John Harris Hang Glides from Grandfather Mountain, 1974

John Harris prepares for his “first flight” off Grandfather Mountain. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On July 13, 1974, John Harris became the first person to hang glide from the 1,600-foot high rock pinnacle of Grandfather Mountain. Harris managed to convince Hugh Morton, the mountain’s owner, to let him make the daring attempt during the mountain’s annual Gathering of the Scottish Clans.

Harris flew about 1,500 feet, landing safely on the golf course below, and soon after the heyday of hang gliding at the mountain began. In 1975, the U.S. Open Hang Gliding Tournament was held at Grandfather Mountain, and it continued to be held there until 1986. By then the gliders had become more efficient, making for increasingly longer and faster flights, so that there were inadequate safe landing areas around the heavily forested mountain.

Flying was suspended from the peak in 1986 after a series of accidents.

Like Wilbur and Orville Wright, Harris was a native Midwesterner who was inspired by North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He relocated to the Tar Heel State in the early 1970s for work as an engineer and became captivated by the fledgling sport of hang gliding, spending his free time on Jockey’s Ridge.

While living at the coast he started a kite and hang gliding business, Kitty Hawk Kites, that is still in operation today.

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