Bruce, Andy, and I made the long haul up Jockey’s Ridge. Andy, a happy guy with long, thinning red hair, was wearing the Kitty Hawk Kites uniform: bare feet, shorts, and a T-shirt.
Up on the Jockey’s Ridge peak, the wheat-color biplane got curious looks from nearby students in starter hang gliders. Bruce and Andy lifted the glider off the dolly and set to work connecting control wires to control surfaces. I put on the helmet that the two give fliers.
Bruce explained the canard—the forward elevator. It’s operated by twisting a one-by-four bar of ash that is mounted horizontally between the two skids, at about the pilot’s chest level. Its ends are wrapped in wax string, the duct tape of the day, to keep the wood from splintering. The bar is linked to the elevator with window sash chains that are routed around wooden pulleys bolted inside the frame. Bruce said it was my job to control pitch: “When flying it, try to make small movements. The canard may flutter—the springs dampen it. Don’t over-control it.”
To lift off, he said, “hop until your foot doesn’t touch the ground, then get it across the bar. On landing, just belly in and keep your feet up. The glider is built so when it comes in to land, it doesn’t want to nose up and stall. It wants to belly-land instead of dive into the ground—which is handy.”
In the open space in the lower wing, I got on my knees. Andy hooked my harness to the glider, had me lie prone in the cradle, and told me to hook the top part of one foot over a rectangular chunk of wood near the trailing edge. We were pointed directly in what little wind there was.
At Bruce’s signal we lifted the glider off the dune. In a 10- to 15-mph wind gust, it does weigh less, but not much. I gripped each end of the swiveling bar and held the elevator level, grinding my naked elbows onto the sandy skids.
The next gust lifted the glider; Bruce asked if I was ready.
I took a deep breath and said yes.
Bruce and Andy started hauling ass down the slope, holding the tow-lines that were attached to the ends of the wing. The glider tried to lift off, and it looked like we had enough speed to let me pull my other leg up and hook my toes over the bar.
It’s flying…. I’m flying…on my stomach behind that famous football-shaped elevator…