Friday, November 20, 2009

Flying in Kenya

He is over the edge of the football field now, “S” ing off his altitude; doing crosswind beats downwind of his intended landing position. Legs are down for maximum drag; variable geometry released for wings to go into slowest stall speed mode. It’s late afternoon, conditions have been perfect and he has had a good, long flight. All his mates have landed and he just wants to get down too.

But as usual, this final portion demands the most concentration. The wind is fresh, but not strong enough do him to come straight in to his intended spot about 45° below and in front. Above, the sky is still dotted with cumulus, cloudbase is high, wind is strong enough to make for good downwind distance. It’s perfect - a day for setting records.

Our mate is still steadily loosing altitude, but it’s a bit bumpy now. At the end of his beat, as he prepares for his left turn to start one final “crabbing” run crosswind, a thermal releases under his right wing. Instinctively, he gets all his weight over, tucks his legs in and banks sharply into the lift, adjusting wing geometry in the process to maximise lift and handling. Two 360’s and he has gained 100 m above the field. “What am I doing this for?” he suddenly realises and flies straight out of the thermal, starting the landing approach again. One wonders whether he would have bothered with the thermal had his mates not been watching from below.

Eventually back down to a level just higher than the Acacia trees surrounding the field, he turns final, bleeds off speed, rotates nose upwards and comes to a complete stop, parachuting gently down the last few feet. A perfectly executed approach and landing.

Feet extended, he grabs the top branch and the sudden added weight causes two other Marabou Storks to fall out of the Acacia tree.

OK, so this post is directed at the hang gliding crowd. Guys, you need to organise an expedition to Kenya. Just an hour’s drive from Nairobi the land falls away for 1000 m at Eastern edge of the Great Rift Valley. The width of the valley varies from only about 10 km to 50 and the length is, well, most of central Africa, so there are always options for all conditions. The climate is moderate; it just looks like beautiful, big smooth thermals every day. Come to Nairobi. I have a place to stay and use as a base. This is where the next world record can be set! Ask Rob Manzoni, I think he has spent some tome here.


  1. Sounds awesome, Dick. Did you take your flying gear with you? It's a great idea, but I suspect it would be prohibitively expensive :-(


  2. Hey Dick! Nice tree top landing! ;) Hadto read the intro twice when I got to the branch bit! :)
    So you there permanently? A past student of mine, Tim Leach is also living there. He has his own glider and is desperate for someone to fly with him - he has flown a few sites and explored new ones too. You need to get in touch. I will email you his email.

  3. you certainly have a good life and you certainly SEE the world!
    Where will you be at Christmas time?
    Jeanne is moving to Vermont on Monday.
    Have a good time.