by Pete Hammer
Predict the winds, watch for birds,
Study the ripples on a pond.
Listen for the freight-train rustle
of a thermal rising
Through the trees on a hill.
Feel the warmth of rising air
hit your face as you search for lift.
React almost instinctively to turn toward your lifted wing.
Spot birds circling, and join them.
Collect gossamer wind-borne spider webs on your glider,
Know that there is no other way to see them,
But to be right there, right then,
Thousands of feet in the air...
Hear the quiet.
The Coolest Thing
by Kevin Frost
Usually I'm thinking how lucky I am to be one of the few human beings among
billions privileged with the amazing gift of flight. So many people dream
of flight, the ultimate symbol of freedom, and so few actually fly. To
live in a time when technology allows a man to carry a wing to the top of a
mountain, run with that wing and soar to the clouds and to not embrace this
as one's own reality is impossible for me.
I can fly.....what an amazing statement!!!!!
I can fly miles above the earth, surfing inviable waves. I don't need no
stinking engine to make a bunch of noise. I can fly 100 miles without
dyeing or getting a single scratch, I did again just two weeks ago, landed
softly on a barren but beautiful plain the nearest habitation a lonely
sheep camp. Miles of wavy grass and blue snowcapped mountains on the
horizon. 40 miles of gravel road to the nearest town. I flew there under
100lbs of Dacron and carbon graphite, my perfect wing.
I think flying on silent lightweight wings is about the coolest thing a
person can do. Most who do it, live their life around it. All who do it
enter a bargain with the whims of nature, we offer up our very lives for
the privilege of flight, and know that calamity could happen unexpectedly.
To be constantly reminded that death may be near makes life more valuable.
I ask myself why everyone in the world isn't flying... Why are they
satisfied living their days on the ground, watching birds and only dreaming
of the freedom of flight when flight is so easy and now possible for the
first time in human history?
Why do I fly?
by John Stuart
When I was about 15 I took a baby hawk from a nest. I had read
all I could get my hands on about falconry, and I suppose I had
convinced myself that I was going to become an accomplished
falconer, looking back it was more like I just wanted to be near,
feed, walk with and, in a way, ‘own’ a bird of prey. I don't know
if the desire to fly pre-dated the desire to have a bird, they
may have been mixed up in the same desire though, and one brought
out the other. I had watched my bird's parents hunting and
playing, and I was fascinated by their speed, agility,
manuevaribility and plain POWER. One of them had taken a sparrow
clean out of the sky right in front of me, in about the time it
took me to blink. I decided then that there was no creature in
creation that was more dashing or more accomplished.
So I took the hawk chick, the smallest one, and followed the
instructions in the falconry manual to a ‘T’. I fed him on lean
steak, laced with calcium supplement, and once a week a dead
white mouse from the micery. I remember how he used to look at
me as he sat on his perch at the base of my bed, partly covered
in white down and with a few feathers sprouting from wings and
tail, he looked everything like a baby chicken, except for that
hooked bill, those yellow talons, and that slightly proud (but
mostly babyish) look in his eyes. It was hard to believe that he
would one day grow into the type of dynamic killing machine his
father and mother were.
The weeks passed and those stubby feathers began to grow out. He
shed the last of his down and underneath lay the beautiful black
speckled and streaked military brown of the African Greater
Kestrel. His underwings took on a fine cream colour, edged with
charcoal, and his tail and upper wings took on their
characteristic strong black bars. As a member of the falcon
family, he was known in falconry jargon as a ‘longwing’. His
wings and tail became longer, and once he realised what his long
wings were there for, he started to exercise them. He would grip
his perch very tightly and flap for 15 seconds at a time, after
which he would settle down, looking very satisfied and proud of
himself, and I would set about picking up my school papers that
had gone flying in all directions. We would go for walks, him
perched on my glove and tethered with ‘jesses’ and leash, me
trying to interest him in the sky, the wind and the clouds; which
were his natural inheritance and which I had of late begun
longing for with an unreasonable longing.
One day, whilst I held him facing into wind, he tentatively
stretched out both wings, and as the breeze threatened to lift
him, he tightened his grip on my glove, throwing anxious looks
at me as if to say “don't even think of it!” These episodes
increased in frequency, always accompanied by him staring keenly
skyward, and often picking out the moving figure of a distant
soaring bird, which my human eyes were far too weak to discern.
Then one Saturday morning I decided that the day had arrived:
today he would fly or forever risk consignment to the ranks of
the flightless birds: the dodo, the ostrich, the emu. We went out
for a walk, and I undid his leash and swivel, and walked holding
him up into the wind. He stretched out his wings, began to lift
but checked himself by holding onto my hand even tighter. With
a lump in my throat I cast him free, and he gave an almighty flap
and shot into the air, heading straight for the only perchable
object in sight: the rusted metal structure of an old wind mill.
