John Harris honored for first flight off Grandfather Mountain

John Harris and Sandra Allen on Grandfather Mountain,  a nonprofit attraction, and a North Carolina state park near Linville, North Carolina.

On a beautiful, cloudy day atop Grandfather Mountain in 1974, an excited and anxious John Harris surveyed the launch, conditions and landing for the very first hang glider launch off of the site.

Since his courageous feat, countless people have flown off of Grandfather Mountain, and his efforts to continue to promote and encourage others to partake in Hang Gliding have not gone unnoticed.

Free flight has been an ongoing passion in Harris’ life, including his business and his infectious way of inspiring others to soar and reach new heights.

Since his first time seeing the image of a hang glider in a newspaper, to the purchase of a hang glider and offering lessons on the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in 1974, Harris has been nothing short of a pioneer in sharing free fight and the history behind Francis Rogallo and Gertrude Rogallo in their mission and success of creating the flexible wing.

Their somewhat simple invention opened many doors for progress within flight, including kiting, parachutes, hang gliders and so much more. Backed by his knowledge and experience at NASA and Harris’ endless pursuit of free flight, the group were destined to meet, become friends and share their passion to the masses.

Rogallo and Harris shared many experiences on the dunes of Jockey’s Ridge together and flights and reunions at Grandfather Mountain.

Hugh Morton, the former caretaker of Grandfather Mountain and the person who Harris sought permission from in order to fly off the mountain, continued to fuel the hang gliding passion with his legendary videos, endless support of the hang gliding community and ever-constant friendship.

Eventually, a launch site was created for Grandfather Mountain where experienced hang gliding pilots followed the footsteps of John Harris for some of the most spectacular views while riding exciting thermals around the mountain.

Although hang gliding off of Grandfather Mountain is no longer offered, on July 21, about 40 hang gliding pilots, their families and free flight supporters joined together to honor the courageous and continuous efforts of John Harris from that first flight off of Grandfather.

A boulder dedication, combined with story telling, Hugh Morton hang gliding videos, as well as a luncheon and dinner took place in honor of John Harris and hang gliding. The launch site where Harris took those first steps off of the mountain to launch is now dedicated as “The Flight of Dreams.”

When asked about this accomplishment, Harris said, “It was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The excitement, thrill and feeling of success upon landing was indescribable. Free flight is truly something for everyone to experience.”

To learn more about hang gliding and free flight, and to book hang gliding lessons, visit


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