Greetings, air sports aficionados!
Are you ready to soar to new heights?
Take off with our air sports list, ranked by popularity.
From high-flying daredevils to ground-bound beginners, there’s an adventure waiting for everyone!
Air Sports List
- Hang gliding
- Wingsuit flying
- Air racing
- Drone racing
Table of Contents
Paragliding originated in France in the late 1970s, when engineer David Barish developed the “slope soaring” concept. Today, paragliding is popular worldwide, with hotspots like the Swiss Alps, İzmir in Turkey, and Bir-Billing in India.
The sport involves flying a lightweight, foot-launched glider, and pilots can stay aloft for hours.
The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) oversees paragliding competitions, including the Paragliding World Cup and the World Air Games. Paragliding is not an Olympic sport.
#2 Hang gliding
Hang gliding’s roots can be traced back to the pioneering work of German engineer Otto Lilienthal in the late 19th century. The modern version of hang gliding was developed in the USA in the 1960s.
The sport involves flying a lightweight, non-motorized glider, controlled by shifting body weight. Popular hang gliding destinations include Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Interlaken in Switzerland, and Kitty Hawk in the USA.
The FAI’s Hang Gliding and Paragliding Commission (CIVL) organizes the World Hang Gliding Championships. Hang gliding is not an Olympic sport.
Skydiving, also known as parachuting, originated in the early 20th century, with the first planned freefall jump made by Leslie Irvin in 1919. The sport involves jumping from an aircraft and free-falling before deploying a parachute.
Skydiving is popular worldwide and is governed by the International Skydiving Commission (ISC), a part of FAI. Competitive skydiving events include the World
Parachuting Championships, the World Cup of Formation Skydiving, and the World Air Games. Skydiving is not part of the Olympic program.
Latest Posts about Skydiving
#4 Wingsuit flying
Wingsuit flying traces its origins to French skydiver Patrick de Gayardon’s experiments in the late 1990s. The sport involves wearing a specialized suit with fabric wings, allowing for gliding while in freefall, increasing flight time and maneuverability.
It sees popularity in locations with mountainous terrain like Switzerland, Norway, and the USA.
The ISC also oversees wingsuit flying, with competitions like the Wingsuit Flying World Cup and the World Air Games. It is not an Olympic sport.
Gliding, or soaring, has its roots in the early 20th century, when pioneers like the Wright brothers and Otto Lilienthal developed gliders.
The sport involves piloting a motorless aircraft, utilizing rising air currents to stay aloft for hours. Popular gliding destinations include Germany, the USA, and Australia.
The International Gliding Commission (IGC) of FAI governs the sport, and competitions include the World Gliding Championships and the European Gliding Championships. Gliding is not an Olympic sport.
Aerobatics, the art of performing aerial maneuvers with an aircraft, dates back to the early 20th century. The French aviator Adolphe Pégoü demonstrated the first aerobatic maneuver—a loop—in 1913.
Today, aerobatics is popular worldwide, particularly in countries with strong aviation histories, like the USA, Russia, and the UK.
The CIVA (Commission Internationale de Voltige Aérienne) of FAI oversees the sport, organizing competitions like the World Aerobatic Championships and the European Aerobatic Championships. Aerobatics is not part of the Olympic program.
#7 Air racing
Air racing, the competitive sport of racing aircraft, began shortly after the invention of airplanes, with the Gordon Bennett Trophy race in 1909.
Today, air racing is enjoyed worldwide. Events like the Reno Air Races in the USA and the Red Bull Air Race
World Championship showcase pilots navigating tight courses at high speeds. The General Aviation Commission (GAC) of FAI governs air racing, and the sport is not part of the Olympic program.
Ballooning has its origins in 18th-century France with the Montgolfier brothers’ first successful human-carrying hot air balloon flight in 1783.
Today, ballooning is popular worldwide as both a recreational activity and a competitive sport.
The FAI’s Ballooning Commission (CIA) governs the sport, organizing events like the Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race and the World Air Games. Ballooning is not part of the Olympic program.
Kitesurfing, also known as kiteboarding, was developed in the late 20th century by pioneers such as the Legaignoux brothers and Cory Roeseler. The sport involves riding on a board while being propelled by a large kite.
Kitesurfing is popular in locations with consistent winds, like the Dominican Republic, Tarifa, Spain, and Cape Town, South Africa.
The Global Kitesports Association (GKA) oversees the sport, and the annual GKA Kite World Tour takes place across multiple locations. Kitesurfing is not an Olympic sport.
Latest Posts about Kiteboarding
#10 Drone racing
Drone racing emerged as a sport in the early 2010s and involves pilots flying small, agile, remote-controlled aerial vehicles through complex courses at high speeds.
The sport’s popularity has grown worldwide, with significant events like the FAI Drone Racing World Cup and the Drone Champions League. The CIAM (Aeromodelling Commission) of FAI governs drone racing, and the sport is not part of the Olympic program.
More Air Sports
- Aeromodelling: The origins of aeromodelling go back to the early 19th century, with flying model aircraft made of wood and paper. Today, it includes a variety of disciplines, such as radio-controlled aircraft, gliders, and helicopters. The sport is popular worldwide, with competitions like the FAI World Championships for Aeromodelling and Drone Racing, overseen by the CIAM.
