July 13, 2020

The 46th Anniversary of Hang Gliding at Grandfather Mountain

On this day 46 years ago, July 13, 1974, Kitty Hawk Kites founder John Harris became the first person to hang glide at Grandfather Mountain. He first drew inspiration from the Wright Brothers. So he followed their path to the Outer Banks to learn how to fly.

John ordered a hang glider through the mail for $600 and set his sights on Jockey’s Ridge. There, he ran up and down the dunes. And after a lot of trial and error, he learned how to fly. It was then that he knew he wanted to share this sport with the world. The Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School opened in the spring of 1974. Constantly looking to the sky, John then turned to the other side of the state to pursue higher altitude and longer flights.

Following my dream of a mountain flight from Grandfather Mountain, I asked Hugh Morton, who owned most of the mountain near Boone, for permission to fly off the peak. Thankfully, Mr. Morton granted me permission. And on July 13th, 1974, I was the first to fly a hang glider off the beautiful mountain. Mr. Morton fell in love with hang gliding after witnessing my flight and tirelessly promoted it through competitions, his photography, and films. Fortunately for me, he became a lifelong friend and mentor.

John Harris

For many years, Grandfather Mountain hosted the U.S. Open Hang Gliding Tournament. Hang Gliding was eventually suspended at Grandfather Mountain in 1986. Around that time, hang gliders became more efficient which resulted in longer and faster flights. Unfortunately, this made the landing zone at Grandfather Mountain inadequate for the evolving sport of hang gliding.

As we continue our mission to “Teach the World to Fly,” we also want to take the time to thank Hugh Morton and Grandfather Mountain. Their support of hang gliding has been instrumental in the growth of this great sport.

John Harris hang gliding at Grandfather Mountain

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