Season 1, Ep: 1, Pilot

By Gisele Dierks

To the flying community, near and far, novice and advanced, young and old, etc., etc.,

The crew and pilots at Morningside and Kitty Hawk Kites have been working on some big changes and improvements this winter, and we can’t wait for May 1st!

One new addition… I’m going to attempt to keep a blog going to keep everyone in the loop about happenings at the park and to start some important conversations about the flying community. I’ll dive into that all in future posts, but first introductions and a history lesson.


Morningside Flight Park, in Charlestown, NH was a dairy farm, until some hang glider pilots showed up in the ’70s and asked the farmer if they could cut a few trees and fly. He granted th

Jeff Nicolay

em permission, on the condition that they taught him too. Phil Haynes was instantly in love and Morningside Flight Park was born.

Since we have all summer, I’m going to take things slow—there is a lot to be learned from history.

Jeff Nicolay worked in Glastonbury, CT at Zephyr Aircraft building hang gliders, when he was asked if he knew anyone who would want to help run a new flight school up in New Hampshire. As it turned out, he had the perfect person in mind—himself.

Jeff and Phil spent the rest of their careers getting people in the air. I showed up on the scene in 2000, as Jeff’s daughter. Jeff died when I was ten, and Kitty Hawk Kites bought Morningside in 2011. I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the fact that there was essentially no preparation for the task of transition. (Is it just me or are there a lot of pilots who are allergic to paperwork? We’ll unpack that later…) Even with the best of intentions, it has been a monumental project to figure out how to understand and run this strange place successfully, but we are all starting to find our groove. Jeff was one of a kind, and the changes that came with new management were tough on the hundreds of people who have found a home and a family at Morningside. Again, I’ll have more to reflect on this later.

I started helping out at the park during my summers, and I have been working there ever since. We have been operating for almost five decades, I have lived it and loved it for two of those. I care deeply about flying and Morningside is both another home and another family to me.


Watching over and being a part of this home and family, I have noticed a widening schism in the flying community. If we don’t start talking about it, I fear for the future of free flight and the amazing group we have created over the last half-century.

Our differences of opinion (on hang gliding vs. paragliding, national politics, how to regulate and insure ourselves, risk vs. reward, new school vs. old school, etc.) are all worthwhile things to discuss, but not to the point where we can’t share the skies and schools together because it got ugly. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about how we are having these conversations, and if there’s a better way for us all to find a happy, safe medium.

Let’s head into the new season ready to help each other soar, above all.


17 responses to “Season 1, Ep: 1, Pilot

  1. Well said! Looking forward to spending lots of time with my Morningside family this summer!

  2. This is such an intriguing and exciting article!!! Almost brought a tear to my eye. Morningside is like another home to me as well. Amazing story amazingly written by an amazing person. Great work Gigi, I can’t wait to see more posts! 🙂

  3. I’m coming back to hang gliding and Morningside after a 40 year absence. I remember Jeff well. He helped me get started then, and now the crew at Morningside is helping me find my way back. I can’t thank you all enough! I look forward to reading more of your blog…

  4. Glad you’re still a part of the scene Gigi…there are SO many of us that value the whole idea of Morningside and have appreciated it throughout the years. I’ve met a lot of unique people that I can call friends at this place, from all walks of life, and have been able to keep refreshing my hang gliding skills each season for the last 45+ years. See you soon 🙂

  5. Such a great tribute, Gisele. Can’t wait to be there again this spring! Ti those who never tasted free flight, Come on out and see what you’ve been missing!

