Judy Leden

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Judy Leden
Judy Leden MBE.jpg
Born 1959 (age 58–59)
Spouse Chris Dawes
Relatives Yasmin (daughter)
Cameron (son)
Aviation career
Famous flights Crossing English Channel in hang glider. Dropped from a balloon from 40,000ft over Jordan.
Awards MBE. Royal Aero Club Gold Medal. Hussein Medal for Excellence. Star of the First Order.

Judy Leden, MBE (born 1959) is a British hang glider and paraglider pilot. She has held three world championships,[1] twice in hang gliding, once in paragliding.


Judy Leden's flying career began while she was at university in Cardiff in 1979. She started competing in 1982 and broke many records in 1983. She currently holds world records for both hang gliding and paragliding. Leden turned professional in 1988, becoming the only woman to earn a living as a hang glider and paraglider pilot. Her work includes films, stunts, flying displays, teaching and writing. She is a friend and supporter of Flyability, the BHPA charity to help disabled people to fly hang gliders and paragliders.

As a display pilot, Leden has been asked to take part in a range of airshows. She was asked to fly at the Imperial War Museum display at Duxford as part of their 2011 Spring Air Show themed Celebrating Women in Aviation.[2] Unfortunately the strong winds made conditions unsafe for flying hang gliders.[3]

Leden has landed many sponsorship deals, including Citroën. Her competitive success includes winning the Women's World Hang Gliding Championships in 1987 and again in 1991. She has been British Women's Champion six times and in 1995 she won the Women's World Paragliding Championship.[1] Involved at Airways Airsports from the start, Leden is the senior instructor proficient in every form of free flying.[4]

Leden's father was one of the children saved by Sir Nicholas Winton prior to the outbreak of World War II. She has taken him flying in a microlight on a number of occasions including his 98th and 100th birthdays.[5][6]


In 1989 Leden became the first woman to fly over the English Channel by hang glider following a launch from a hot air balloon at 13,000 feet. The flight received substantial press attention and was featured in an episode of Spitting Image.[1][7]

For the Channel 4 documentary Cotopaxi Dream she climbed and flew from the top of Cotapaxi, at 19,600 feet the world's tallest active volcano.[1][8][9]

In early 1992 Leden took part in the Flight of the Dacron Eagles, a 1000-mile, three-week microlight and hang glider expedition down the rift valley in Kenya, filming for the BBC 1 Classic Adventure series with cameramen Sid Perou, microlight pilots Richard Meredith-Hardy and Ben Ashman and hang glider pilots Mark Dale, Tim Hudson and Louise Anderton.[1][10][11]

The "Flight for Life" flight from London to Amman, Jordan for a cancer research campaign with Ben Ashman was inspired by and in memory of hang glider pilot Yasmin Saudi, who died of cancer at the age of 24. The flight succeeded in raising over £100,000, and was filmed en route and made into a video.[1][12][13]

In 1996 Leden's autobiography Flying with Condors was published.[1] This title was also used for a BBC 1 Natural World documentary in which Leden and her husband Chris Dawes travelled to Patagonia to fly with Andean condors using hang gliders, paragliders and paramotors.[14][15][16]

Leden's wide experience with various aircraft, adventurous nature and low body weight has resulted in her being asked to test fly a number of unique aircraft. In 2003, she was asked to test fly a replica of a Leonardo da Vinci glider[17][18][19] and in 2009 the makers of a replica of the first aircraft to fly in the UK recruited Leden in an attempt to get their replica Roe Triplane airborne.[20][21]


Leden was awarded an MBE in 1989 for her services to hang gliding, and has received many other awards, including the Royal Aero Club Gold Medal, and Sportswoman of the Year from Cosmopolitan magazine and Middlesex county.[8] She also received the Hussein Medal for Excellence in recognition of her flight to Jordan by microlight, and the Star of the First Order by King Hussein.[1]


