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At Kill Devil Hills, the Wright Brothers basically invented the modern airplane. Others in Europe and even Brazil had built fixed wing gliders and flown short distances, but Orville and Wilbur were the first to build a plane with rudders and aelerons that could control for pitch, yaw and roll and, once in the air, could be controlled by a pilot and actually stay aloft. Today, the Wright Brothers Memorial National Monument commemorates the achievement. Influenced by that park, up and down the Outer Banks, is a series of flight opportunities. These are big time experiences. You need to make reservations several days ahead and come with cameras, binoculars. sunscreen, full toed shoes and a water bottle. These are also expensive experiences, but we've done them all and they're well worth saving up all year. You'll print out photos, frame them and hang them on the wall, and the accompanying stories will become part of family folklore. fuel check
Hang Gliding takes place at Jockey Ridge, a huge sand dune which moves back and forth south of the Memorial. You receive on ground instruction at the headquarters, then hike up the mountain of sand. After a little more teaching, you launch and steer the rig down to the valley below. During your first lesson an instructor usually follows along below with a rope attached to make sure you don't drift too far off course, as seen in the photo at left. One lesson takes two hours and you should get in at least three flights. You'll have a great time in one lesson, but if you decide you want to get good, you'll need at least three lessons. After that, you can rent or buy equipment and continue on your own. For more details and a dozen photos, go to Hang Gliding. The lessons are handled by Kitty Hawk Kites, which has offices along Route 12 in Kitty Hawk and Avon. Lessons are offered each morning to take advantage of the strong breezes off the ocean. 877-359-8447.
Drone Lessons are offered by Kitty Hawk Kites at the same location as the Hang Gliding instruction. A lesson is $99 and includes both on ground and in flight instruction. Even if you have a drone at home, it's not likely to be as expensive and full featured as these models. A lesson lasts two hours and once you get past the basics the instructors will pass on a lot of tricks and techniques. If you're a little cautious about actually going up in a plane or hang glider, this is a nice option as you keep your feet on the ground and "fly" vicariously through your drone. 877-359-8447.
From Billy Mitchell Airport in Frisco you can take 30-45-60 minute flights over Hatteras Island between Hatteras Village and the Lighthouse (30 minutes), over Hatteras Island all the way to the North End (60 minutes), and over Ocracoke Island (45 minutes). Burris Flying Service offers these trips in a small Cessna (shown left) which flies low so you can get great photos. Many of the photos on this website were taken during one of these flights. Burris can also customize a flight for you with advance arrangement. For instance, they could fly you up to Jockeys Ridge and the Wright Memorial. The pilot will fill you in on many details about the island. The Cessna can hold three people comfortably or four if one is a kid. A person in the front passenger seat may be invited to help fly the plane, although many decline so they can concentrate on taking photos. Until you take this flight, you cannot grasp what Diamond Shoals, Hatteras Inlet and Buxton Woods really look like. Reservations must be made by phone. 252-986-2679.
Jenny Hawk at OBX Airplanes offers several services, the most important of which are flying lessons. During Summers you can take individual lessons, each lasting 90 minutes. In October, Hawk offers an intensive two week 40 lesson sequence which provides students with their pilot's license. The very first lesson, which is the one most people take, includes on ground instruction and plane prepping (such as checking the fuel, shown in the photo at top), taxiing, taking off, flying out over Pamlico Sound and the Ocean, landing at the First Flight airstrip near the Wright Memorial, taxiing, taking off, flying back to the Dare County Regional Airport, and taxiing back to the hangar. Hawk offers these Summer lessons at 10 a.m. every morning. You need advance reservations, which you make at 252-489-8165. The website is obxairplanes.com. Getting to the airport is easy; you drive north along the Manteo main street, past Big Al's and the Christmas Shop, and turn left. But remember Hawk's hangar is at the back (south) side of the airport, not the main (north) entrance.Turn left on Etheridge Drive. one turn before Airport Road. Then turn left on Driftwood Drive, which bring you to the back gate. Pull up to the gate and wait a few minutes. The gate will open. OBX Airplanes is the first hangar on your left.
Another version of the scenic tour flight is the World War II Biplane flights offered at the Dare County Airport. Two passengers can sit in the open cockpit while the pilot flies the plane from a separate cockpit. This is the plane made famous during the World War I aerial fights over France, the ones Snoopy and The Red Baron flew in the comic strip. But these are actually 1990 reproductions of those old planes, complete with all the modern safety and technology features. Contact OBX Biplanes, 252-216-7777.
If you like riding roller coasters and have a need for an adrenalin rush, the Aerobatic Rides will be one of the most exciting adventures of your life. You can choose from a standard enclosed stunt plane or an open cockpit biplane. You'll experience barrel rolls, loop de loops, steep climbs and drops, sustained upside down flying and other daredevil maneuvers. After this flight, you'll have a much better understanding of those movies about World War I and II airplane battles high in the air. You get a video on DVD of your flight mailed to you about a week later. Contact OBX Biplanes, 252-216-7777 or OBX Airplanes, 252-489-8165.
If you're into history you can actually fly a reconstructed model of the original 1902 Wright Brothers airplane. The real original hangs in the museum, but they've built this very accurate full sized model. You get a lengthy on ground lesson in using the controls for yaw, pitch and roll, then take off from a high dune and fly down to the valley, 5-15 feet above the soft sand. It's a primitive but thrilling experience that will forever after leave you with insight into what the Wright Brothers actually saw and felt as they proved to the world that man could fly. You'll get five flights, each about 50 yards long. The whole experience takes about four hours. Kitty Hawk Kites, 877-359-8447.
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