By Steve MacNaull
Just like Orville Wright, I’m flying over the sand dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Orville, the first man to fly a motorized airplane in 1903, accomplished the world-changing feat at nearby Kitty Hawk.
I’m hang gliding in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, just eight kilometres away from the historic first-flight site. Of course, there have been millions of flights in the 116 years since Orville’s miracle, but I can’t help comparing myself to the famous aviator.
After all, my 26-year-old son, Alex, and I have been lured to the Outer Banks specifically by the feat Orville and his brother, Wilbur, accomplished more than 11 decades ago. We check out the Wright Brothers National Memorial to see exactly where the lift-off monument is and the four markers showing where the first four flights landed.
Orville piloted the first successful foray in the 12-horsepower contraption the brothers made of wood, cloth, wire and bicycle parts. He and the plane stayed in the air 12 seconds and travelled a modest 120 feet. It’s why the “12 seconds to change the world” phrase was coined. Wilbur took over and also achieved 12 seconds, but covered 175 feet.
There would be two more successful flights that blustery December day in 1903 with Orville flying 200 feet in 15 seconds and Wilbur accomplishing an amazing 852 feet in just under a minute. Our five beginner hang-gliding flights with Kitty Hawk Kites wouldn’t last much longer or cover much farther, but, man, they were a blast. After a half-hour of instruction, we’re running off the top of the main dune in the park until our feet leave the ground and we’re flying. Flexible wings rustle overhead and we soar to landings that vary from inelegant skids to graceful running stops. The Wright Brothers first flight connections aren’t lost on Kitty Hawk Kites. “We’re here for the same reasons Orville and Wilbur were,” said hang gliding instructor Billy Vaughn. “The Outer Banks have consistent winds and soft sand to land on. Plus, everyone wants to experience solo flight. It’s like having your own wings. “The Outer Banks, the skinny barrier islands that run along the coast of North Carolina, are a heck of a tourist destination, not just for first-flight attractions, but endless Atlantic Ocean beaches, fresh seafood, barbecue and Southern hospitality, all wrapped up in a laid-back summery vibe.
As such, my son and I stay right on the beach at the Days Inn Wilbur and Orville Wright hotel just 500 metres from the brothers’ national memorial. We jog and lounge on the sand and splash in the Atlantic. We also find our way to Outer Banks Brewing Station more than once for craft beer and pork barbecue.
We fish with Captain Ernie Foster of The Albatross Fleet from Hatteras Island to catch bluefish that Sonny’s Restaurant fries up for us for lunch. And we mount Levi and Tonka on an Equine Adventures horseback ride through the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve and along the Atlantic on Frisco Beach.
Air Canada flies non-stop to Raleigh, North Carolina from Toronto and Montreal with modern Embraer and CRJ jets, not Wright Flyers or hang gliders. It’s a three-and-a-half hour drive from Raleigh to the Outer Banks.