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Judy Leden

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Judy Leden

Judy Leden
Born 1959 (age 54–55) -->
Spouse Chris Dawes
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) 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.

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

Judy has landed many sponsorship deals including Citroën. 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, Judy is the senior instructor proficient in every form of free flying [4]

Judy'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 a flight on his 98th and 100th birthdays.[5][6]


In 1989 Judy 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 even featured in an episode of Spitting Image.[1][7]

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

Early 1992 saw Judy taking 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]

The "Flight for life" flight from London to Amman, Jordan for Cancer research campaign with Ben Ashman. 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][11]

In 1996 Judy's autobiography "Flying with Condors" was published.[1] This title was also used for a BBC 1 Natural World documentary where Judy and husband Chris Dawes travelled to Patagonia to fly with Andean Condors using hang gliders, paragliders and paramotors.[12]

Judy'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[13][14][15] and in 2009 the makers of a replica of the first aircraft to fly in the UK recruited Judy in an attempt to get their replica Roe Triplane airborne.[16][17]


Judy 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, 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)[18][19]
13 July 1983 HG W Straight Distance 233 km. (Feminine World, National) [18][19][20]
28 April 1989 HG UK Open distance 114 miles from Wether Fell to Lincolnshire.[19][21][22]
14 January 1990 HG W Distance with one turn point 81.72 km at Forbes, Australia. (Feminine World, National)[18][19]
22 January 1990 HG W Distance with one turn point 170 km at Forbes, Australia. (All Feminine World, National)[18][19]
24 January 1990 HG W speed over triangular course of 25 km 16.67Kph at Forbes, Australia.[18][19]
22 June 1991 HG W triangular course 114.107 km at Kossen, Austria. (Feminine World, National)[18][19]
1 January 1992 HG W height gain 3970metres at Kuruman, South Africa. (Feminine World, National)[18][19]
25 October 1994 HG W Altitude record for a hang glider release from a balloon Taking off from Wadi Rum, Jordan, Judy was flown to an altitude of 41,300 feet, (12390m)by world class balloonist Per Lindstrand.[23] This flight was filmed for the Discovery documentary Stratosfear [24] by Matt Dickinson[25]
12 January 1997 HG W Tandem flight to goal Steve Varden and Judy Leden make flight to goal of 36.3 km from Kuruman, South Africa (Multiplace World, National) [19][26]
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.[27]
11 April 2003 PG UK Straight Distance (F) 94.4 km, Bradwell Edge to Grasby, Ozone Vulcan[28]
17 March 2004 PG UK Straight Distance (F) 125.0 km, Bradwell Edge to Spilsby, Ozone Vibe [28]
9 December 1992 PG W Straight Distance (F) 128.5 km, Vryburg (South Africa) to, Firebird Apache[18][28]
20 July 1994 PG W Distance around a Triangular Course (F) Sarah Fenwick, Judy Leden, 50.3 km, Piedrahita, Nova Sphinx & Edel Rainbow [18][28]
20 July 1994 PG W Speed over a Triangular Course of 50 km (F) Piedrahita, 15.8 km/h, 20/07/1994, Edel Rainbow[18][28]

Media appearances

(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]

(1994) Stratosfear Discovery Channel documentary [24] 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]

Don't Try This at Home

(2003) Woman's Hour two interviews with presenter Jenni Murray discussing Leonardo's Dream Machine and flying with Sir Nicholas Winton[9][29]

(2003) Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker taught to fly & makes successful tandem world record breaking flight with Airways instructor Judy Leden.[27]

(2005) BBC 1 Natural World documentary Flying with Condors using hang gliders, paragliders and paramotors.[12]

(2006) An extract from Gavin Pretor-Pinney, showing him what its like to fly through the clouds on a hang glider. [30]

(2010) Blue Peter presenter Joel Defries learnt to fly with Airways instructor Judy Leden with the aim of flying with Lucy the Peregrine Falcon.[31]

(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.[32]

(2011) The Gadget Show presenter, Jon Bentley, flew with Judy Leden, competing with a peregrine falcon to track a lure[33]

(2011) Judy Leden takes BBC Breakfast Weather reporter Carol Kirkwood flying in a hang glider to see a cloud close up and weight it, for BBC's The Great British Weather Show.[34]


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