4th February 2012

Posted in

Blog :: Learning to Fly

All my life that I can remember I've wanted to fly. When I was very young (maybe 6?) one of my cousins who is an aircraft instructor gave me a plane ride for my birthday, instantly becoming the coolest cousin ever!

I can't remember when I first learned about hang gliding - I do remember watching Hang Gliders at a very young age when my family visited Fort Funston in San Francisco. I can still remember my feeling of awe at the magical way the colorful wings rose, seemingly effortlessly, into the skies to surf the invisible waves of the air. And ever since gliding flight has enchanted me. I've spent happy hours watching sea gulls ridge soar around the rocky point out at Pigeon Point Light House - tiny movements and adjustments controlling their flight, stopping and nearly hovering then wheeling and diving downwind... Somehow flight just seemed wondrous, magical, much more fascinating than the mundane world where my feet were firmly planted.

During my early teenage years a friend of mine found an ancient rogallo style hang-glider in his family's newly rented barn and offered it to me, knowing my fascination. I might still be a little bitter that despite all my pleading my mom said "Absolutely not!"

When I was in my early twenties and planning on getting married I took one hang gliding lesson and made it out to the training hill. But money was tight and I eventually put my dreams of flying through the air to one side and opted for the somewhat more practical but still exciting motorcycle.

And here I am. I'm in my thirties. I have three children - and I don't even have a motorcycle anymore. But I can (maybe) afford to take a flying lesson or two and my job actually has a somewhat malleable schedule that means I might be able to take enough time to go flying occasionally. Can I still pursue my dream at this late date? It turns out that I can!

Eric Hinrichs teaches for Bay Area Hang Gliding and I've been taking lessons from him for the last few months. Or more accurately - I took a couple before December and a couple in the last month. As a result I've gotten to know the path down the training hill pretty well. I started out with a huge training glider that flies incredibly slowly - the Wills Wing Condor 330 - and Eric had me run on flat ground learning how to hold the glider, feel it rising off my shoulders, and come back to a stop supporting it. I slowly started working up the hill - getting my feet off the ground a little bit on my first lesson and gradually moving higher to make the flights slightly longer. The first few lessons are all about take offs and landing - controlling the angle of attack so that the wing flies when you take off and learning to feel ground effect, find trim speed and slowly push out to slow the glider upon landing.

My fourth lesson with Eric was Friday and I'm still flying high - I moved up a glider to the smaller Condor 225. Losing 105 square feet of sail meant things sped up and it took me a couple of tries to confidently power down the hill on launch and a couple more flights to be able to feel the right time to flare on landing. But by the end of the day my launches were strong, my flares were getting crisper, and I flew straight flights at a couple of different speeds to complete the tasks for my H1 novice rating. One multiple choice test later - I'm the proud holder of a temporary novice card and looking forwards to flying off the 300' launch on my way to an H2 license.

Eric was kind enough to strap a go-pro camera to my glider and post the footage. Yes - that's me skidding in on my knees the second time - but keep watching. By the end of the day landing smoothly on my feet with a crisp flare made me feel a mile high.

Driving home I thought to myself - In some ways I feel satisfied right now. I've accomplished a lifelong dream of mine - my feet have left the ground and I've felt, for 20 seconds at a time, the joy of pure flight. In some ways though I feel hungrier than ever. Those accomplished soarers - the hawks and vultures that spiral up in the thermals that rise around our training hill had better watch out - one day soon I'll be with with them climbing up into the blue skies.

Posted on February 4th 2012, 09:04 PM

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