Three years ago I stood here at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park launch site almost every day of the summer, letting my imagination pull me into the sky for a few moments. I was eighteen years old and working there for my first summer job. With my hometown of Lexington, Virginia so far away from this northwestern Georgia location, though, it may have seemed an odd choice.
Indeed, it came about under unique circumstances: I had survived several bouts of childhood cancer, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation had offered me one wish of anything I desired, as they do for thousands of children with life-threatening conditions every year. Of course, I wanted to fly! After carefully considering a hot air balloon and a paraglider, I asked for my own hang glider and flying lessons. The Foundation deemed the wish too dangerous. I do not fault them much, though, because they planted a seed in my mind—I had dreamed so much about hang gliding at that point that I decided to make it happen myself through that job.
Lookout Mountain Flight Park is certainly the place to learn to fly. It’s the biggest hang gliding resort in the country, training more people to fly hang gliders than any other flight school. They train through both aerotow, in which the hang glider is towed up from the landing zone behind an ultralight airplane, and through foot launching on their training hills supplying you with cabins, camping, parties and pool time while you are there. As owner and manager Matt Tabor says, the flight park’s business plan has always been about “making a community and reaching out to make hang gliding not only convenient, but fun and easy for everybody. A lot of places it’s really hard to fly. Here it’s not so extreme. Of course flying off the mountain is the best, but if you sink out, you always get another chance by towing up. ”
As the epicenter of a hobby, a passion, a one-time thrill, and a business all at once, this flight park has a lively and constant ebb and flow of pilots--you become a pilot even if you fly tandem for fifteen minutes with an instructor. There are those who come, as I first did as a birthday present, for just one flight. Then there are those who come to learn flying themselves, all the way from the 65 foot “bunny hills” to the mountain launch. They might come for a few weekends, or few summers, and often, in keeping with the seemingly magnetic pull of flight, it grows into a lifelong passion, or even a career as an instructor.