- Powered paragliding: Developed in the early 1980s, powered paragliding involves flying with a motorized paraglider, offering greater versatility compared to traditional paragliding. The sport has gained popularity worldwide, particularly in Europe, the USA, and Brazil. The International Powered Paragliding and Ultralight Aviation Championships are organized under CIMA (FAI’s Microlight and Paramotor Commission).
- Powered hang gliding: Similar to powered paragliding, powered hang gliding features a hang glider with a small internal combustion engine, offering extended flight times and range. The sport is enjoyed worldwide, and CIMA organizes the World Microlight and Paramotor Championships.
- Ultralight aviation: Ultralight aviation emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with lightweight, slow-flying planes intended for recreational use. The sport is popular in North America, Europe, and Australia. CIMA governs ultralight aviation and organizes the World Microlight and Paramotor Championships.
- Rally flying: Also known as air rally or air navigation race, rally flying involves pilots navigating a pre-determined course with time and precision checks. The sport originated in the 1930s and gained popularity worldwide. The FAI’s General Aviation Commission (GAC) oversees the sport, organizing events like the World Rally Flying Championships.
- Canopy piloting: Also known as swooping, canopy piloting involves skydivers performing high-speed, ground-level maneuvers with specifically designed parachutes. The sport gained popularity in the early 21st century. The ISC organizes the Canopy Piloting World Championships and World Cup events.
- BASE jumping: An acronym for Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth, BASE jumping involves parachuting from fixed objects, such as cliffs or buildings. This extreme sport emerged in the late 20th century, with pioneers like Carl Boenish. BASE jumping is popular in locations like Norway, Switzerland, and the USA, but it is not a competitive sport governed by FAI.
- Kiting: Kiting dates back to ancient China, where kites were used for military and communication purposes. Today, kiting is a popular sport and recreational activity worldwide, with events like the World Kite Festival and International Kiteboarding Competitions. There is no official governing body for kiting as a standalone sport.
- Kite fighting: Originating in East Asia over a thousand years ago, kite fighting is a competitive sport where participants use kites to cut or capture an opponent’s kite. The sport is primarily popular in countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Brazil. Kite fighting competitions include the International Kite Festival in India, but no official governing body oversees the sport.
- Human-powered flying: Human-powered flying involves piloting an aircraft powered solely by the muscles of the pilot. The sport dates back to the 19th century and gained renewed interest in the 20th century with events like the Kremer Prize. Although not widely practiced, human-powered flying is recognized by the FAI’s Amateur-built and Experimental Aircraft Commission (CIACA).
- Rotorcraft: Rotorcraft, which includes helicopters and autogyros, emerged in the first half of the 20th century. The sport is popular worldwide, with competitions like the World Helicopter Championships. The FAI’s International Rotorcraft Commission (CIG) governs rotorcraft sport disciplines.
- Cluster ballooning: A niche sport, cluster ballooning involves attaching a group of helium-filled balloons to a harness and lifting off the ground. Most famous for the exploits of “Lawnchair Larry” Walters in 1982, cluster ballooning captures imaginations worldwide but has no large-scale competitive events or governing body.
- Hopper ballooning: Another niche sport, hopper ballooning features a small, one-person hot air balloon. It gained popularity in the UK in the 1970s and has since spread globally. Hopper ballooning events take place at balloon festivals, but it is not governed by a separate organization from standard ballooning.
- Bodyflight: Bodyflight, also known as indoor skydiving, involves flying in a vertical wind tunnel, simulating the freefall experience of skydiving. The sport emerged in the early 21st century, with competitions like the FAI Indoor Skydiving World Cup organized by the ISC.
- Bungee jumping: Bungee jumping dates back to the indigenous people of Vanuatu, who practiced the ancient ritual of land diving. The modern sport was popularized in the late 20th century by A.J. Hackett. Bungee jumping takes place at various iconic locations worldwide, like Victoria Falls or the Kawarau Bridge, but has no official governing body.
- High diving: High diving, an extreme version of traditional diving, involves diving from significant heights, often into open water. The sport is popular in locations like Acapulco, Mexico, and the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series showcases exceptional divers. High diving is recognized by FINA but is not part of the Olympic program.
- Parachuting (ISC): See #3 Skydiving.
- Banzai skydiving: An extreme and lesser-known sport, banzai skydiving involves throwing a parachute out of an airplane before jumping out and attempting to catch and put it on in mid-air. The sport is inherently risky and has no organized competitive events or governing body.
- Skysurfing: Skysurfing combines skydiving and surfing, with participants using a specialized board to perform aerial maneuvers during freefall. The sport gained popularity in the 1990s, with pioneers like Patrick de Gayardon. Skysurfing competitions took place in the past, but the sport’s popularity has waned in favor of wingsuit flying.
- Trapeze: Originating in the mid-19th century, trapeze artistry was pioneered by French acrobat Jules Léotard. The sport combines gymnastics with aerial acrobatics and is primarily showcased in circuses. Trapeze competitions are rare, and the sport has no official governing body.
- Cliff jumping: A combination of diving and freefall, cliff jumping involves jumping from a cliff into a body of water. Not a formal competitive sport, cliff jumping is a recreational activity and an extreme sport, popular in locations like Maui, Hawaii, and Positano, Italy.
What are the most popular air sports?
The most popular air sports include paragliding, hang gliding, skydiving, wingsuit flying, gliding, aerobatics, air racing, ballooning, kiteboarding/kitesurfing, and drone racing.
How many different air sports are there?
Our air sports list includes 31 unique air sports.