Looking Forward to the Hang Gliding Spectacular
by Bill Futch
I just got off of the phone with a flying buddy, making plans for the 2010 Hang Gliding Spectacular and I was remembering my first visit to Jockey’s Ridge, the people who I met that day that have become lifelong friends and the sport that I love.
It was May of 1987 and a friend of mine in Wilmington, N.C. hand just graduated from college and joined me for a camping trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a little surfing, fun and a vacation getaway. While traveling up Ocracoke Island we heard on the F.M. radio that there was going to be a hang gliding festival in Nags Head that weekend. We both agreed that hang gliding was something we had always wanted to check out and how lucky we were to be in the area to attend. We camped in Buxton, N.C. and drove up to Nags Head on Saturday, parked in the Kitty Hawk Kites parking lot and grabbed my video camera to take up to the top of the hill. As we climbed the hill smiles were on both of our faces as we walked into the middle of the crowd of pilots and spectators. The flying that day was taking place on what was known as the “south bowl” which produced some great lift for soaring. I videoed the competition for about one and a half hours getting some really good footage. We both talked to the pilots that day asking questions about the competition and when walking off the dune we met a pilot who was walking his glider back to the breakdown area just across the street from the shop. This guy stopped what he was doing to answer several questions and let us get some hands on with his glider. I gained a lot of info, during that conversation including USHGA license requirements, glider purchase info, and tons of insight into the sport of hang gliding. Since it was Saturday we were just moments from attending the street dance, music and fun in the parking lot of Kitty Hawk Kites. That day I met pilots who continue to pop up in articles and pictures in Hang Gliding & Paragliding Magazine making news and breaking records. One pilot I met that day and enjoyed his company during the evening was Woody Jones, who I spent many hours with in the coming years telling jokes drinking beers and enjoying the hang gliding atmosphere.
My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed that experience and I returned home with about two hours of quality hang gliding footage of the competition and the street dance. Watching the video I got the fever to continue to come back each year to the festival, take hang gliding lessons and eventually compete with the pilots that I only watched on that day.
On one of those return visits to Jockey’s Ridge I was walking back to the hill with a harness and helmet when I joined a tall, thin, white haired older man who was waiting for the traffic light to change to cross the bypass. We walked up the dune and at one spot I had to give him a hand getting up a steep short slope. We had a nice conversation and talked about hang gliding during the walk. When we arrived at the top of the big hill the entire group of pilots including Bo Hagewood, Billy Vaughn and David Glover went to their knees jokingly chanting, ”we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy”. The man I had accompanied to the hill was none other than Dr. Francis Rogallo, the “Father of Hang Gliding”. In years to come I would sit in the van with Dr. Rogallo, his wife Gertrude and their daughter before the street dance or the awards ceremony. While with them I asked questions about the early development of the Rogallo wing and his conversations with Orville Wright concerning airfoil design. Every year if nothing else I would chat with him for a few moments and shake his hand. Dr. Rogallo and his wife Gertrude are no longer with us but their memory will be with us forever. This year as Bruce Weaver makes his speech to the crowd of spectators and pilots I’m sure he will mention Dr. Rogallo and his importance to aviation and what he meant to him and all of us. Then we will go over to the dune and compete in his memory.
Well for now I’ll continue to make my plans to return to Jockey’s Ridge for this years Hang Gliding Spectacular. I have not missed a year attending the festival since 1987 or competing since 1995 when I obtained my Hang I rating. My vacation rental was lined up a couple of months ago and I’ll be calling a few other pilots to make plans for this year’s festival. Again I’ll meet some new people, some old friends and enjoy yet another great time of flying and friendship. This year’s Hang Gliding Spectacular is scheduled for May 17-20 at Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I’ll see you there.