  6. Hi Giselle, excellent post, thank you for your heartfelt sincerity and updating us on what’s happening at Morningside.
    I discovered you in 2004 after I moved out from Southern California where I had flown hang gliders all through the 70s. After a career out west as a powered aviation writer/editor/photographer and through years of building and flying ultralights, then kit planes, and getting lots of airtime all over the place through my work, I wanted to reconnect to the true flight experience of HG.
    Jeff was great, I was sad to hear he’d left us. I didn’t get to know him well but we were both old school and spoke the language of the HG pioneer days, and hit it off right away.
    I came to a parachute packing clinic there. Bought a used Ultrasport and made a few flights off the bunny hill to help get my legs back, then was so full of my early “like riding a bike” successes that I went to the top of the little hill and tried to make a slight downwind launch. After racing halfway down the hill and still not being airborne I gave it one last surge… and felt my right hamstring go. I shoved the bar out to avoid a crash, popped up five feet and, in burning agony, floated down in a ground skim to a belly landing to avoid using my leg which was now worthless. I remember how grateful I was for that thick green grass cushion.
    Packing up the glider was fun. Oh yeah.
    Someone helped me get that heavy ultrasport up on my van and I spent the next six months limping, then rehabbing.
    I did get back into the air the next year, then dropped it again and sold the Ultrasport.
    Three years later I got the bug again, went out west, borrowed a Raven from old flying pal Joe Greblo, thena pulse, then a Formula, and when he felt I had enough of my old flying chips back, he reinstated me as a Hang 3 (I’d been a 4 back in the day but that was flying a different, more basic generation of gliders) and sold me a new Sport 2.
    I flew it at all the old sites, starting work Dockweiler, then from the Windsports mtn launch near Sylmar where I’d soared back in the late 70s, then hit the road to fly the wonderful Marina Beach dune sheet in Monterey Ca, then Ft Funston in San Francisco, and had a ball.
    Then the entire gang at Wills Wing – Mike and Linda Meier, Steve Pearson and the late, great Rob Kells were sooo hospitable and friendly. Rob gave me a thorough tour of the shop. Then Linda arranged to repack my glider and ship it out east for me for $100 total! Wow, where did you get Service like that these days?
    The next summer, 2009, I drove the S2 down to Wallaby in Florida and got my tow rating with Malcolm Jones.
    I had a flight my last afternoon there. Everybody had pretty much landed after skying out earlier in the day. It was still 95, uggh.
    I towed up to 1300 feet but as I wasn’t very sharp on the glider yet after the New England winter layoff, I couldn’t damp out the yaw after I hit a sharp bump and, fearing a lockout I punched off the tow. Set up to land, glad I was close enough to the Ranch.
    Down through 900 feet and unzipping my pod, I felt a little burble lift my left wing. Scooted that way quick but in a modest bank, the vario chirped lightly halfway around the circle but I pretty much maintained altitude so I went around again.
    “One more time just for grins “
    50 fpm climb.
    Alright, one more turn. Zero altitude loss. Another then. 50 for gain. Whoopee.
    “Come on baby, be good to me, just 50 more feet”.
    Five minutes and probably 15 circles later, I was at 1200 feet AGL and getting more like 100 fpm up , I’d still just half way around the turn.
    “Let’s get just one more hundred baby, “ I kept saying and it was like that up through 2000, then 3,000. Boring holes in the sky.

    At 4K the thermal was still glitchy and light, but broader now ans averaging 200-300 fpm. By then I felt I had a real shot because it was growing wider almost with every turn and I could relax. And I was learning more about the glider and how to work with it every minute.
    In time the up was a good 500+ and as I got up close to the dark base of the huge cloud that had formed I was cold and worn out from the effort. I looked down through 7000 feet of air, straight down, and found myself still right above the ranch. Little teeny wings parked next to the clubhouse. Cars the size of ants. The eagle’s view. Awesome. Worth every turn, the stiff neck, the tired 64 year old arms.
    I drove back home to upstate NY the next day, a tired but happy old diver driver feeling Teri decades younger.

    In my 20’s I’d thermaled up to 17,999, from Gold Hill in Telluride and above Silverton, Colorado, competed against Steve Moyes at Grouse Mtn in Vancouver, BC, fought the gnarly eastish thermals at Sylmar, Ca, soared along the 20 foot embankment of Dockweiler beach in Torrance California, soared for the very first time in 1974 at Torrance with Dave Cronk and Bob Keeler of Seagull Acft and the Wills brothers, flew Big Sur many times with that great group of Bay area pilots, and had a ton more foot launched adventures all over the country and in Canada.
    But that straight up, 200-turn flight at Wallaby sure has stayed with me and is at the top of the Best Flights list.
    So now I’m looking forward to getting back in shape and heading up there to get the groove back with you folks at that beautiful hill.
    Glad to hear you’re hanging in there!
    And I wouldnt worry too much about the political divide. One thing unites us all: our love of flight. If somebody insists on imposing their political views, I just smile, say “Thanks for sharing”, and change the subject. We don’t need to agree on anything more than learning how to have always-better flights. It’s a lifelong process. That’s the country I’m proud to live in.
    Keep up the blog please, I promise I won’t blather on so much next time.
    High flights

  7. Please keep this blog going! I took my first beginner lesson in OBX a week ago and instantly fell in love. I wanted to find a hobby where the community is number one. Started skydiving but that wasn’t what I was looking for. I have high hopes for this community and after talking to you on the phone and now reading this blog I am even more excited to start my H1. Thanks for recognizing what people need.

  8. Shawn, thank you so much! It means a lot as I am just starting out writing like this. We certainly have deep roots as a strong community and we are excited to welcome more people like yourself to it! I appreciate the stoke!!!

  9. Well written and informative about the history of Morningside, Gigi. Looking forward to your next blog addition. I’ll be up to see you soon !

    1. Hi Donna! So great to hear from you! I’ll be posting the 7th later today if I have time!

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