My flying 1994 and 1995
This page continues from My flying 1990 to 1993.
Hang gliders: Airwave 166 Magic 4 and Ultralight Products TRX 160
Harness: Modified and strengthened 1970s stirrup harness
In-flight camera: Ricoh FF-9 compact 35mm film
In 1994 and 1995, I flew in France, Switzerland, Wales, and Spain.
That subtitle is a line from Hold On Tight by the Electric Light Orchestra, 1981. It is ‘Hold on tight to your dream’ in French. It is similar to the signs on the larger launch ramps in the Annecy region warning you to check that you are clipped in to your wing.
Local pilots said that the summer of 1994 provided the worst flying conditions for years. However, for those of us used to flying in Britain, it was spectacular!
The Col de Forclaz includes an area near launch known as the washing machine. It often became crowded with hang gliders during sink cycles because, although it was turbulent, it provided good lift.
On one occasion when I crossed the lake to reach the camp-site landing field, I noticed a light airplane coming towards me, somewhat lower. It was a low-wing type with a big bubble-type canopy and, as it passed underneath me, maybe 50 feet below, I noticed that the pilot was looking dead ahead. I suspect he did not even see me.
Few know how difficult it is for one aircraft to see another aircraft in flight, despite Hollywood’s insistence that an eagle-eyed hero can spot his prey miles away. In real life, aircraft routinely pass within yards of one another with no one being the wiser.
— from A Lonely Kind of War by Marshall Harrison, 1989
On most flights, eventually I found myself flying with no other hang gliders in sight. Then, arriving overhead the landing field, half a dozen hang gliders appeared; all trying to land at the same time.
The blue wing to my left here is a Skyhook single surface glider flown by Paula E, whose husband John E. was also there flying an Airwave Calypso (PacAir Vision Mark 4).
The ramp at St. Hilaire is more of a platform on the edge of the world than a ramp. Launching there is the most frightening thing I have ever done.
Gordo and I emerged from the van near the rigging area at St. Hilaire in Apollo 11 fashion. Holding your nose to sound more attenuated: “I’m gonna step off the Lem now… That’s one small step for man [crackle, pause] one giant leap for mankind. [Crackle, hiss, crackle]” And I then bounded along in sort of slow motion, somehow contriving to lean backwards to slow down as though I had the massive PLSS on my back while kicking up a storm of dust in the process, and rocking to a forward lean. The girl friend of one of the hang glider pilots there was in hysterics. Later, she was in tears as we readied to dive off the platform on the edge of the world: The St. Hilaire ramp.
Incidentally, even while play-acting Neil and Buzz on the moon, I do not believe I could have imagined then that a Canadian actor who played an exaggerated version of me in the 2007 film Lars and the Real Girl (see my review) would also play the part of Neil Armstrong in the 2018 movie First Man (see my review).
This photo is from a flight starting in France, although much of the land below and the field in which I landed is across the border in Switzerland.
Technical: The high contrast in this photo helps illustrate that 1970s design stirrup harnesses, along with all harnesses without rigid longitudinal back support, compress the spine. With my crushed vertebra, flying became painful after more than about an hour or so.
I don’t have a photo of John E, but here is Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin arriving at Kennedy’s Flight Crew Training Building, on July 9, 1969. John and Buzz look alike. Image from My Other Ride Is a Spaceship in Air & Space magazine (link farther down).
In early 1995 I bought a pre-owned Ultralight Products TRX 160. Its airframe is mostly carbon fiber tube. Only the keel tube, control frame base tube, and battens are metal. Even the king post and downtubes are airfoil carbon tubes.
Nevertheless, it is about as heavy as the Airwave Magic IV and much more difficult to rig.
My first outing with it was in the spring of 1995 on a group camping trip to Rhossili, a west-facing hill on the coast of south Wales.
I made my first prone launch here. The wind was strong and smooth. After the hang check, while I was still prone in the harness, the pilot on my front wires eased his downward pull, letting the wind lift both the glider and me. When all was stable and he was holding the wires with little or no pressure, I called for release, whereupon he ducked out of the way as I flew forward and upwards.
In late summer 1995, I went again to Ager in northern Spain, where the world championships had been held in the summer.
In film of the event shown in Declan Doyle’s Speed Bar, a Brazilian pilot failed to lift off from the newly smoothed launch area and he skimmed the weeds and rocks down the slope. The map holder on his base bar rotated like it was powering him off. Maybe it was, because he got up and away! I ended up on the floor of the bar, incapacitated with laughter. Declan then re-ran that bit of film over and again.
Declan ran a hang glider dealership (first Airwave, then, from about 1993, Solar Wings) and he arranged accommodation for pilots too. In I think 1993, after he had a brief argument in Spanish with a guy across the street, I said I wish I could speak Spanish. Declan replied, “I wish I could too.” He went on, “Oi think he’s an idiot and he thinks oim a bastard. And we’re both right.”
Declan Doyle died on August 14th, 2019. See Phil Chettleburgh’s announcement on the British Hangies Facebook group on August 17th, 2019.
I have a clearer photo of Declan under Mainland Spain in My return to hang gliding, 1989.
The pilot here was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle crash six years before. With purpose-made sprung wheels and a another pilot acting as keel pusher (notice the long safety line) he launched from the rounded slope of the mountain top in similar fashion to the method used for vintage sailplanes. He had a great two weeks of flying.
See also under Ability in Hang gliding 1990 to 1993.
After returning to Britain and showing my photos from Spain to my mother in the nursing home (she was semi paralysed from a stroke in 1987) I started the autumn by returning to college life. I was upgrading my HND to an honours degree in software engineering management, for which I attended the local university.
Here is a snippet from my still unpublished novel:
Two nights later, the sky cleared and the temperature dropped to below freezing. While still dark, the sky clouded over once more and snow fell in the early morning. Before the start of a midday programming lecture, a university administrator handed him a message. After telephoning the nursing home, he cycled there as quickly as he could. When he arrived, the nurse in charge said that they thought his mother had suffered a further stroke at 0300 that morning. One side of her face was slack. Her half-closed eyes did not move and she did not blink, but her left hand constantly reached out to grasp something that was not there. Buzz arrived the next day and, in the evening, surrounded by her new clothes and her writing pads and pens, their mother died.
This topic continues in My flying 1996 and 1997.
My Other Ride Is a Spaceship in Air & Space magazine