First Flight on an Outer Banks Vacation

Jan 2019

The Outer Banks is well known as the birthplace of flight, and while the Wright brothers might hold the mantle as the Pioneers of Aviation, this coastal retreat is the perfect spot for visitors to also take their first flight on an Outer Banks vacation.

Kitty Hawk Kites First Flight Outer Banks Vacation

Hmmm, your thinking, is she talking about an airplane flight, because I’ve already put that feat in the rear view mirror? The answer would be no, I’m talking about soaring above the dunes yourself, attached to a kite, on an adventure in Kitty Hawk North, Carolina.

Where are the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks, also known as the OBX, are a chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. Four islands, six towns and twelve coastal villages of “By The Sea Magic”. As a popular vacation destination, they offer a plethora of adventures and activities for the visitor in addition to over 200 miles of panoramic coastline. Unlike many islands, the Outer Banks are not anchored by any coral reefs, so the sands and geography are constantly shifting, especially when hit with hurricanes. Environmentally, the coastline is forever challenged; one of the many characteristics that makes the area unique.

Outer Banks Coastline

Summer months are the high season, but this destination offers opportunities for adventurers year round. The shoulder months are especially nice because the weather is still warm and the crowds have disappeared. September thru November would be a great choice for those seeking an adrenalin rush, as the water has been kissed by the sun and the winds pick up making water sports and  adventure more challenging. Visitors should also think about options in winter months, when vacation rental homes (over 80% of the lodging) offer huge discounts. Who doesn’t love a cup of hot cocoa on a secluded beach accompanied by a salty breeze.

Dunes along the Outer Banks Coastline

Wind Based Sports in the Outer Banks

Wind based sports are a particular attraction in the Outer Banks. The geography of the Sound’s inland waters make for great conditions. The water is inviting and shallow, making it difficult for larger boats to navigate. For water sports lovers, there’s little distraction. Winds are often brisk and fairly predictable. The sandy bottom is great for beginners. Being able to touch bottom makes the learning experience much easier. On the ocean side,  adventure seekers can find an entirely different set of conditions.

Kite surfing Outer Banks North Carolina

Often called the Wind Surfing and Kite Boarding Capital of the East Coast, weather in the area is great for both novices and experts alike. These action sports along with hang gliding, surfing, and kayaking attract visitors from around the world. Additionally, talented instructors are attracted to the same great location.

Hang Gliding for Your First Flight on a Outer Banks Vacation

Operating the largest hang gliding school in the world, there is no better place to learn how to take your first flight than Kitty Hawk Kites. Options include a tandem glide and solo dune gliding. Most modern hang gliders are made of an aluminium alloy or composite frame covered with synthetic sailcloth to form a wing.

Flight School Kitty Hawk Kites

First Flight Ground School

Ground School is a required segment of the Hang Gliding Lesson with Kitty Hawk Kites on the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This piece of the lesson includes park orientation, a bit of history, orientation of the equipment and techniques of the sport. Students finish with a training film and then it’s off to the dunes.

Dunes approaching first flight Kitty Hawk Kites

After ground school, we proceeded to the dunes via a scenic boardwalk. At the base of the dunes, everyone walks up the hill thru a majestic view that feels like a desert scape from Lawrence of Arabia. Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest natural sand dune in the eastern United States.

The dune was most probably formed by strong water currents over years of hurricane weather. Shifting maritime winds blow billions of grains of sand in all directions. Like the Outer Banks itself, the dune is constantly changing in size and shape, measuring between 80 and 100 feet above sea level.After we climb into the harnesses, we prepare for our first flight in the Outer Banks.

Sand dunes Jockey Ridge North Carolina

Up, Up and Away for your First Flight

A last minute pep talk and you will run into the wind.  Depending on the wind conditions (and your weight and skill), you can travel anywhere from 30 to 100+ yards at 5 to 15 feet above the sand. Each trip down the dune is termed a “flight.” We were warned we might not land on our feet. This is one if the reasons the dunes are a perfect spot for learning.  The sand is nice and soft when you face plant.

