Highland Aerosports' instructors introduce students to the joys of unpowered flight though hang gliding. Most often, they perform tandem flights, strapping themselves into a two-person glider right alongside beginners and helping them control the craft. Such a task requires plenty of confidence, but the teachers have a lot of experience on their sides. Co-owner Sunny Venesky has personally taught more than 13,000 hang-gliding lessons, earning the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association's Hang Gliding Instructor of the Year award in 2003. Adam Elchin, the other half of the ownership team, boasts numbers almost as impressive, having taught 8,000 hang-gliding lessons and earned commendation from the USHPA for service to the sport.
Over thousands of flights, the duo has learned that students master the skills at their own pace and height. They're very accommodating about both issues. In addition to introductory flights at 2,000 feet, 2,500 feet, 3,000 feet, and 1 mile, they offer ongoing lessons at more subtle increments, such as 2,499 feet or "just out of reach of that giant."
From 3,500 feet, you can barely even see the wild horses roaming Chincoteague Island. But when you’re hang gliding alongside an instructor from Virginia Hang Gliding, it doesn’t seem to matter much. What you can see from these towering heights are awe-inspiring views of waves crashing in from both the Atlantic and the Chesapeake Bay while you feel the adrenaline rush of soaring through the air. Clients help maneuver the glider over Virginia’s scenic beaches, far above the other visitors and the hundreds of bottles containing notes about boring islands. The whole time, they rest safe in the knowledge that they’re in the capable hands of one of the experienced pros who ride along.
As a child, Michael O’Daniel would sometimes spend his days among giant aircraft in a hangar as his father, a Pan Am pilot out of Miami, was at work. Michael found himself daydreaming about one day being able to fly; by 1980 he was a private pilot. Eventually he became taken with another form of flight—paragliding. He founded Powered Paragliding USA and over the years has spread his wings over Peru, Costa Rica, and he once completed a flight across the entire length of the Panama Canal.
A few years ago, Michael was joined at Powered Paragliding by Brian Goff, another pilot. Goff has hundreds of hours of flying experience; he's been behind the controls of everything from helicopters and airplanes to aerobatic planes and hot air balloons. Today, Michael and Brian man flights for clients of all experience levels. They can fly tandem with beginners, or train budding para-pilots on technique, safety, and how to switch lanes with birds. Expert flyers can take to the skies by purchasing their own paragliders and paramotors from the company.