Last Updated:
Wed, Jun 22, 2005


Hot Air



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.

Fly Free

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. 

Be a