Hang gliding in the High Country

Hang gliding is built into the mountains of the High Country.

Hang gliding may be the ultimate way that humans can mimic the flight of birds. Ground bound for hundreds of thousands of years, the imagination of the human species has always been envious of our feathered, hollow-boned bird friends who are able to fly at will.

This desire to fly has pushed men and women to learn how to do it using ever-increasing inventiveness and technology. At first, it was the hot air balloon that lifted us high into the air. That eventually led to the invention of the airplane and the rocket. But the method of flying that perhaps most resembles the experience of being a bird is hang gliding.

In the 1940s, NASA aeronautical engineer Frank Rogallo made the first flexible winged hang glider, inspired by everyone from the Wright Brothers to Leonardo da Vinci. From then on, the sport has gained ground and perfected its technology. Rogallo’s designs led to what the US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (www.ushpa.org) calls “foot launched personal powerless aviation or hang gliding.”

Hang gliding is one of those human endeavors that requires training and safety measures. By definition, there are dangers involved with flying high above the ground. But it was our human desire to overcome those fears that made air flight possible. So, it is considered a true adventure to take the time to learn how to hang glide and paraglide as the payoff is magnificent.

Here is the run down on hang gliding as described by the US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.

“Hang gliders are now made of aircraft aluminum or carbon fiber, stainless steel cable and Dacron (the same material sailboat sails are made of) and weigh between 45 lbs. and 90 lbs. Although gliders normally fly between 20 and 30 mph, they can reach speeds in excess of 80 mph and have a glide ratio of up to 16:1. That means they fly 16 feet forward for every foot of altitude they lose when flying in calm air. Hang gliders can withstand more G-forces than many single engine aircraft and can be folded up into a bag that is 16’-18’ long and a foot in diameter and easily transported on the roof of a car. Pilots’ prone position when flying gives hang gliding the feeling of flying like a bird.”

In the High Country Mountains, a few miles north of Boone, there is an annual summertime hang gliding contest known as the Fly Tater Hill Hang Gliding and Paragliding Competition.

Taking place on a private hill that features natural conditions conducive to the sport, the annual competition is still a go as of presstime. The event, depending on coronavirus pandemic restrictions, is due to take place on July 26 through Aug. 1.

To fly in the Tater Hill competition, you must be a registered member of the US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association and be an officially rated hang glider pilot with 20-plus flights taking place above 1,000 feet higher than your landing zone. The entrance fee for the 2020 Fly Tater Hill competition is $225. All requirements and information can be found at flytaterhill.com.

The current disclaimer on the Fly Tater Hill website now reads; “For the 2020 Competition, we ask that you do not send in your check for payment until we fully understand the Covid 19 situation. We expect to have more information for our pilots in a few weeks.”

For those of you who want to train and learn how to be a solo hang glider pilot, you will have to travel a bit to find quality instruction. Some of the best of the instructional schools include the Lookout Mountain Flight Park (flylookout.com) located in Rising Fawn, Georgia, Kitty Hawk Kites (kittyhawk.com) located in multiple places throughout the Outer Banks Barrier Islands on the North Carolina coast, and the massive Fly Above All Hang Gliding and Paragliding School (flyaboveall.com) in Santa Barbara, California.

For those of you that want to experience a tandem hang gliding flight with an instructor and certified pilot onboard with you, you can do it as close as nearby Lenoir, N.C. There, at Thermal Valley Hang Gliding and Paragliding located near the Foothills Regional Airport, you will be trained to fly with a pilot.

Says the folks at Thermal Valley, “Tandem flights consist of you flying with an experienced USHPA-certified tandem aero-tow hang gliding instructor. The Dragonfly (airplane) tows the tandem glider to the chosen altitude. Once at altitude, the glider releases and begins free flight. Your instructor will let you fly as much as you want until it is time for the instructor to land. We also offer an HD video of your flight which can only be purchased at time of flight. The 1500-foot flight lasts 8 to 12 minutes. Plus, each 500-foot upgrade adds 4 to 5 minutes to your flight time.”

Thermal Valley Hang Gliding and Paragliding (thermalvalley.net) also provides solo flight training. More information can be found at (828) 292-7473.

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