From Sonic Retro
They have appeared only a few times within the Sonic the Hedgehog games, separated by a gulf of many years. The first instance was in 1992's Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (8-bit), and then again in 2005 with Sonic Rush, and later in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) Sonic Rush Adventure, Sonic Rivals 2, Sonic Colours (Nintendo DS) and most recently Sonic Mania. It also appeared in an episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.
In Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the central gimmick of Sky High Zone, hang gliding sections are moderately infuriating features of the level's stormy second Act. The curved white, orange, and blue Gliders were used by Sonic to get from peak to peak. Often difficult to control, players have to run at the stationary glider with as much pace as possible to get sufficient momentum during flight. During flight, holding will make the Hang Glider dive for added speed, and (somewhat counter-intuitively) holding prompted a minor boost in height at the cost of speed. There are also updrafts throughout the Zone which can be exploited for additional altitude. The Hang Glider can be ditched by pressing or .
A hang-gliding Sonic featured prominently on many of the game's box and cartridge designs.
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Sonic or Blaze have to utilize a Hang Glider in both Acts of Altitude Limit to cross expanses of open sky. Shortly after taking flight by simply touching the Hang Glider, the player's perspective switches to a forward-oriented 3D view. Use to rise, to descend, and and to steer, avoiding Egg Flappers while gathering Rings. Eventually, the game will return to its usual 2D perspective and the player will leave the Hang Glider behind.
Sonic and Blaze get to utilize steam-powered hang glider-like contraptions in Machine Labyrinth and Hidden Island 9. The player will automatically fly to the right at the speed which they made contact with the Glider. The Glider also slowly descends, but the player can gain a sudden burst of altitude by pressing . They must avoid touching enemies, as such will both damage them and wrestle the Glider from their grasp, but also don't touch the ceiling, which will also cause them to lose the Glider. Machine Labyrinth's characteristic steam jets will also make the player lose contact with the Glider as you're blown away. Sometimes, arrows in the background will tell the player when it's appropriate to increase height. They can press or at any time to ditch the delicate device.
Captain Whisker's pirate robots patrol the slopes of Blizzard Peaks utilizing normal Hang Gliders. They usually appear as the player speeding down a hill or launching off a Spring, so it's easy to put vertical distance between them and themselves.
Appearing briefly in Blue Coast Zone Act 3, the red-and-blue Gliders enabled swift travel above a section of track within the Greek-themed seaside complex. Just as easily capable of going up as well as down, the Glider's handling was very similar to the rockets encountered later in Chaotic Inferno Zone, although the Gliders didn't explode if held on for too long.
In Tropical Resort, a hang gliding section happens near the end of the 1st Act of the stage. The screen turns on an angle, and Sonic has to dodge oncoming bombs while collecting Rings in flight. It drops him off at the end of the stage.
As of the v1.04 update, Hang Gliders are featured at the end of Flying Battery Zone in Sonic Mania. Here, they are used as part of the transition to Press Garden Zone, where the player's character(s) escape the Flying Battery using a Hang Glider. Their appearance is taken straight from the 8-bit Sonic 2.
In other media
A Hang Glider appears in the Sonic Breakout episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Scratch and Grounder ride it in an attempt to catch Sonic, whom they think also is riding a hang glider. After the two robots have flown far enough, Sonic pulls the sailcloth off, causing them to plummet into the sea.