SAFA marks 60 years of free flight in Australia

SAFA marks 60 years of free flight in AustraliaIt was 60 years ago in September 1963, Australian inventor John Dickenson set out to build a water ski wing that could be released at altitude and glide to a safe landing.  John’s developments leading the way for sports aviation globally.

In the years that followed, adventure-seeking pilots turned hang gliding and other free flight sports such as paragliding and microlight flying into a world-popular pastime that only continues to evolve in 2023.

The initial water-towed delta wing kites first flown at the 1963 Grafton Jacaranda Festival, by Rod Fuller, were a simple format that launched from the water in an awe-inspiring display to anyone who had ever dreamed of flying.

John Dickenson with water launched hang glidingThis inspired many and was quickly followed by the invention of the foot launched hang glider in 1970, with weight shift microlights introduced in the late 1970s and hill launched paragliding establishing in the early 1980s.

Today with more than 3,000 Sports Aviation Federation of Australia (SAFA) members taking to the skies annually across all disciplines, it’s fair to say the sport has really taken off.

While the first governing body was founded in 1974, it was four years later that the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia would be formed to ensure the safety and enjoyment of the sport for recreational and competitive pilots. In 2019 HGFA became a company limited by guarantee, now known as Sports Aviation Federation of Australia.

It is estimated that up to 20% of pilots compete in a variety of competitions in Australia and overseas and the increasing popularity has resulted in successful competitions being held annually in Australia. Many attract international competitors. Weather conditions and COVID restrictions have temporarily impacted some of these events in recent years.

But despite recent adversities, the number of competitions has grown since competitions began in February 1976 when the inaugural Australian Hang Gliding Championships were hosted at Mt York in the Blue Mountains, NSW.

Type of hang gliders used in the 1970sToday, competitions are held in picturesque locations all over Australia that most of you would know and love including Bright in regional Victoria, Gold Coast hinterland, the mid-western region of NSW and coastal destinations on the east and west coasts.

SAFA members are made up of…

  • 20% Hang gliders
  • 72% Paragliders / powered paragliders
  • 8% Microlights

With safety being our number one priority, the correct training is a crucial aspect of SAFA and a primary reason for the creation of the governing body, to ensure pilots have the experience necessary and practice safe flying. Pilots are required to keep up to date with operations manuals and undertake training with qualified instructors, whilst complying with national laws and regulations.

Creating pathways for female, new and junior pilots is a key focus for SAFA in 2023 and beyond to ensure the longevity of the sport and increase participation numbers across Australia.

Diversity in our sport is also important and each year we see an increase in female participation with approximately 9% of SAFA members being women. Several clubs have created more opportunities for female pilots with introductory classes and Women with Wings events to keep them engaged and grow membership numbers.

The growth of sports aviation across the world is clear with an expected >4% increase annually in the hang gliding market between 2023-28 and an increase of 5.28% for paragliding in the same period.

recent hang gliding competition held in Forbes Flatlands

SAFA is a member of the World Air Sports Federation which hosts an average of 745 events globally each year across many disciplines including hang gliding and paragliding.

This is an exciting statistic as it shows that there are many more aspiring pilots out there to be discovered and given the rare opportunity to see the world from a truly unique perspective – with a bird’s eye view.

We thank all our members for helping SAFA go from strength to strength and look forward to continuing this exciting journey with you all into this year and beyond.


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