Back at work this summer

One thought on “Back at work this summer

  1. Tom Dunlap

    Hi Karl. It’s been a while. Saw this latest post and thought I’d touch bases. I just returned from a reunion of hang glider pilots at Grandfather Mountain, NC. Hang Gliding was actually sponsored by the owner at the mountain from the mid 70s to the mid 80s. There was an international competition called the Masters each year that brought together the best of the best to try their luck in some amazing and very challenging conditions. At the Reunion we told stories and got to visit with friends from long ago.

    Due to neck problems I had to retire from Hang Gliding but have recently (3 yrs) taken up Paragliding. We fly in a seated reclining position that is easy on my 70 year old body, but we do the same kind of flying as we did in gliders with a hard support structure. The additional convenience of a wing that will pack up in a 45# backpack has been a huge plus. And, I can check it as luggage for flights anywhere in the world! Could not really do that with a 20′ packed up hang glider.

    Thinking of some of our discussions, I just wanted to mention a couple of points. First, for me “human powered” flight is a non starter. However, “augmented human powered” flight is the key.

    Second, often when I and my friends go flying it occurs to me that the “average person” has no real comprehension of the fact that I can foot launch myself into the sky and fly for hours in nothing more than some yards of fabric and strings (Kevlar of course) and then land on my feet as slow and gentile as any bird. Even when they see us do it, it is still beyond their comprehension. Some kind of magic that only we are privy to.

    And lastly, let me say that achieving true bird like flying freedom will be about three things: Control, Control and Control. What birds have, other than flapping for propulsion, is the ability to shape their wings to what ever configuration they need, dynamically in order to move them selves so as to most efficiently use the air and put themselves where they need to be. A bird can deal with the invisible air and work in that often chaotic environment because they can instantly adapt themselves to whatever shape they need.

    In my paraglider, I can and have soared in close proximity to vultures, hawks and even Bald Eagles. I can climb with them to the tops of thermals. But I cannot change the shape of my wing from a “minimum sink” form to a “best glide” configuration and take off for the horizon as they can. And I can not instantly adapt to the often thermally and rotary swirling air as I approach a landing.

    Control is the ultimate key. The Wright Brothers figured that out when they realized that twisting the wing allowed them to turn. Modern aviation stalled with the invention of “control surfaces” that allowed for some control that is more effective the faster you go. Occasionally I do see research in wings that change shape, but never anything approaching what a bird can do.

    The kind of control that birds have is my dream of flight. Propulsion is just an afterthought. In thinking about the evolution of flight, it seems to me that controlled gliding came first as a means of escape. Then flapping evolved as a way of extending the flight. If I had the kind of control a bird has in a paraglider or hang glider, I would not worry about flapping for propulsion. I don’t need it.

    Wow that took longer thanI’d intended. I started talking about the Grandfather Reunion. Flying ended at the mountain because one of the leading pilots at the mountain was killed attempting to land, he was not the first. Grandfather was a demanding and unforgiving place to fly. But the Ravens still fly there and love the wild air. They have no control issues.


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