You Can Fly! Hang Gliding at Jockeys Ridge, Nags Head, NC

You Can Fly!

These words introduced the beginner hang gliding training film at Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head, the largest and oldest hang gliding school in the world. And it's true. You can fly. I did, and so can anyone who is reasonably healthy and weighs between 85 and 225 pounds. Kitty Hawk Kites taught people from ages 9 to 83 to fly in 1990. 2,000 students were over 40 and 5,000 were women.

The methods of flying are almost as varied as the people who fly, ranging from hang gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park or The Blue Ridge mountains to "Tandem Tows" and paragliding.

We registered for the most popular course, beginner dune gliding. While waiting for our instructors, we talked with the other students, joking about the disclaimers we had to sign and comparing health and strength.

Beginner Hang Gliding Course

After two short films, the class "harnnessed up" at the Kitty Hawk Sports pavillion and went straight to "ground school" across the streeet at Jockey's Ridge, the tallest natural sand dune on the Atlantic Coast at 100-140 feet above sea level.

Our instructor, Vince Hannon, put us all more at ease when he informed the class of his "other job" as a paramedic for the Outer Banks Rescue Squad. Once we made it to the sand dunes, he also assured us we had successfully completed the most dangerous part of the class--crossing the street.

With the rescue squad, Vince said he had responded to many more road-crossing accidents than he had hang-gliding accidents, and of the five broken bones associated with hang gliding that he had witnessed in his experience with the sport, four resulted from advanced pilots trying new stunts.

The climb to our sand dune was the most taxing part of the experience. More comfortable and at ease with our instructor, but slightly winded, one student loaned his harness and helmet to Vince who showed us how to "hook in", went over the five basic positions necessary for operating a glider, and gave a short demonstration flight.

Next we were divided into groups accourding to our weight, and it was my turn to wallow in the sand for my "hang check." After making sure I was strapped in properly, Shane Traveis, my flight instructor, went through the positions with me once more, then told me to stand up and move left.

We waited for a student in another group to finish his flight, and Shane yelled, "Clear!" He told me to walk....then run....faster....longer strides....I was flying! My feet had left the ground, and I was in the air!

Shane and Curtis, an instructor-in-training, ran beside me, telling me to move my control bar forward or back, reminding me to keep my arms in. "You don't need wings," they said. "The glider has those!"

Just as I thought I was doing really well, Shane yelled "Flair!" indicating the position for landing. I straightened my arms out above my head in a victory position and softly came to the ground--on my feet.

"All right," I told Shane. "I'm not scared anymore. Let's do it again!"

All of the nervous jokes we exchanged before class were replaced with cheers and genuine smiles of pure enjoyment. Everyone did a great job, and everyone landed on their feet--at least once.

Granted, we didn't get very far off the ground, and our instructors called Jockey's Ridge "very forgiving" when it seemed like a student spent more time in the sand than in the air. But by our "graduation glide", we all experienced flight.

Hang Gliding at Kitty Hawk Kites

Gliding is the purest form of manmade flight, the form which most closely simulates that of a bird. Francis Rogallo, a NASA engineer, invented the wing now used for gliding in the 1940s. Known as "the Father of Hang Gliding", Rogallo lived with his wife near Kitty Hawk Kites in Kill Devil Hills, NC at the time of my 1991 flight.

Bill Moyes of Australia used the Rogallo wing as a human, foot-launched glider in the 1970s and as the sport caught on, Kitty Hawk Kites was started and soon became the world's largest hang gliding school.

Having successfully taught over 130,000 students between the mid-1970s and early 1990s, the school offers courses from beginner to advanced. Certificate programs allow beginners to achieve their U.S. Hang Gliding Association Beginner Rating, and advanced students can receive instructor certification and tandem certifications.

The beginner tandem flight requires no experience and students fly up to 2,000 feet with a bird's eye view of the coast line above Currituck sound on the Outer Banks. The airport Mile High tow is the ultimate tandem hang gliding tow, 5280 feet!

With the Wright Brothers Memorial commemorating man's first powered flight just down the road, it's no surprise that flying instruction can be found on the Outer Banks. What may be surprising are all of the other exciting activities at Kitty Hawk Kites.

Activites include kayaking lessons and tours, kiteboarding, parasailing, dolphin tours, jet skiing, fishing tours, and aero tours.

Finding something to do at Kitty Hawk Kites isn't difficult, but deciding what to do first might be! If you could have seen the look on my face when I turned in my harness and picked up my flight certificate, the choice would be easy.

At Kitty Hawk Kites, gliders are "letting your dreams fly," especially if your dream is to fly. Try your wings at the Outer Banks of North Carolina and make hang gliding a part of your vacation adventure.

To learn more about Hang Gliding or to experience flight yourself, visit Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head, NC or call at 1-800-FLY-THIS.

Copyright Dineane Whitaker 1991 - Please do not copy and paste this article, but feel free to post a link using this url:

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Comments 11 comments

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

Wow! what fun-- and what an appropriate place to try this feat.

Thanks for sharing.

DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

It sounds wonderful when I read it, but I can hardly believe you did it! What happens if you fly out over sea? How do you get back?

dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina Author

Rochelle, it is a wonderful place to try this! I'd much rather have Jockey's Ridge for a soft landing than some of the rocky cliffs I've seen in the mountain hang gliding photos!

LOL, Mama. You really only get a few feet off the ground with the beginner's package--nowhere near the water.

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

I know thre are some people who try this off of Glacier Point in Yosemite Valley, which is surrounded by granite outcroppings. I recently saw a video-- looks astoundingly beauiful, but I would rather hit a dune- or even the ocean.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

It is a new experience flying.Nice to try, but for everyone who don't like higher. don't try it. just fly with aeroplane.

Mike S 6 years ago

I did this last year and LOVED it!

Was more exhilarating than bungee jumping or sky diving (in my opinion) and the instructors/pilot were as professional and comforting as could be! I highly recommend the mile high - it was fantastic!!

I only wish I got or could get a hang gliding certificate as I did with the bungee jump and sky dive.

If it's possible could someone email me.. thx

mschr123 (at) yahoo (dot) com..

Thanks ~

Mike S 6 years ago

Forgot to mention: I did receive a month free membership and card to the hang gliding association upon completion, which was pretty cool

dineane profile image

dineane 6 years ago from North Carolina Author

Thanks for commenting, Mike! KHK does have certification program - check their website for more info.

Paragliding Holiday 6 years ago

Dune gliding... i'd never considered that but I guess any good ridge serves nicely. Sounds like a very professional school you attended, it makes all the difference.

dineane profile image

dineane 6 years ago from North Carolina Author

The dunes make for soft landings :-)

Soaring Community 5 years ago

Hang gliding is one of the extreme and adventurous sport which requires lot of practice and training. One should also have the information regarding the weather condition which is suitable for gliding purpose.

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