CUMBERLAND, Md. - Most days when the winds are right and he's not working, you will find Cumberland resident Jim Rowan soaring the skies of the tri-state region aboard his single-wing hang glider.
Rowan, 57, has been enjoying his hobby of flying harnessed to an aluminum-framed hang glider for the last 33 years.
"It makes you feel like Superman," says Rowan.
For the last 27 years, as part of the Allegany County Fair, Rowan has launched from the cliff tops over the fairgrounds and landed safely below.
"It's peaceful and serene. It's Zen-like," said Rowan.
A member of the Mountaineer Hang Gliding Association, Rowan has been flying hang gliders since 1979.
It was hang gliding that led him to move to the area in the mid-80s.
"I moved here because of hang gliding," said Rowan.
Rowan said he was living in Clarksburg, W.Va., and began coming here to hang glide around 1983 and was taken with the experience.
"This area is one of the premier places in the Mid-Atlantic region to fly," said Rowan. Most launch sites for hang gliders are located on Knobley Mountain in Mineral County, W.Va.
Frostburg resident Brad Barkley, 51, who is also a member of the MHGA, took up hang gliding in 2010 and has flown with Rowan.
"A lot of people who have done it as long as he (Rowan) has have given it up. But he still has the passion," said Barkley.
Rowan and a friend learned to hang glide in southern California.
"We bought a glider and learned from a book," said Rowan.
Hang gliders are made from aluminum tubing with a wing typically made of a polyester fabric called Dacron. Harnesses are used to strap torso and legs into the glider. The pilot is in the prone position while flying and turns by shifting his body weight.
"This was the '70s and we just went out and learned," said Rowan.
Reflecting on those days in the San Diego area, Rowan would not advise learning that way now.
"The crash and burn method is not a recommended way to learn," said Rowan.
Hang gliding has taken Rowan to most states and several other countries.
Among the places Rowan has flown include New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Illinois, Yosemite Park, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Mexico and British Columbia, Canada.
"The most dangerous part is landing because it's where you meet the ground," said Rowan, who always wears a helmet.
Hang gliders typically take a short run before launching. Sometimes they launch from the back of trucks or are towed by a plane.
A parachute is worn while flying; however, Rowan said he has never used it and he has never seen anyone have to deploy a parachute.
"He is a mentor," said Barkley.
Barkley said that Rowan introduced him to the local sites and has acted as an observer.
"He doesn't have to do that. I really admire that he does that," said Barkley.
Rowan is very thankful for the property owners who let them launch and land.
"It wouldn't be possible without their co-operation," said Rowan.
One launch site on Knobley is called High Point. It is 1,800 feet above sea level and 1,180 feet above the landing area. Another launch location on Knobley is Zirk's. It is near ATK and is 1,500 feet about sea level and 850 feet above the landing site.
Launching by foot is the method Rowan uses most often.
Rowan's longest local flight was 102 miles to Ruby, Va., that took four and one-half hours. His longest flight ever was in California in 1991 when he flew seven hours and 113 miles.
"It's not an adrenaline rush sport. You are up there a long time," said Rowan.
Rowan has no intentions of slowing down.
"I will keep on until the day I die. But not from that," joked Rowan.
Information from: Cumberland (Md.) Times-News, http://www.times-news.com/timesnew.html