Wednesday, January 18, 2006


There is an ongoing discussion on the New England Paragliding & Hang Gliding Club Flyline about changing national park rules to allow motor-less flight by default. Currently, flying is disallowed unless pilots can convince the local manager to go through a long procedure to get an exception. I tossed a short comment into that discussion about our environmental impact on birds.

I, like many other slow-speed motor-less pilots, encounter birds on most flights. However, since I don't skim along the ground through the grass, dodge in and out of the forest canopy, or drag my feet through wetlands the number of species I encounter is limited. The species I fly with, for the most part, fly over large areas and routinely encounter other fliers on their daily or seasonal travel. Furthermore, most of these birds use thermals just like I do. Unless I unknowingly get too close to an active nesting site along a mountain side most birds act more like glider pilots than animals fleeing for their safety or defending their territory. Birds routinely join me when I mark thermals and I routinely join them when they mark thermals. I believe birds discount the threat when they see me circle in the same way they do; just another flier trying to get a free lift. I have climbed right up through groups or individual birds without scaring them off. Of course they open their circle, but close up once I am above them; just like I do when another glider or bird out climbs me. Since most of these birds are hunters or scavengers they don't seem shy; they will fly right up next to me and climb to cloud base wing-tip to wing-tip.

I am an avid outdoorsman, a member of the Audubon Society, and contribute a good deal of money to organizations like the Nature Conservancy. I don'’t see any conflict in being an environmentalist and a hang glider pilot, especially when I am flying. (I do worry about the amount of fuel I consume driving to flying sites. That is why I try to carpool and do other things to reduce my driving). I, like many other soaring pilots, have a deep respect and admiration for the birds we share the air with. There are very few places on this planet where humans can share beautiful, invigorating, and even humorous experiences with wildlife in their environment and on their terms. I have been lucky to play with fledgling hawks that would repeatedly fly over to me so we could take turns chasing each other through the sky. I have been stared-down by mature bald eagles as they climb right up through me in thermals. They don'’t alter their circle an inch; they expect me to move aside and I do. I have climbed with flocks of migrating birds so large that I couldn'’t see the ground below me. I have gone on many long glides with vultures were all of us use our senses to seek out the best lift lines and our next climb. I have also flown with vultures that were so unskilled and clumsy I wondered how they survived. And yes, I have been warned and even attacked when I was apparently flying too low and too close to a nest. I did what any good neighbor would, I left the area.

I will not argue that my flying with these birds make their lives better. However, I will argue with people that say my flying causes more problems than hikers, mountain bikers, campers, horseback riders, snowmobilers, motorcyclers, and 4-wheelers. If an area is open to low-impact human enjoyment then there is usually no reason to exclude motor-less flight.

Friday, January 06, 2006

2005 Stats

Since it is nearly impossible to fly around here in the winter, I spent some time reviewing my flight logs from last season. I logged over 170 hours of flight time in 67 flights in Australia, Florida, New England, Maryland, and Texas. 45 of my launches were behind a tug and the remaining 22 were by running starts.

I flew 1766 linear miles (straight line distance from start to finish), 2789 optimized miles, and 5700 protected miles.

On average I covered 41 miles in 2.5 hours, for a speed of 16.4 mph.

All my flights used the identical set of equipment; a Moyes Litespeed 4S, an old Moyes Matrix harness, and a Flytec 5030.