The Outer Banks have always been special to me and my family. I vacationed there as a child and, when Dave and I took our first vacation together, it is where I wanted to bring him. We became engaged at the Wright Memorial and we were married in Kill Devil Hills. We have a strong connection to the history here, both of us being Air Force. Dave served on active duty as a weapons system engineer and flew on the Joint Stars for eight years. I am currently serving in the Air Force Reserve as a flight medicine physician and I routinely fly with my C130 squadron. Aviation is in our bones.
After Dave left the military he became a private pilot and received a degree in air traffic control. He loved to fly and talked about it constantly. He considered becoming a flight instructor but, because of the demands of my civilian and military medical careers, he agreed to take on a more supportive role at home. I was taught to fly a small airplane as part of my military medical training and I’m encouraged to fly with my squadron as often as possible. I found myself happily chasing my bliss- flying, practicing medicine, living a happy life with the love of my life… but Dave was stuck on the ground. Though Dave never made me feel guilty that I was able to fly, I knew he missed seeing the world from the air. It became my mission to give my husband back his wings.
During several vacations to the Outer Banks over the last seven years, Dave and I had taken hang gliding lessons together from the instructors at Kitty Hawk Kites. Dave took to hang gliding instantly and often remarked that it was the most intimate way to experience flight. He had a natural feel for the glider and would often spend hours after the lesson talking to the instructors about glider build and flight mechanics. Instructors were always happy to spend the time with him and encouraged him to come back, fly more, and consider pursuing the sport.
Early this past spring, I enlisted the help of Bruce Weaver at Kitty Hawk Kites and explained that I wanted to surprise my husband with a hang glider of his own and his Hang One training for his birthday. Bruce and his team were incredible. 27+ emails back and forth, countless phone calls and texts- everyone worked together to make my dream a reality. I was guided through every decision about Dave’s hang glider, from color choices to wheel options, and the process was effortless. No question was too small and no detail was ever overlooked. The team at Kitty Hawk Kites was every bit as excited as I was to see Dave’s face when he was surprised with his custom Wills Wing Falcon 4.
I brought Dave to the beach the third week in September. He had known about the vacation, but he had no idea why we were really coming. I had managed to keep his hang glider a secret for four months. On the first day of our beach vacation, I brought Dave to Kitty Hawk Kites “just to look around” as we so often did on our trips. Bruce and his team had made sure that Dave’s glider was set up outside the store and Dave noticed it as soon as we pulled in to the parking lot. I mentioned that I would love to get a picture of him and asked if he’d stand in front of the “cool new” hang glider. Once he was in position, I told Dave that the glider was actually his. I’ll never forget the look on his face- it was pure ecstatic shock.
Within minutes, Bruce had run outside to meet Dave and talk to him about his glider. He made sure that Dave got a chance to ask every excited question that popped into his mind. Luke and many others from the store came to congratulate Dave and welcome him to the hang gliding community. There was an incredible outpouring of joy from everyone we met; it was easy to see how excited the team at Kitty Hawk Kites was to be able to share their love of the sport. That day and those first moments that Dave was with his glider were absolutely magical.
The rest of the week on the Banks found Dave working with the incredible instructors at the flight school. JB, Wolf, and Bruce spent hours of one-on-one instruction time with Dave teaching him to fly again on the school’s training gliders. Dave was in heaven and every minute that wasn’t spent flying was spent talking about flying. I was welcomed and included by the instructors as we happily chased Dave up and down the dunes. In celebration, after Dave had passed his Hang One, Bruce helped him unpack his new glider and they carried it to the top of the tallest dune. When I watched Dave take off with his own glider for the first time in this place that has meant so much to us, I knew that a piece of his heart had been returned to him. He was an aviator again.
Returning my husband to the sky took a tremendous amount of work from so many people. Words can’t express my gratitude to Bruce, JB, Wolf, and the rest of the team at Kitty Hawk Kites. Fly! Fly! Fly!
All the best,
Elise and Dave Marshall
SUBMITTED BY: ELISE MARSHALL