Kitty Hawk Kites: Hang Gliding Adventure in NC

August 31, 2013

hang gliding at kitty hawk

Having already experienced and loved skydiving, I was interested to try to hang glide to see how they compare. And what better place to try out this unique flying experience than at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, during our road trip to the gorgeous Outer Banks.

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There are two ways a novice can hang glide. One is to take a lesson and then strap on a small pair of wings and jump off the dunes; the other is to fly tandem with a trained pilot at heights from 2,000 ft. up to one mile over the earth, no experience necessary.

Can you guess which one I choose? Yeah, baby! Take me up, up, and away!

At Kitty Hawk Kites, I met my pilot, Jonathon Bland, and knew this was going to be memorable. His extensive experience, exuberant personality, and great story-telling ability were just perfect. And his long, dark blonde dreadlocks only added to his intriguing backstory.

kitty hawk kites

To start the tandem glide, Jonathon and another engineer helped me into the “boot” so that we would be safely harnessed into the glider together. Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminum alloy or composite frame covered with synthetic sailcloth to form a wing.

The non-motorized glider we were using was specially designed with a larger wing area so we could obtain more lift. The take-off/landing gear was designed in the style of a tricycle to simplify take-offs and make landings more smooth.

“Hi everybody! My name is Jonathon and this is Patti. We’re about to go on a wonderful adventure in the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina and fly around like a bird in a hang glider!” Jonathon said looking into one of the two GoPro video cameras strapped onto the glider for different perspectives. “How are you feeling there, Patti?” Jonathon inquired as he looked up to my tandem position.

kitty hawk kites

“I feel great! I cannot wait to do it! Let’s go!” I said, spreading my arms like a bird. And YEE HA, the ultralight plane took off, towing our glider into the wild blue yonder.

kitty hawk kites

After a few minutes, Jonathon gave the tow plane a signal, and the rope that was towing us to the plane visibly snapped. And suddenly we were released, untethered and on our own, soaring through the clouds. I could not suppress my giggling, and truth be told, I didn’t even try.

hang gliding

Once released from the tow plane, the only sounds came from me, Jonathon, and the wind flowing around us. One of the nice things about gliding is that conversation is possible. Jonathon was very intrigued that I’m a travel writer, and we chatted animatedly throughout the flight about places we both had been as well as destinations on each of our bucket lists.

hang gliding

The views of the gray-blue Atlantic Ocean, the Currituck Sound, and the surrounding landmass of the Outer Banks are simply stunning when observed from these altitudes.  And the stalls, dives and turns made tandem hang gliding so exciting and memorable!

About halfway into the ride, Jonathon asked me if I wanted to steer the glider. “Ha!” I thought to myself, “Apparently he hasn’t heard about my automobile-driving abilities!” It’s not that I’ve been in or caused any accidents, mind you. It’s just that whenever I volunteer to drive, friends and family quickly, firmly, and vocally decline. I may or may not be a tad reckless.

hang gliding

But why not? I placed a hand on each side of the glider rails. “If you want to turn, all you have to do is lean ever so slightly in that direction,” Jonathon instructed. “You don’t need to make any big movements.” Yeah, that’s what they told me when I tried to jet pack, and yet I kept plunging headfirst into the ocean.

So, I was a little nervous at first and just kept the glider straight. But after a few minutes, I gained confidence and just leaned a little to my left and we made a minor turn in that direction for a slightly different but equally breathtaking aerial view of the coastline.

hang gliding

One of my favorite parts of the glide was when Jonathon said, “Are you ready for the roller-coaster?” “Bring it!” I invited. He then skillfully pushed the bars of the glider to make it dip straight down, and then pull it to bring it back up, and then dipped it again. Oh! Those butterflies in my stomach – just like the feeling you get when a roller coaster peaks at the stop and zooms to the bottom! More giggles from me and laughter from Jonathon.

