It’s quite interesting to me that the root of our desire to fly simply comes from observing birds doing it so naturally (are you not wondrously amazed to observe them?). Indeed, it’s the most fundamental aspect of a bird’s nature. It’s…fucking…DEFINING. In general, and with minuscule exception, birds fly. It’s what they do.
(Note to self: got the f-bomb outta the way)
Setting aside the sad videos of old: of people practicing passion over science and paying with their lives, are you aware that you can indeed fly like a bird, albeit with some equipment for assistance? No, I’m not talking about the Wrights or those who fulfilled their glorious legacy. That goes to all the advantages and benefits that come from human flight which are too enormous to delineate. And it’s A Big Deal, make no mistake. The B-747 and now, the johnny come very very lately A-380, are crowning achievements in an endeavor that is, very much, quotidian.
You see, it’s interesting that even though the passion to fly like birds goes way back — and I’m sure Leonardo with his schematics wasn’t the first — that’s not how we ultimately took to the air. We did so by means of engineering. We use — and this is an important distinction — control surfaces. Show me an aileron, flap, rudder or elevator on a bird. Doesn’t exist. But how they controlled themselves was observable enough to invent these crude analogs for controlling the flight of an aluminum tube. We excelled, but we never fulfilled the root of the passion, in my humble opinion.
Let me get something out of the way: I adore aviation and always have. My dad instilled it in me, but I’ll save that story for another post. Even though I was exposed to it from a young age, once I became aware of hang gliding I just knew that’s how I principally wanted to fly. I not on only wanted control, I wanted to control everything. Mark that thought, for the video.
So let me close the circle. Hang gliders work far more like a bird. Not precisely so, because you’d need to be flexing your wing — your airfoil surfaces — with various muscles. That’s certainly beyond our capability, but we get quite close with engineering such that shifting our weight in various ways causes a wing to warp — to bend & contort — in a way commensurate with controlling the aircraft. So, birds are actually a bit more "digital," — think individual feathers — but an analog curve works just fine. When birds employ various muscles to warp & contort their wings — in myriad permutations — it’s much the same sort of warping going on in a hang glider.
So, I’m going to show you a video. This is idle play time during the most recently completed pre-worlds in Monte Cucco, Italy, just this month. I don’t think I mentioned this, but on day 3 or so in Monterosso, Italy, I came down in the morning and saw a car in front of the hotel with about 5 hang gliders loaded on top. I figured they were some German, maybe Dutch pilots down for a flying vacation. I went about my business. Returning a while later, I saw there were people attending to the car. "Jamie, is that you?!" Yep, I ran into an old HG acquaintance way over in Italy (from my beginner days in Bay Area). She was with the boyfriend as I surmised, and Jonny Durand, the top competition HG pilot in the world. They were taking a day or so of R&R in the Cinque Terre between the Spanish Nationals an the Pre-Worlds, to be followed by the Dutch Nationals.
So before the video, let me give you a little bit on how a hang glider is controlled, so that you can watch with some sense beyond mere entertainment. Let me note this now: watch how these guys are constantly in movement. I’ll explain below.
That’s at least part of it, so let’s talk about that. How do you control a shopping cart? You push one side, pull the other. That’s directional control. There’s a number of additional aspects but I’ll leave it at that, now. The essential difference in terms of endurance is that in an HG you’re suspended, so you have to displace your full body weight. And many competition flights endure for over 3-4 hours.
Speed and up/down is a very complex thing to write about. They apply to both gliders and powered planes, moreso to the latter; but in common, in a normal docile flying envelope, the elevator of an airplane controls airspeed, just like in a glider or hang glider. Because of TV, people tend to think that a control stick means right/left/up/down. Not so, at least for aircraft that aren’t super-powered. For example, some modern fighters can simply power through a loop, even from a near stalled airspeed. In normal fight, airspeed (forward/back on the stick, pull/push on the bar) is what’s more critically important and controlled from those control surfaces or weight shift in an HG (when you see them move forward & aft).
Gliders can do loops too, but they must build up a huge margin of excess airspeed that they can convert into a maneuver (adequate angle of attack, technically), such as a loop.
Now I must be getting boring. The point of all that was only one thing. You can watch the following amazing video in many ways. You can just watch it, or you can understand it on many levels, if you’ve taken to heart and tried to capture what I written above (I tried). But I don’t expect anything and this is uncharted territory. For all I know, my readers are going to think WTF? Here’s the vid. If you have the capability, watch it in 720p HD, full screen.
And by the way. I was intending to do this last (Sunday) night, but got caught up in activities. Not sure about Muse and Knights of Cydonia, but I don’t hate it.
Finally, this is way far easier than it looks. It’s just cause you rarely see 3 dimensional sports on TV. You see 3D beings competing in 2D events. But that’s for another post.
If you want to read all about the day-to-day action at the recent pre-worlds, my friend Davis runs the premier on-site reporting service. (Sometimes the entries don’t have the forward arrow link, so just increase the last number in the URL by one to get to the subsequent issue)