My return to hang gliding, 1989
This page continues from My flying late 1970s and early 1980s.
Hang gliders: Mouette Atlas and Pacific Windcraft/Hiway Vision 1
Harness: Modified and strengthened 1970s stirrup harness
In-flight camera: 35mm compact with motor drive film advance
I was grounded from 1983 until 1989 principally because of unemployment and consequent lack of funds to run a car. (Mountain biking and BMX racing were my activities during that period.) In 1987 I obtained employment in London, but my mother suffered a semi-paralyzing stroke at the same time. Consequently, I spent my weekends and most holidays taking her out and about in a wheelchair.
In January 1989 I resumed flying by joining an expedition to Lanzarote, one of the Spanish Canary Islands, 60 miles off the west coast of Africa.
These guys have seat harnesses and the one on the right is wearing a skydiving parachute. His hang glider harness has a quick release…
The glider they used for this event is a Moyes GTR. On this occasion, at Mirador, they failed to gain adequate height for the drop, but I heard they succeeded the following day.
The accompanying photo is of me about to launch at Mala. The glider is an Atlas, a single surface wing made in France. It was comparable with my old Birdman Cherokee and it belonged to the hang gliding school (Lejair) that organised the expedition.
The battens on this particular glider were tensioned at the trailing edge with webbing tabs folded over and secured with Velcro. To speed up the rigging process, I rigged one side and another pilot rigged the other. As soon as I launched, I had to fight a constant turn. (I headed straight for the dusty landing field.) Unlike most means of securing the battens, whether by elastic or by the newer ‘lever ends’, this method caused the compression of each batten — and, therefore, the chord-wise tension of the sail — to depend on how much force was applied when folding the webbing over the batten end before securing it with the Velcro. Each side of the wing span was under different tension.
This was the first time I had been overseas and my first time in a passenger jet.
In September 1989, I went to mainland Spain for two weeks’ flying.
The Pyrenees, a 270-mile chain of snowcapped peaks straddling the French border, fall quickly into folds of rose and amber foothills; the runoff feeds fingers of crystalline trout water along the way. Northern Catalonia may be one of the world’s best kept non-secrets: Picasso painted it, Hemingway praised it, Caesar, it is said, retired his officers there. Yet the pristine beauty of the place remains almost entirely intact.
— Peter Lardner, driver for the US world team, writing in Hang Gliding, October 1994
I worked in central London and a colleague, an American, happened to have a hang glider for sale. As luck would have it, it was exactly what I wanted; an intermediate performance double surface wing. (The sail includes an under-surface that encloses the cross-tubes.)
My first flight in it was from the top of a ridge 3 000 feet (1 000 metres) high!
We had one day of dust devils in the rigging and launch area, in which pilots from Britain, Spain, Germany, and France readied for flight. Those mini tornadoes were invisible because it was just rock and scrub there, but they picked up gliders, bags, harnesses, and anything not held down. The day after after that, the dust devils were gone. For amusement, I threw my glider bag into the air and yelled. Everyone rushed to their wings to hold them down. Then, seeing my glider bag collapse onto the ground with me grinning beside it, they just glared at me…
I tried my camera attached to the king post and this is one result. The landing field next to the town of Ager is at lower right. Hang gliders are laid flat in the middle of the field. (They are by next to some stunted trees not visible in the photo, so are out of the way of gliders landing.)
In the following photo my left hand is squeezing the rubber air bulb connected by a flexible tube to the shutter release of the camera.
The field over which I am coming down over in this photo became a camp site. To compare this photo with one showing the new camp site and the shrunken landing field, see under Return to mainland Spain in My flying, 1990 to 1993.
This was my lift back to town after I landed out at Ager, northern Spain (Catalonia) in September 1989. The girl is carrying my harness and plastic bag containing a borrowed variometer. (Mine conked out early on in the expedition.)
I photographed this rigid hang glider, a Reich & Neumann ULF-1, landing at Ager in September 1989.
I have a fear of cloud, partly from reading about the more than half a dozen hang glider pilots who were killed in Italy the previous year when they were caught by a thunderstorm.
One day on this trip in Spain, while de-rigging in the town landing field I looked up in trepidation at a mass of cloud building behind the ridge. On cue, a rumble of thunder turned trepidation to fear on behalf of those aboard the little specks still flying. Some of the specks then disappeared. Later in the day one senior instructor who had been in the air at the time described being ‘whited-out’ by cloud forming around her unexpectedly. She did not hear the thunder and neither did any of the others among those flying at the time who I spoke to.
Canoeing and swimming are options on the rare occasions that the weather is unflyable.
On a subsequent day with dust-devils overturning gliders rigged on the flat mountain top and even one glider being flipped upside-down along with its pilot while on the narrow concrete launch ramp, I flew twice. On my evening flight, with thunderclouds ominously ‘in the vicinity’ (according to my log book) I launched into apparently mild conditions. Two others of our group launched immediately after me and we flew out away from the cliff together. However, I felt rain, although there was no cloud nearby. There was no lift on the mountain, but we encountered some over the valley, accompanied by more light rain, followed by severe turbulence and strong lift. That lift felt strange to me. I described it at the time (doubtless influenced by the thunderstorm some days earlier) as ‘electric.’
Very soon came a slight tremor. As every pilot knows, there are secret little quiverings that foretell your real storm. No rolling, no pitching. No swing to speak of. The flight continues horizontal and rectilinear. But you have felt a warning drum on the wings of your aeroplane, little intermittent rappings scarcely audible and infinitely brief, little cracklings from time to time as if there were traces of gunpowder in the air.
— from Wind, sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1939
The others also felt Saint-Exupéry’s traces of gunpowder in the air and we all flew down and landed. Sitting in the Bar Torres later, we saw lightning, heard thunder, and then came a downpour.
Trivia/funny story: Some pilots were rigging a new demonstration K-1 in a concrete revetment in the village. I stopped by and asked about it. A chap explained a quirk concerning its rigging procedure, the details of which I have long ago forgotten. Much later in the day, after I had been up the mountain (I do not recall whether I flew that day) the same people were still there, but they were de-rigging the glider. However, they were stuck. (Bear in mind that they were likely hot and dehydrated from carrying out a fairly physical task in that sun-baked concrete square for several hours.) I spotted the problem. They had explained it to me that morning, so I merely explained it back to them. They were then able to continue de-rigging. They thanked me; the expert on the finer details of Airwave’s new hang glider!
Declan Doyle ran an Airwave dealership in Ager and he arranged accommodation for pilots too. He drove us up the mountain in a vehicle with the gliders mounted overhead on a sturdy rack. After flying and landing in the valley, he routinely cycled back up that 3000 ft mountain to retrieve his vehicle.
I encountered him readying to launch an Airwave
Magic Kiss K1 (see my opinions of Hang glider names) which was then the latest and greatest flex-wing hang glider. Clad in the newest pod harness, helmet, and visor, he looked like an alien being. Cameras were attached to his wing. He set out to fly close to the ridge along its length (it is several miles long) to photograph the rocks from that unique perspective for geologists. (You could do the same in a helicopter, but at greater expense.)
That’s me on the right. The guy at left is is the only person I have ever seen loop an Aerial Arts Clubman beginner-rated glider. (That is, deliberately turn it upside-down in flight.) Declan took the photo.
For more of Declan including sad news, see under Industrial light and magic in My flying 1994 and 1995.
This topic continues in My flying 1990 to 1993.