‘Like a video game’: Hang gliding an experience like no other | Hcnc

Soaring thousands of feet into the sky with cars and humans that seem no bigger than an ant is an incredible feeling.

Add that feeling, but without a motor, a strap holds you in place and the wind blows all around and comes hang gliding – an activity where people can soar through the sky with birds on a triangular-shaped glider with a 360-degree view .

“The biggest thing I get when I tell people I hang glider is ‘We’re afraid of heights,'” said Craig Pearson, owner and operator of Thermal Valley Delta Gliding at Foothills Regional Airport in Black.

Pearson has owned and operated Thermal Valley for 10 years and has transported over 3,700 people. It didn’t just carry middle-aged adventurers; Pearson said he carried children from 8 years old to those 89 years old.

Thermal Valley is family owned as Person’s wife helps with reservations and assists the ground crew. Person’s son, Liam, works as ground crew and has flown all of the aircraft operated by Thermal Valley.

Thermal Valley offers a variety of services for those wishing to fly with the birds. One of the main attractions is a 1,500 foot tandem hang glider. Tandem flights involve flying with Pearson, who is an experienced and certified tandem hang gliding instructor. Pearson has been a hang glider pilot for 31 years.

Before the flight begins, someone from the ground crew will help the customer put on a sturdy harness, which is securely attached to the body. In tandem flights, Pearson is attached below and has full control of the glider.

Pearson said that pound for pound, the tandem hang glider he flies is more powerful than the Cessna 172 aircraft – a four-seat, single-engine, high-wing, fixed-wing aircraft.

“When you go over there and look at it, you’re going to see a bunch of fabric and yarn and tubing and you’re going to think that’s not really true,” Pearson said. “What makes the hang glider so strong are the triangular shapes. So one part gives a little, the other part will compensate. And that’s really what makes it strong.

There is also a large parachute attached to Pearson which he will use in case of trouble. In his 10 years of flying in Thermal Valley, he said he never had a disaster.

Once Pearson and the flyer are attached to the glider, a Dragonfly – which is a special light sport aircraft – will tow the glider through the air. Pearson said Thermal Valley has one of five SLSAs operated in the United States.

One of the two pilots from Thermal Valley who flies the Dragonfly is Larry Falls, a former Navy pilot who has flown aircraft such as the T28, T2 Buckeye, A4 Skyhawk, and an F4 Phantom. Falls said it was the pleasure of a lifetime to fly with Thermal Valley.

Before towing the glider aloft, Falls will make sure the plane is ready for flight. It will then make a radio call to begin flight operations. It takes about five seconds for the glider to rise from the ground during takeoff. Once airborne, Falls rises to flight altitude.

“I’ll report when we get to that altitude, but Craig is so experienced, he knows it,” Falls said. “He can read the clouds, he can read the air, the weather, turbulence and lift. I’ll report the altitude, then he’ll let go.

Once the glider is released, Falls spirals down into the Dragonfly in what looks like an uncontrollable spin, but in reality it’s a carefully controlled landing.

During this time, the hang glider descends slowly, which takes about eight to 12 minutes. From the air, participants can see the Catawba River, Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, Mount Mitchell, and Hibriten Mountain.

In the air, Pearson can control the glider all the time or let the pilot fly with some instructions. It will also demonstrate advanced moves if the flier wants a wilder ride.

The ride can get chilly in the fall, so the layering is great for taking a ride in the sky.

One of the reasons gliders stay aloft is because of thermals. Pearson explained thermals with the analogy of boiling water. As the water begins to heat up, small bubbles rise from the bottom and bubble to the top.

“That’s exactly what the atmosphere does,” Pearson said. “So if you’re already standing in a field, everything is nice and calm, and all of a sudden the wind starts to pick up, it looks like it’s coming from all directions, you’re at the bottom of the thermal.”

The landing is like that of an airplane, but gently: the altitude becomes lower and lower until the wheels touch the ground and the glider comes to a stop.

Although he has flown hang gliders for 31 years, being in the air is still an experience for Pearson.

“It’s almost surreal,” Pearson said. “You’re up there and it’s like a video game. It’s just amazing.

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