To evaluate the physiological challenges of competitive cross-country hang gliding.
Seventeen experienced male pilots (age = 41 ± 9 y; mean ± SD) were fitted with a monitor that recorded heart rate and altitude at 0.5 Hz throughout a competitive fight. Fluid losses were evaluated by comparing pilot pre- and postfight mass.
The pilots’ displacement was 88.4 ± 43.7 km in 145.5 ± 49.4 min. Mean fight altitude was 1902 ± 427 m (range = 1363-2601 m) with a maximum altitude of 2925 ± 682 m (1870-3831 m). The mean in-fight heart rate of the pilots was 112 ± 11 bpm (64 ± 6% predicted HRmax). For all except one subject, heart rate was highest while launching (165 ± 12 bpm, 93 ± 7% predicted HRmax), followed by landing (154 ± 13 bpm, 87 ± 7% predicted HRmax). No statistically significant relationship was observed between heart rate during the launch and reported measures of state anxiety. Heart rate was inversely related (P < .01) to altitude for all pilots except one. Fluid loss during the fight was 1.32 ± 0.70 L, which approximated 0.55 L/h, while mean in-fight fluid consumption was 0.39 ± 0.44 L. Six pilots consumed no fluid during the fight.
Even among experienced pilots, high heart rates are more a function of state anxiety than physical work demand. Fluid losses during fight are surprisingly moderate but pilots may still benefit from attending to fluid balance.
Morton is with the Faculty of Education, Avondale College Cooranbong, NSW, Australia.