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.