Flying high while hang gliding at Wallaby Ranch

September 10, 2018

As seen from a mounted GoPro, Central Florida Explorer Patrick Connolly hang glides with Wallaby Ranch owner and instructor Malcolm Jones at Wallaby Ranch in Davenport on Aug. 23, 2018.

I wouldnít consider myself a daredevil. However, I do say yes to a lot of things, and Iíd like to think Iím generally open to new experiences. After all, I do enjoy discovering new opportunities that come my way. So when I was presented with the question, "Do you want to go hang gliding?" I was immediately interested.

On a recent sunny morning, I found myself driving south on I-4, headed for Wallaby Ranch in Davenport, Fla. Itís about 45 minutes southwest of downtown, a few exits past Disney.

Itís not too far from the rest of Orlando and its theme park attractions, but upon arriving, Wallaby Ranch feels like its own world.

The only other open-air flying experience Iíve had was riding in a hot air balloon. Even when that happened, I felt the butterflies in my stomach as we took off.

Those feelings never set in leading up to my hang gliding take off. Rather than anxiety and fear, I felt excited, at peace and secure.

It certainly helped to have an experienced pilot. Malcolm Jones, who founded Wallaby Ranch in 1991, estimates that he has been on roughly 38,000 hang-gliding flights.

The ranch was the first of its kind, utilizing aerotowing for easier hang-gliding instruction. With aerotowing, a plane tows the glider up to about 2,000 feet before the glider is released into the sky.

Being so high up didnít feel scary or overwhelming. It just felt peaceful and incredibly freeing. Having so much flying experience under his belt, Jones was able to articulate how hang gliding feels for him.

"Itís ethereal, itís a real feeling of freedom. And you get that sort of innate feeling that youíre somewhere youíre not supposed to be," Jones said. "Itís just odd that you can be flying around like that."

Humans arenít supposed to be able to fly, but hang gliding really does make you feel like you belong in the sky.

"Youíre in the same position as a bird, and you become very unaware of the wing," Jones said. "Itís just you."

Once we were released from the tow plane, Malcolm gave me some instructions and had me take over control of the glider. I found it to be fairly intuitive ó just pushing arms in and out to control turns and speed.

In the air, the glider never hits more than 25 or 30 miles per hour. Itís very serene, just gliding through the air. You can even have a conversation while 1,500 or 2,000 feet up.

As we soared down from more than a quarter mile high, I couldnít wipe the smile off my face. I loved looking around and changing my perspective on Central Florida ó literally.

I was just trying to soak up every moment of my time above the Earth while I could. Before I knew it, we were back on the ground.

"Oh, that was awesome," was all I could manage to say, and that stupid grin never left my face.




McClatchy-Tribune Information Services