All too soon, it was time to land. Jonathon slowly descended the craft and steered it to the landing strip. The plane-like touchdown of the glider’s tricycle wheels was practically imperceptible.

hang gliding

“So what did you think of that?” asked Jonathon.

“I loved it!” It’s like being in another world up there. Let’s go back up!” I said. “Alright!” Jonathon said, laughing.

Unharnessed with our feet back on the ground, Jonathon said “It’s amazing, isn’t it?   I’m not sure who has the best job in the world, you or me!”

I had to agree, that’s a tough one.


Hang gliding at Kitty Hawk Kites is very different from skydiving. They are both exhilarating but in different ways. Skydiving is definitely an adrenaline activity. Jumping out of an airplane and free-falling toward the hard earth will get your blood pumping.

I would categorize hang gliding more as an adventure like scuba diving. It’s surreal to experience the world in a way that humans were not meant to, i.e., as fish or birds. The feeling you get when you delve into the underwater world or the atmosphere is more akin to euphoria or endorphin pleasure. Sure, you can get hurt if you don’t follow the rules, but statistics show that participants who follow safety instructions do not get hurt.

Go ahead! Try it!

Click to PIN so you can find Kitty Hawks Kites hang gliding again:

PIN hang gliding


You may also be interested in:

Girls Get High: Skydive Hawaii

Paragliding Peru: How to Survive a Crash Landing

Panama City Beach by Helicopter

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”  Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.


  1. Comment by Nikki

    Nikki Reply August 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    O.M.G. You are SO brave! Wow, that looks like so much fun! But I’d be way to chicken to do it! I have mega respect for you for getting on that!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 24, 2015 at 12:23 pm

      LOL! It was so much fun, Nikki! It’s not as scary as you might think.

  2. Comment by Kay Dougherty

    Kay Dougherty Reply August 31, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    I would love to do that! About 40 years ago I tried to go hang-gliding when I was at Kill Devil Hills and they said I didn’t weigh enough. Boy for the days when that was a problem! This looks like a great way to experience it and much more advanced than it was back then.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 31, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      Kay you HAVE to try it! It’s soooo much fun!

  3. Comment by Elaine J. Masters

    Elaine J. Masters Reply August 31, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    I like that you compare hang gliding to scuba and that there’s no reason to get hurt if you follow the rules. Wish I could take to the skies but I like having an airplane and pilot, not the wind, when flying.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply August 31, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      Haha, I think most people would agree with you, Elaine! However, hang gliding is really not scary, it’s more like a feeling of utter freedom.

  4. Comment by Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru

    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru Reply September 1, 2015 at 12:40 am

    So exhilarating and you look so happy! I’m not a fan of heights so I don’t know if I would do this, but everyone I know who has done some sort of gliding has loved it.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply September 1, 2015 at 8:18 am

      Lol, Betsy! It’s really a lot of fun, and jumping into the icy cold Mediterranean was much scarier… and we did that!

  5. Comment by Suzanne Fluhr

    Suzanne Fluhr Reply September 4, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    That. was. so. cool! Perfect choice of music too. Your video almost makes me want to try tandem hang gliding—-the operative word being “almost”. Maybe if someone offered me an all you can eat flan fest if did it, I would gather enough courage. 😉

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply September 4, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      I bet you would like it. It’s really not scary at all — very serene and fun!

  6. Comment by Irene S. Levine

    Irene S. Levine Reply September 6, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    What amazing pictures and what an incredible experience! You are one brave lady!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply September 6, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      It was a blast! And unlike some bucket list experiences, I think I’ll do this one again. 🙂

  7. Comment by Agness of Fit Travelling

    Agness of Fit Travelling Reply July 18, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Wow! You’re so brave! That must have been an unforgettable experience!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply July 19, 2017 at 7:12 pm

      It was memorable, for sure!

  8. Pingback: 10 Amazingly Fun Outdoor Things to Do in Morganton NC

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