HOW can you soar with the eagles when you’re surrounded by turkeys?
It’s a rhetorical question often put by frustrated “would-be” high flyers about their less adventurous peers.
But glider pilots, including 78-year-old Des Muir, of Grafton, are fortunate to be able to literally soar with these majestic creatures on special occasions.
Mr Muir, a record-setting glider veteran with 37 years’ experience, was flying over the Baryulgil area on Friday, February 18, when two wedge-tailed eagles began to fly right next to him in formation, one on either side of the sailplane.
It soon became evident the birds of prey were in a playful mood as they took turns coming closer to the cockpit – as close as three metres – and riding the air flowing over the curvature of the wing almost all the way to Shannon Creek Dam.
While thrilled at the spectacle, Mr Muir said it was not uncommon for eagles and hawks to fly in company of gliders with no noisy engine to deter them.
The Grafton Gliding Club runs weekly meets from its Eatonsville airstrip, with takeoffs powered by a V8 engine, 1400 metres of rope and a pulley system.
Glider pilots face many challenges, but one of the biggest is to cover as much distance as possible with one take off, utilising the updraft of thermals (warm air) to gain altitude before the gentle downward glide to the next thermal.
Mr Muir flew for 329 kilometres on his five hours, 14 minutes flight recently and used one of the area’s best-known thermals – the Grafton Bridge, which heats up in the daytime – to lift him towards the end of the flight.
Asked if he ever found himself in a situation where there were simply no thermals and no accessible runways, Mr Muir explained: “Yes, that does happen from time to time and yes it is character building, especially around here where there are a lot of mountains and trees and short paddocks ... it’s different out west.”
But the appeal of gliding was truly addictive, he said.
“It’s basically the sound of the wind and your heart beat up there and that’s it,” he said.
The Grafton Gliding Club flies weekly and offers joy flights each Saturday from about 11am. It can be found on Gliding Club Rd, Eatonsville or inquiries can be made to veteran glider Warren Morrow (43 years’ experience) on 6643 4432.