He grabbed onto an outer stay with a death grip, but only
succeeded in sliding all the way down its length, landing
`seated' in a heap at the bottom, his tail splayed out and wings
half extended. Above his head a couple of sparrows jeered insults
in their tongue, and undertook dive-bombing raids as he sat
dejected and confused on the bare ground. I rushed up to him,
excited, proud and envious, and gathered him up onto my glove for
another flight. Then I saw it dawn on him in the look on his
face: he had flown; he had reached out eagerly towards his
inheritance (with a bit of encouragement from me), and had taken
the first step towards making the big blue sky his own.
After that I followed his progress with awe. Only recently he had
been hardly distinguishable from a large canary: he perched, he
ate, he nibbled my finger. Sure he ate his steak with gusto, but
there were times when he looked at me with a ’please could you
tenderise this‘ look on his face. It was then that I had to
remind him that he was, in fact, a bird of prey—a member of
the falcon family to be exact—and that the public expected a
certain ‘rough and toughness’ from his kind. But now his babyhood
was in the past. He took to the wind as only a natural could. He
would stretch his wings, let go of my glove, and hover just above
it, or shoot in to the sky with a few flaps of his long, thin
wings. He would climb rapidly, then glide away, then circle back
to me and drop onto my glove like lightening, although his
landings were as gentle as if my hands had been made of silk.
Sometimes he would simply disappear—speck out—in a thermal,
and I would sit down on an ant-hill, wondering if he would ever
return. Before long, though, he would alight on my shoulder, and
nibble my ear to remind me that he was very much back, blissed
out and looking forward to that tender tit-bit of rump that I had
kept for him.
One day he never came back.
Its pointless to attempt to describe how I felt, I suppose I
always knew that I could not have kept him forever, but the
heartache was intense and took a long time to ebb away. Perhaps
my flying is an attempt to join him, to experience what he felt,
to be kin to him. I do know that, when I am far above a grassy
ridge, circling slowly beneath the silver clouds and I see a hawk
near, sharing the same air as me, my spirits rise up higher,
higher than I ever thought possible.
by Kevin Caldwell
It is hard to describe what it feels like to someone who has never
experienced free flight, flight unencumbered by engines, control sticks
and enclosing structures. The weight shift control of a hang glider
makes flying a direct physical experience, with the air becoming a
tangible force that you must work with and sometimes must fight. Being
out in the airstream lets you feel the speed, from the near silence of
a 18 mph stall to the roar of a 70 mph screaming dive. Flight with a
hang glider comes close to the flying of my dreams, and maybe a little
more: the struggle with the air to remain aloft and in control adds a
spice that keeps flying interesting.
There is so much symbolism and deeper, more primitive things involved
with running off the edge of a hill than just the mechanical reality of
flight. Flying dreams becoming real, fear of being suspended in thin
air, and the god like power of the wind and sun, all combine to tinge
each moment with a sharpness and reality that escapes the everyday
world. The ritual of setting up the wing, checking the equipment, and
putting on the harness are part of the ceremony of flight. The slow
building of the anticipation, the calming influence of performing the
familiar steps, are all part of something very much like a religious
ceremony building up to an important event: the ceremony to become a
bird, to make those dreams of soaring through the sky come true.
I pick up the glider and carry it over to launch, hot and awkward. I am
still part of the ground, with too many clothes on and a recalcitrant
wing buffeted by the fluky winds behind the lip of the hill. I set the
glider down on the edge of the take off, one last check of the harness
straps, a quick check of the wind conditions. My mouth is dry. My
senses both narrow to the few critical steps of launching, and expand
to see each little wind gust in the leaves. I try to feel the changes
in the temperature and velocity of the air flowing past my face, and
attune myself to the chaotic rhythm of the thermal driven gusts to find
the optimum moment to leave the earth safely, and also launch into that
elusive, invisible rising air I need to carry me skyward.
I hold the glider and we begin to fuse. I feel each little gust against
my fabric, each small change in the angle of the flow across my
carefully curved wing. Finally I am balanced with the wind. I run
down the hill, each step getting lighter, each step taking me closer to
being a creature of the air. And then I’m flying!
I forget about the glider, the mechanical steps of getting into the
harness and the whine of the vario. Another part of me deals with all
those mundane things. I am flying, feeling the surges and dips of the
air, the swirls and bubbles. The sky is alive with movement, its
seeming uniform blueness a disguise.
Ground bound souls will never know the velvety softness as the last of
the day’s warmth rises up the cliffs out of a forest, or the almost
willful violence above sun beaten rocks on a high mountain slope. The
air has an infinite range of moods, some of which can be fatal to my
small craft and I. We must feel so carefully, anticipate and know the
changing sky. To tease out the hidden currents of rising air and
steal a few hour’s ride where only bird creatures can go is… magic.
I have hovered over icy slopes where few have ever been. I have danced
the oily smoothness of an evening wind. I have shared a winged moment
with eagles, and raced beneath dark cold clouds all alone. I have
slipped the bonds not just of earth, but of life itself, and become
something more, if only for those special moments when I do just fly,
and all the cumbersome paraphernalia of modern magic recedes to
insignificance. I have been part of the crystal blue sky: I will carry
a stolen piece of it with me always.