Date Class UK/worldwide Record Notes
15 June 1983 HG W Out and return distance 82.04 km at Owens Valley, USA. (Feminine World, National)[22][23]
13 July 1983 HG W Straight distance 233 km. (Feminine World, National)[22][23][24]
28 April 1989 HG UK Open distance 114 miles from Wether Fell to Lincolnshire.[23][25][26]
14 January 1990 HG W Distance with one turn point 81.72 km at Forbes, Australia. (Feminine World, National)[22][23]
22 January 1990 HG W Distance with one turn point 170 km at Forbes, Australia. (All Feminine World, National)[22][23]
24 January 1990 HG W Speed over triangular course of 25 km 16.67 km/h at Forbes, Australia.[22][23]
22 June 1991 HG W Triangular course 114.107 km at Kossen, Austria. (Feminine World, National)[22][23]
1 January 1992 HG W Height gain 3970 metres at Kuruman, South Africa. (Feminine World, National)[22][23]
25 October 1994 HG W Altitude record for a hang glider release from a balloon Taking off from Wadi Rum, Jordan, Leden was flown to an altitude of 41,300 feet (12390m) by world class balloonist Per Lindstrand.[27] This flight was filmed for the Discovery documentary Stratosfear[28][29][30] by Matt Dickinson[31]
12 January 1997 HG W Tandem flight to goal Steve Varden and Leden made flight to goal of 36.3 km from Kuruman, South Africa (Multiplace World, National)[23][32]
15 October 2002 HG UK Tandem hang glider tow record Aerotow to over 11,000 feet. Her partner for the flight was Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker.[33][34]
11 April 2003 PG UK Straight distance (F) 94.4 km, Bradwell Edge to Grasby, Ozone Vulcan[35]
17 March 2004 PG UK Straight distance (F) 125.0 km, Bradwell Edge to Spilsby, Ozone Vibe[35]
9 December 1992 PG W Straight distance (F) 128.5 km, Vryburg (South Africa) to, Firebird Apache[22][35]
20 July 1994 PG W Distance around a triangular course (F) Sarah Fenwick, Judy Leden, 50.3 km, Piedrahita, Nova Sphinx & Edel Rainbow[22][35]
20 July 1994 PG W Speed over a triangular course of 50 km (F) Piedrahita, 15.8 km/h, 20 July 1994, Edel Rainbow[22][35]

Media appearances[edit]

(1989) ITN news reports on crossing the English Channel landing on the beach at Calais.[1]

(1991) Cotopaxi Dream Channel 4 documentary. The first ever hang glider flight from one of the world's highest active volcanoes – Cotopaxi in Ecuador, which rises 19,600 feet.[1][8][9]

(1992) Flight of Dacron Eagles BBC 1 Classic Adventure series[10][11]

(1994) Stratosfear - Discovery Channel documentary[28] on breaking the world altitude record for a hang glider release from a balloon taking off from Wadi Rum, Jordan to an altitude of 41,300 feet[1][29][30]

Don't Try This at Home - tandem hang glider flight from a mountain[36]

(1999) Scrapheap Challenge Series 2, Episode 1 "Flying Machine".

(2003) Woman's Hour - two interviews with presenter Jenni Murray discussing Leonardo's Dream Machine and flying with Sir Nicholas Winton[9][37]

(2003) Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker taught to fly & makes successful tandem world record breaking flight with Airways instructor Judy Leden.[33][34]

(2005) BBC 1 Natural World documentary Flying with Condors using hang gliders, paragliders and paramotors.[14][16]

(2006) An extract from BBC's Great British Summer. Airways instructor Judy Leden flying Tandem with Cloud Appreciation Society founder Gavin Pretor-Pinney, showing him what its like to fly through the clouds on a hang glider. [38]

(2010) Blue Peter presenter Joel Defries learnt to fly with Airways instructor Judy Leden with the aim of flying with Lucy the peregrine falcon.[39]

(2010) BBC Breakfast sports presenter Mike Bushell and BBC Disability Sport reporter Tony Garrett flew tandem with Airways instructor Judy Leden to experience hang gliding and to demonstrate the benefits of aerotowing for disabled students.[40]

(2011) The Gadget Show presenter, Jon Bentley, flew with Judy Leden, competing with a peregrine falcon to track a lure.[41]

