I’ve always wanted to fly. Who hasn’t? But I dislike noise, so while my first flight in a light aeroplane (I think with an Odendaal or a Wessels piloting it?) was great, and my first flight across the Atlantic in a Boeing 707 at seventeen was unforgettable, it was a glider flight that first got me saying “Now THIS is flying!!”
We hopped into the sleek craft, me in front and pilot Blom (?) behind me. Someone attached the long cable to the nose and someone else revved the V8 engine far ahead of us at the end of the runway of the Harrismith aerodrome on top of 42nd Hill. The cable tensed and we started forward, ever-faster. Very soon we rose and climbed steeply. After quite a while Blom must have pulled something as the cable dropped away and we turned, free as a bird, towards the NW cliffs of Platberg.
“OK, you take the stick now, watch the wool” – and I’m the pilot! The wool is a little strand taped to the top of the cockpit glass outside and the trick is always to keep it straight. Even when you turn you keep it flying straight back – or you’re slipping sideways. I watched it carefully as I turned. Dead straight. “Can you hear anything?” asks Blom from behind me. No, it’s so beautifully quiet, isn’t it great! I grin. “That’s because you’re going too slowly, we’re about to stall, put the stick down”, he says mildly. Oh. I push the stick forward and the wind noise increases to a whoosh. Beautiful. Soaring up close to those cliffs – so familiar from growing up below them and climbing the mountain, yet so different seeing them from a new angle.
Years later I’m married and Aitch, having checked that my life insurance is up-to-date (kidding!) gives me a magic birthday present: A paragliding course in Bulwer KZN. We arrive Friday night and check into an old house on the mountain side of the village. Hans Fokkens tells me how airflow works and how wings fly and then feeds us from a huge pot of stew and we sleep. The next morning we’re on the hillside getting air into the wing and learning to lift, turn, run and FLY!!The first time you lift off you think No-o! Yesss!!
Me on the beginners slope:
Soon I’m able to take off at will on the beginner slope and we move up the mountain. My first flight (you don’t jump off the mountain, you fly off the mountain, I’m told) was fantastic but short, basically straight down and a rough and tumble landing. My next flight is way better, way higher and way longer, as this time Hans attaches a walkie talkie to me and can tell me what to do. “Lean right! Hard right! More!” comes over the speaker and thus he keeps me in a thermal and I keep climbing. Fifteen minutes in the air, rising 100mato (metres above the take-off point)! Aitch had gone off to read her book and chill, so no pics were taken of my soaring with the eagles! Wonderful silent, wind-in-your-hair flight at last!
I would have looked like this: (true!)
After a while I descend slowly, turn into the wind by watching the wind sock and land like a butterfly with sore feet.