POLK COUNTY, Fla. – If you have ever wanted to get a bird’s eye view of Florida, now is your chance.
You can soar through the sky on a hang glider at Wallaby Ranch.
Malcolm Jones said he bought the property in 1991 so he could bring his favorite sport back to Florida.
“I grew up water skiing and got into flying the little ski kites behind the boat, at the time they called them delta wing ski kites, but they are really just tiny hang gliders,” he said.
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As he got older, Jones said he moved to California and traveled to Australia, New Zealand and several other places to satisfy his need for flight.
Then when towing gliders from airplanes evolved he moved back home to Florida and bought 500 acres of land in Davenport to hang glide and teach others how to do it too.
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If you visit his hang gliding oasis, you may be surprised to see how quickly people go from strapping into a harness to flying high.
“You tow up to 2,000 feet, release from the rope and you glide around. I let the first timers fly the glider, there’s nothing to run into up there and then I take it over and I land it. It’s absolutely magical,” Jones said. “A lot of the flights we do are just discovery flights. I always teach as much as I can and let the person fly it as much as possible because it makes it more fun and it’s amazingly easy.”
If you want to actually learn how to fly the hang glider yourself, Jones said it takes about 20 trips before you are able to take full control.
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“When someone wants to learn, it’s just a matter of multiple tandems until they are doing it and basically, they are taking the instructor for a ride,” he said.
Learning to hang glide may come easier to some people with aeronautical backgrounds, but Jones said anybody can do it.
“Looking at them you can’t tell. You think that the Joe jock guy is gonna learn faster than the nerd guy with a pocket liner, but it doesn’t work out that way,” he said. “Some people take to it very easily and some people don’t.”
Jones said the best time to get up in the sky is early in the morning or late in the day.
“When the sun is at a shallow angle, because the sun is what causes the thermals, and the thermals create the turbulence and you want to do the tandem flight in smooth air,” he said.
Jones said hang gliding is much safer than people realize.
“People are always intimidated, they always think it is going to be something really crazy and dangerous,” he said. “We have done more of it than anywhere in the world and out of all the tandems we have ever done, we have never put a scratch on a soul.”
He said what makes Wallaby Ranch different is the take-off and the landing experience.
“You roll in and it is truly smoother than the best airliner landing you have ever experienced,” he said. “There’s no impact at all, you just roll in. That was my main idea that created the whole thing. Creating a hang gliding school around the concept of wheels attached to the glider. That’s what didn’t really exist before the ranch.”
Wheels were not the only point of difference Jones brought to the hang gliding experience. He also runs his business in a very unique way.
“Everybody that works for me lives on the property. We are here 24/7 and we just live by the weather. When it’s nice, we are flying. When it’s not, we are mowing, and fixing tractors and working on airplanes and stuff,” he said. “The weather does give us time off, but it is an unusual place. It’s a hang gliding commune, and it’s a hang gliding club, and it’s a hang gliding school.”
If you are interested in taking a flight, it will cost you $175.
Wallaby Ranch charges $2,000 for 20 lessons.
If you want to buy your own hang glider, Jones said a used one will run you about $4,000 to $5,000.
However, Jones said the experience is priceless.
“It’s quiet, it’s a real sense of freedom,” he said. “It takes you out of the everyday world.”
You can get in touch with Jones at 1-800-WALLABY or Wallaby.com
You can learn more by checking out Florida’s Fourth Estate. It airs Mondays and Fridays on News 6. You can also download the podcast from wherever you listen to podcasts or watch anytime on News 6+.