I made the trip to Virginia Hang Gliding in just under an hour. I was visiting the airfield as part of my whirlwind tour of the Eastern Shore of Virginia (ESVA). Mostly, I wanted to get photos of different places, because Virginia’s Eastern Shore is one of the great underestimated destinations for lazily driving around looking at scenery and poking into the different shops and attractions to be seen in the tiny out of the way towns. As I was planning out my day, though, I thought it was important to build it around a particular destination, and since most people don’t know there is hang gliding near Ocean City I figured I’d share the knowledge. If you want peaceful, meandering country toads and 19th century style downtowns, there are no lack of them here in Worcester County, nor in Southern Delaware. But what if there was something ESVA had that we didn’t? What attraction would be worth the drive?
Virginia Hang Gliding was the quick and easy answer. It already is a massive attraction for people visiting Virginia Beach, which was what first clued me that there was something unique about the experience. People in Virginia Beach were crossing the Bay Bridge Tunnel just for the opportunity to participate in hang gliding, there probably was something about the flight that made the ride worth taking. So I charged up my camera and headed down.
Bill McCarter, one of the owners, met me at my car. We talked about the ride, which had been uneventful. It is a straight shot down Route 113 to Pocomoke and then a left at mile 103 in Virginia along Route 13, three turns between my office and his. He showed me around the grounds, which consisted of a hangar with a kind of lean to for relief from the sun, and plenty of space for the gliders to take off and land.
I met Jean-Gui and his 11-year-old niece, Eva, who had just finished their morning flights. Jean-Gui was a return customer. Although he doesn’t have use of his legs, Jean-Gui is an extreme sports enthusiast who includes skiing, handcycling and aerosports like hang gliding in his repertoire. He had been to Virginia Hang Gliding the year before and wanted to come again. This summer he was taking his niece to Disney, road-tripping down the coast from their native Canada and he wanted to make certain she had a chance to try. She had done well and Donnie Guynn, Bill’s partner, presented her with the tow line that had been used in their flight. It had the look of baker’s string but was tested well above 1,500 pounds.
Non-traditional hang gliding near Ocean City
Virginia Hang Gliding uses a couple of different planes that look a little like ultra-lites, to tow people up to 8,000 feet in the air. It may sound improbable and, before he got into the business, towing hang gliders to cruising altitude sounded more than a little improbable to Bill, who already had been a veteran flier. Like many of us, Bill thought of hang gliding as something that required the right wind and cliffs from which to jump. Once he saw the possibilities that came with tow hang gliding, though, he knew he had to get involved.
It works like this:
Every hang glider is set up for two people, a pilot and a passenger. Each gets into a black nylon apparatus that looks like a cross between a sleeping bag and overalls. The passenger is strapped in above the pilot and the two hang separately from the glider superstructure. The glider is towed along on its three-point wheels behind the plane and, after only seconds of taxiing, is airborne. I saw several take-offs and landing and never ceased to be amazed at the ease with which the whole thing occurred.
Once airborne, the plane spirals upward with the hang glider in tow until it reaches the pre-agreed upon altitude. Some people go as high as 5,300 feet, some just around 2,000. Once detached the pilot guides the glider to the ground in a tightening spiral and lands in the massive field from which the excursion began. The entire flight is filmed from start to finish including what amounts to a commentary track of the banter between the pilot and the passenger.
A perfect family day trip
The Berlinski family had driven up for the day to knock around the Shore and to spend the morning hang gliding. They were in the middle of the safety training that accompanies every flight. Mark Frutiger, an experienced pilot and long time hand glider operator, took the family through what to expect from their flight and explained the safety protocols Virginia Hang Gliding puts in place to keep everyone safe and happy. By the time they each had taken their turn and had their photo taken in front of the hang glider, the assemblage was abuzz with stories comparing experiences.
Because of its position on the peninsula, Virginia Hang Gliding can offer people the opportunity to see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay at once during the flight. It gives you a great sense of place and, even though you are thousands of feet in the air, helps solidify your connection to the nature and beauty of the Shore.
It wasn’t quite noon and the family had the rest of the day ahead of them. There would be lunch, probably some swimming and sightseeing. They weren’t quite 20 minutes from Wallops Island and Chincoteague and could visit both and still be home in plenty of time for a nap before a late dinner. By then the adrenaline would have worn off, but the memory of the experience together is something that surely would help define their summer and spur conversation and reminiscing for decades to come.
For more information about Virginia Hang Gliding visit http://www.virginiahanggliding.com/