Gliders Flying Half-kegs!

By Lisa Loy


Francis Rogallo said, back in 1997 upon meeting and shaking hands with a group of boys during the Rogallo Kite Festival in Nags Head.

He wasn't kidding. After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering at Stanford University in 1935, Rogallo accepted a job with the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), now known as NASA, located at the Langley Research Center in Virginia. It turns out Orville Wright served on the board at NACA.

Rogallo, known affectionately by locals as "Rog," dreamed of finding a way to make personal flight affordable and portable with wings that could fold like a bird's. Working on weekends with his wife, Gertrude, who surrendered her kitchen curtains for their first kite, they developed and earned two patents for their design of and modifications to the flexible wing. And although NASA wasn't too interested in the design in its early stages, the Rogallos got their attention for possible use in landing spacecraft on land in lieu of water, and in 1963 NASA honored the Rogallos with its largest cash award to date, "for their inventions that led to large-scale development work on paragliders by NASA and the military services."

Old photo of paragliders

But here on earth, their flexible wing was also lifting off a brand new sport called hang gliding. In fact, it went global. From paragliders to stunt kites, their invention gave the experience of flight to millions of people. In 1996, the reception the Rogallo's received at the largest free flight gathering on earth, the Coupe Icare in the French Alps, was overwhelming. They were celebrities because, unlike America, the flexible wing in most of the world is known as the Rogallo Wing.

Fast-forward to 2014 and the Rogallo Foundation's quest to raise funds for a Rogallo Museum. John Harris, founder of Kitty Hawk Kites and its hang gliding school at Jockey's Ridge State Park, is also the man behind The Rogallo Foundation. To create a fundraising event, John dreamed up the idea of a flying challenge with teams designing and building gliders to compete for distance at the park.

At about the same time, Lee Nettles, Executive Director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau was floating the idea for a beer festival. He spoke with John Harris, and in less time than the duration of the Wright brothers' first flight (or the time it takes to drink a beer) they saw the advantage of combining the two events.

When John went to Eric Reece, co-owner of the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, with the concept, Eric said a beer festival was a good idea but that, perhaps, there were already too many of them. He felt, instead, that a special, even wacky, element was in order to really make this event fly. Thus, the competition of gliders flying half-kegs was born. Genius.

The name Brewtag was inspired by Red Bull's Flutag, the German definition of which is "flight day." It's a hilarious flying competition of homemade, man-powered contraptions that began in Vienna in 1992 and is now celebrated in 35 countries. Hence, the name Brewtag could be translated as "beer day." And like Flutag, it's a hilarious flying competition. But Brewtag organizers have no international aspirations; for them it's all about community, friends, family and flight. And, oh yes, volunteers.

Carol Sparks, one of four Rogallo offspring, says her father would have approved of this event, "He loved watching people fly." John Harris concurs, "He'd really get into the design side of it and how creative people were in their wing designs. He was generous with his time and shared what he knew. And...he enjoyed beer."

Rogallo and sons with kites

To be held at summer's end on September 6th, up to 25 competing teams will design and build aircraft to see who among them can fly a half-barrel keg the farthest from a 20-foot-high platform. The rules specify that all aircraft must be homemade and entirely human powered. No catapults or slings are allowed, and the craft must weigh less than 100 pounds, including the keg. For the complete list and to register, visit

Get your team together, dream up a theme and a scheme and visit to read the rules and sign up. You can also email for more information.

This inaugural event will be held at the old Windmill Point property, now known as the Outer Banks Event Site on the sound at 6906 S. Croatan Highway in Nags Head.

The Outer Banks Brewtag is family friendly so bring on the wee people. There'll be plenty of our famous local food to try, live music to get your feet tapping, an interactive kid zone and a beer village pouring the best craft brews North Carolina has to offer. Admission at the gate is low (5 bucks), and kids are free.

Like her siblings, Carol remembers being a test pilot for her dad. "I was college age, and Daddy had set up another flight on the beach near our cottage. He had two long controls, and I was unaware until I was back on the ground that he'd had a problem trying to bring me down." After that episode, and with her mother's gentle insistence, they made a 100-pound dummy pilot and dubbed him Peter Parawing. He's packed away, rustling impatiently in his box, along with the Rogallo kites, papers and artifacts, awaiting the day the Rogallo museum that Harris is planning becomes a reality. The Brewtag brings it that much closer to reality.









You can also email for more information.

volunteer opportunities too!




In addition to Kitty Hawk Kites and the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, the Brewtäg has partnered up with the Outer Banks Brewing Station, Trio Beer.Wine.Cheese and Brew Thru, all major players in this event.