Kitty Hawk Kites First Flight Outer Banks Vacation

Running into the wind to get airborne

I will admit to being more than a bit nervous  panicked when I heard we were going solo. Although I managed to jump off the cliffs of Lima,Peru to go tandem paragliding without a problem, something about being the one responsible for my own safety ignited fear. Never one to pass up an adventure, the instructors talked me off the dune (so to speak) and quickly instilled the confidence I needed to take flight. I can’t say enough about how personable and encouraging they were. My fears were quickly assuaged after the first attempt.

First flight Outer Banks Vacation

The dunes are a soft landing pad.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of freedom one gets when your feet lift off the ground. The rush of adrenalin is familiar, and yet totally unique during the experience. I could have sworn I was 50 feet in the air (until I saw the video) and as soon as I touched down, I wanted to soar again.

Kitty Hawk Kites First Flight Outer Banks Vacation

The lesson is for 5 flights for each student; it felt like we had many more, but who can count when their adrenalin is rushing? I just can tell you once you get a taste, you’ll definitely want to learn more and get to the next level.

first flight north carolina kitty hawk kites

The History of Flight and Flying Machines

When you catch sight of  birds soaring and gliding along the wind currents, it’s easy to imagine how man has been obsessed with flight for centuries. Ancient Greek and Roman Gods were characterized by their ability to fly. The kite, invented in China, was probably the first invention of a man made machine. Hot air balloons continue to fascinate today with festivals and tours available around the world. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sketches illustrate his fascination with human mechanical flight. All of which leads me to the most well known attractions in the Outer Banks.

First Flight on an Outer Banks vacation

A Visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Is it any wonder the Wright Brothers National Memorial is one of the top things to do on an Outer Banks vacation and the perfect ending to a first flight? The recently renovated Visitor Center is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building and a marvel of sustainable design. With interactive exhibits and informative videos, the Wright Brothers come alive at the center and their flying machines inspire the imagination.Wright Brothers National Memorial

Understanding the reasons behind Orville and Wilbur’s choice of  Kitty Hawk for their experiments in the early 1900’s brings new appreciation of the site and the challenges they faced with their flying machines. Although the brothers had proven their theories in Ohio, they choose Kitty Hawk to work out their actual flight experiments. After comprehensive research of the US Weather Bureau’s statistics, they found the area had the right combination of wind, sand and isolation to test their gliders in private.

Wright Brothers Memorial

The boulders and numbered markers indicate the takeoff and landing spots of the Wright Brothers four flights.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Seeing the reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer and thinking about the milestones in aviation made since their famous flight is mind boggling.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Outside on the property, visitors can climb Kill Devil Hill and walk the path where the Wright Brothers made their powered first flight. The promenade is a fitting end to an adventure of my own solo first flight on an Outer Banks vacation.


Disclaimer: The author was the guest of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau for her visit to the Outer Banks, but as always, opinions and views are her own. 

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First flight Outer Banks Vacation

  1. This looks like such a fun adventure! Loved the photos and spirit of adventure!

  2. What an amazingly fun experience you had. We had plans to visit the outer banks a couple of years ago, but altered them to head to the Caribbean instead. Your article makes me wonder if we overlooked a fun alternate. I guess now we will have to rethink a visit.

  3. How thrilling. I haven’t done either tandem or solo but imagine you’re right – one taste and you’ll want more. See the new movie The Upside for the ending featuring paragliding.

    • alison says:

      I will look into that movie, I saw the previews and can imagine….Tandem is like an entirely different experience. Someone else does all the work, you can just take in the sights!

  4. Rose Palmer says:

    Looks like fun. I’d love to try it if my fear of heights does not get in the way.

    • alison says:

      I don’t think your fear of heights would be an issue here. Although I felt like I was soaring as high as an eagle, the video burst my bubble and showed I was only about 10 feet off the ground!

  5. You are braver than I am!! What an adventure. I appreciate all the history you added as well. Great post!

    • alison says:

      I was quite nervous before flight Marilyn. No one was ahead of us, so I had no idea how high we would go. When I saw the video, I burst out laughing. Believe me when I say there was no height danger!

  6. What fun! I want to fly around the Outer Banks (close to the sand dunes). pinned.

  7. Southwest Airlines says:

    great post, very brave, thanks for sharing