Friday, February 17, 2017

A dream - flying the hang glider

I had my hang glider. I'd finally built it. I had it disassembled and packed into a duffel bag, and I was taking the bus out to the edge of town to look for a good place to launch from. Someone on the bus asked what I had in the duffel bag. "A bamboo hang glider that I built," I replied. "I'm gonna test it today. "

The guy smiled, shook his head, and said, "If you're trying to kill yourself, you sure as hell don't need to take a rickety, homemade hang glider with you when you take the plunge." I'd definitely heard that before, and I had my stock answer ready.

"I ain't trying to off myself. What I've built is based on a glider design called a Rogallo wing, and this one specifically is referred to as a bamboo butterfly. And I didn't just throw this thing together together willy nilly, you know. I've built five different test models, and I tested each one until it was trashed. The final one was a 1/5th scale model with a wingspan of a little more than four feet, so I've done a lot of testing. The only thing left to test now is the real thing, so here I am." The guy raised his eyebrows and made a little 'pff' sound, and just shook his head a little.

"I've read about people doing this and pulling it off with no experience whatsoever," I said. "If they can do it, then so can I." The guy just shook his head some more. Finally he spoke.

"I know what a Rogallo wing is, and I know all about your bamboo butterfly. I'm a hang glider pilot, and speaking from years of experience, what you're doing is a damn fool stunt and you're liable to break your neck."

I looked at the guy. "It may be a damn fool thing to do, but I sure as hell am gonna do it anyway. I mean, anybody can do this. Anybody! The bamboo is free, it grows everywhere. You might wind up spending fifty dollars for materials, such as nuts, bolts, screws, duct tape, a propane torch for curing the bamboo, a saw for cutting it, and plastic sheeting for the sails. Do you understand what that means? It means that any Joe Schmoe with fifty dollars and a little determination can FLY, man. How can somebody have that knowledge in their head and then not do it?"

The guy looked at me for about five seconds, then he slapped his knee and busted out laughing. "Well, I guess even a damn fool can make a good point. If you live through it, let me know how it went." I said that I would, although I didn't even know the guys name, or how to get hold of him after.

My stop came and I hefted my duffel bag and got off the bus. I walked around, looking for a good spot to launch, and I found one. It was a wide street with thick stands of trees running along each side that went downhill for about an eighth of a mile, then leveled off and continued in a straight line until I couldn't see it anymore for the trees. There was a decent wind blowing from the direction of the road, so I unpacked my hang glider and assembled it, hefted the pilots cage over my shoulders, gripped the support struts with both arms, ran as hard as I could toward the slope of that road and jumped with everything I had. The sail billowed as it caught the air, and suddenly my feet were off the ground. I looked down and watched as the road surface slipped away beneath me. I looked to the sides and saw that I was almost level with the treetops. I was a good thirty feet in the air, and flying. No, not just flying... I was sailing. Sailing straight and true, cupped inside that little valley of trees, and following the path of the road below.

Then the leading edges at the far ends of both wings snapped. The wings didn't outright collapse, but I'd lost about twenty percent of my glide ratio. I shifted my body back as far as I could to lift the nose so that more of the surface area of the wings would be able to catch the air. That helped a little, but then the nose came up too far, and I stalled. I started to drop fast, so I pushed myself forward, straining to get the nose down again. Finally the wings billowed as they caught the air, and I dropped hard onto the road surface, like a paratrooper. It was like jumping from a ten foot height and landing on your feet. It felt like an inside out uppercut - like a pressure wave traveling through every square inch of my body, starting with my feet and landing full force, right inside my noggin. I thought my skull was gonna come apart. And, MAN, did the soles of my feet STING! I was alive though and no worse for wear, and my neck wasn't broke. I'd done went and did it.

I inspected the broken leading edges and saw the weak spot. It was where I'd had to fasten two bamboo poles together to increase the total length of the edge, and it didn't hold, plain and simple. I'd have to make it stronger, is all. I trudged back up the hill with the broken hang glider resting on my shoulders, and when I got to the top, the bus just happened to be right there as it was making its rounds. The guy I'd spoken to before saw me and waved, then made a gesture with his hands like he was snapping a twig, followed by a shrug as if to ask, 'what happened'? I made the twig breaking gesture, followed by a twisting screwdriver, and a motion like I was rolling tape around something. Then I made as though I were trying very hard to break a stout branch without success. After that I made a muscle with my arm and gave the guy a thumbs up. I could see the guy laughing and giving me a thumbs up as the bus disappeared down the road.

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