(2011) Judy Leden took BBC Breakfast Weather reporter Carol Kirkwood flying in a hang glider to see a cloud close up and weigh it, for BBC's The Great British Weather Show.[42]

(2014) TEDx Talk: Putting the F into Future: Judy Leden at TEDxHurstpierpointCollege[43]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Flying with Condors by Judy Leden ISBN 0-7528-0874-5
  2. ^ "Celebrating Women in Aviation". Flightline UK. 23 March 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  3. ^ duxford-spring-air-show-22nd-may, SIMON FENWICK PHOTOGRAPHY, retrieved 16 February 2012 
  4. ^ "Instructors". Airways Airsports. 15 October 2002. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "'UK Schindler' in birthday flight". BBC News. 29 June 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Sir Nicky celebrates 98th year with record flight" (PDF). Maidenhead Advertiser. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  7. ^ Video on YouTube
  8. ^ a b c "Hang-gliding: Thermal hermit's obsession with the superlative: 'I would be too scared to look over Beachy Head, but ask me to jump off with a hang-glider and it's no problem'". Independent. 25 June 1993. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c "Woman's Hour March 4, 2003". BBC. 4 March 2003. Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  10. ^ a b "Flight of the Dacron Eagles". BMAA Records. 5 January 1992. Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Video on YouTube
  12. ^ "The Flylight Team". Flylight Airsports. 5 January 1992. Archived from the original on 17 December 2011. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  13. ^ Video on YouTube
  14. ^ a b "Watch Natural World Season 24 Episode 7 Flying with Condors". OVGuide. 30 November 2005. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  15. ^ Video on YouTube
  16. ^ a b Video on YouTube
  17. ^ "Leonardo Dream machine". IMDB. 4 May 2003. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  18. ^ Leonardo's Legacy by Stefan Klein (Author) ISBN 978-0-306-81825-7 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Leonardos-Legacy-Stefan-Klein/dp/0306818256/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1310456773&sr=8-8
  19. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci replica glider". Judy Leden. 4 May 2003. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  20. ^ "Judy Leden Flying A.V Roe's Tri-Plane". Airways Airsports. 4 November 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  21. ^ "Health and safety grounds magnificent girl in her flying machine". Daily Mail. 27 October 2009. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Hang gliding records". FAI. 4 May 2003. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Notable Achievements". British Hang Gliding Competitions. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  24. ^ Leden (September 1983), "In search of world records", Wings, p. 11 
  25. ^ Williams (June 1989), "Judy Leden sets new hang gliding distance record", Skywings, p. 11 
  26. ^ Leden (June 1989), "Beating the Women's distance record", Skywalker, p. 21 
  27. ^ Dougherty, Sean (December 1994), "News From Europe" (PDF), National Newsletter THE OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE HANG GLIDING AND PARAGLIDING ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, p. 21 
  28. ^ a b http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/525676 documentary ref
  29. ^ a b Video on YouTube
  30. ^ a b Video on YouTube
  31. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-23. 
  32. ^ Varden, Steve (May 1997), "We had it all…except the weather", Skywings, p. 46 
  33. ^ a b "Hang-gliders break world record". BBC. 15 October 2002. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  34. ^ a b Video on YouTube
  35. ^ a b c d e "Official UK Paragliding records". XC League UK cross-country flying. Retrieved 16 February 2012. 
  36. ^ Video on YouTube
  37. ^ "Womans Hour April 20, 2003". BBC. 20 April 2003. Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  38. ^ "Great British Summer (Audio sync slightly out as it has come from VHS.)". BBC. 5 November 2006. Retrieved 17 May 2011. 
  39. ^ "Blue Peter". BBC. 4 October 2010. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  40. ^ "Mike Bushell flies high with aerotow hang-gliding". BBC. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 18 April 2011. 
  41. ^ "Episode 11 (Man Vs Beast Challenge)". Gadget Show. 25 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  42. ^ "A clip from episode 2 'Carol Kirkwood flies through clouds'". BBC. 20 June 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  43. ^ "Putting the F into Future". TEDx Youth. 15 April 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2014.