3D) may be used to validate a claim for a badge or record flight providing the tracklog is nearly continuous and provides unequivocal evidence that no intermediate landing was made and it generally substantiates the flight. Interruptions in the tracklog will not invalidate the flight provided the gaps do not bring into question the continuity of the flight. Generally speaking, gaps of less than 10 min. are acceptable. GPS units without altitude encoding (2D) may be used alone only for bronze badges; for silver and higher badges, and records, 2D GPS may only be used in combination with a barograph.

  • The GPS data shall be downloaded by the Official Observer using flight verification software (see 5.4.3 below) that reads the GPS directly, produces an IGC formatted file and incorporates a security feature to identify tampering.

  • The Official Observer must clear the active GPS track log before the start of the flight. The GPS memory should contain the start point, any turn points and the declared finish point (in addition to any other points) before the start of the flight. The route, if any, should be activated in the GPS and so observed by the Official Observer at the start of the flight.

  • The recording interval of the GPS, if adjustable, should be set to an interval as short as feasible, taking into account the memory capacity of the GPS and the intended length of flight, but in any event less than one minute. GPS Data
    The pilot must provide an unambiguous track log that shows without doubt that the data was collected;
  • By the pilot of the hang glider on the flight in question.
  • Of the declared turn point co-ordinates from the correct location in the correct sequence.
  • Between the takeoff and landing.
  • With all relevant information being present on the track log. Essential Data
    The track log must show for any start, finish or turn point that the pilot was in the relevant observation zone i.e. one of the following:
  • A point within the normal FAI sector or cylinder.
  • A pair of consecutive points not more than 30 seconds apart for which a straight line drawn from the first point to the second point passes through the allowable sector, plus the allowable sector additions for possible GPS error

    5.4.2 GPS and Flight Data Recorder Verification Software
    The verification software must confirm that all points used to verify the flight occurred at reasonable times (e.g. on the day in question, between the start of the task and the end of the task, and showing the correct chronology of start and turn points). It must also have an integral security feature (often known as the G Security Record) which will indicate if a tracklog has been tampered with at any point since recording. It is the responsibility of the NAC controlling the record attempt to provide evidence of this security to the FAI, that is, an electronic copy of the secured tracklog, in IGC format.

    The above GPS rules are so detailed that it is not necessary to expand on them.

    "Rules" to fly the record by:

    The above may seem like a lot of unnecessary extra work, but if you have put in all the effort and money and time to fly a record, then it is worth it. It is also worth it to have everything verified, to make sure that there are no problems and therefore no disappointments.

    National Records

    Most people don't think about National Records as an achievement, and usually try for World Records. Often, though, National Records are broken during a failed World Record attempt. For example, someone had a paragliding flight of over 300 km a year or two ago, during an attempt for a declared goal record. However, due to the pilot not applying for a National Record, the current official open distance National Record is still 285km, set by Alex Louw in 1992!

    Requirements for official national records are the same as for World Records.


    The very first record claim I worked with was that of Alex Louw, apart from dabbling in dreaming and weakly trying to fly a record myself, and being an official observer for others. It was an eye opener. He showed me exactly how he did it, and why he did it. It was a piece of art. Since then I have seen many claims, with varying degrees of care taken. But Alex's submission was never surpassed. No wonder then that most of the suggestions above have their grounding in Alex Louw's World Record claim in 1992.

    That was also when I learnt about the Aero Club's loss of face due to hasty "verification" of claims. Due to the Aero Club's insistance since then that co-ordinates be verified and that photos and goals and maps be reconciled as required by the gliding association, I have learnt the worth of good preparation. With this background, all the records submitted have had no problems passing the FAI scrutiny (unless there were other reasons for their rejection).

    If you have suggestions on how to improve the verification of world record attempts, please let me know to include them here.

    Laura Nelson
    Updated June 2005
    Updated September 2003
    Updated November 2002
    Updated May 2001
    Originally written in 1996 for myself and my tourgroups.


    Only full SAHPA Members can become Official Observers for hang gliding and paragliding Official Observers. Non-pilots may become SAHPA members in order to be Official Observers, but must display knowledge of and interest in the sports. The SAHPA Committee retains the right to test any applicant's knowledge of the Sporting Codes.

    Selection List