In the early 70’s, Robert Doornick began hang gliding and introduced the sport to the East Coast. He also helped make it safer and spread the word about it to tens of thousands of people. Here is his story of those exciting days in four parts.
I created a hang gliding magazine called “Aerie” to promote the sport. I published it for 1-1½ years. It was 25-30 pages, black and white, stapled. I financed that.
I got hired by an ad agency to do TV commercials for Fayva shoes. I wore the shoes and landed in front of the camera. I would wear a turtleneck and long pants to look hip for the youth market.
Once I dressed in a Santa Claus suit for the cover of “Aerie.” I had this crazy moment when I flew over two hunters in the middle of the forest sitting by a fire and drinking morning coffee. I yelled out a big “Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas,” and these two guys really jumped. They’d probably never seen a hang glider. I was stuffed and looking very chubby and had a fake bag attached to my back. In hindsight I kept thinking they might have shot me.
In another still photo ad, I wore a business suit and flew with one hand and carried an attache case with the other hand and landed in a precise spot.
Once at Catamount, we did an ABC TV special on the hang gliding sport. It was a big meet. One competition was to land on a handkerchief in the parking lot.
Elle was very encouraging and inspired other people— including many women—to try the sport. If she can do it, others felt they could too. She was one of the first women hang gliding in the country, and she was surely the first on the east coast. She was a safe and wise pilot herself. I had a lot of respect and admiration for her courage.
The sport attracted may hotshots and daredevils—I can fly higher, faster, take off in any wind. These were people who someday you didn’t hear about anymore.
Some advice: don’t be in any hurry to fly. Be pure of heart and seek what it’s like to fly like a bird, rather than to impress your girl/boy friend. Every decision you make in the air is a life or death decision. Take the time to learn aerodynamics, physics of flight, and micrometeorology.
My involvement lasted maybe five years. I stopped soon after that to start my career and take care of my family. I dream about it still. It’s a sport you need to keep up with to do it safely. I had the privilege of being a bird and flying amongst the birds. I had a small hand in helping the sport get off the ground safely. There comes a time when you get so busy you realize you can’t practice the sport safely if you’re not doing it regularly.
If you’re in good physical shape, the only strenuous time is take off and landing. And even that isn’t so demanding if you do it correctly. I had a student once who was 65. Hang gliding is no where near as strenuous as skiing.
So I retired from it, taking with me those extraordinary memories. I am so grateful…