Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Art of Flight

I have been working for an international airline for nearly 26 years now. In that time I have witnessed rolling out ceremonies for new aircraft and have been spoon-fed the propaganda that goes with each technological leap forward. Phrases such as “pinnacle of aeronautical design”, “unparalleled efficiency”, or “unsurpassed flying experience” are thoughtlessly repeated by manufacturers and airlines at the launch of each new model.

Recent claims to have “mastered the art of flight” are simply ridiculous.

 Have these people never seen a Turkey Vulture? The front end may not be pretty, but if you want to see flight efficiency, look no further than these artists of the air.

My companion for the day was Jerry, a former competitive glider pilot, who told me stories about sharing thermals with soaring birds and of the Turkey Vultures’ singular ability to gain vertical lift in horizontal turbulence (he lost me a bit there).

We were watching birds over Upper Newport Bay, south of Los Angeles. A few of the vultures glided (glid? glode?) low over our heads and we stopped to watch for a while. At first, they were low enough for us to see each tiny adjustment of tail and tertial as they used their innate skill to ride the currents of warm air rising from the maintenance yard. They gained height quickly and easily before sailing out across the estuary, leaving me with the feeling that powered flight is still a long way short of the organic original. For the vultures though, it was effortless.
I am resigned to working towards retirement in heavy metal. Not for me the freedom of wind and warm air to power my flight. But I can watch and marvel. To be able to dance on the wind so gracefully must be the most exhilarating of feelings. I don’t suppose them ol’ black buzzards chill in “Hang 8” t-shirts during their down time. I have never heard them whoop and holler, revelling as they ride the crest of a breeze either, but I jolly well would if I could master the art of flight like they have.