“I feel the need….the need for speed”……. “You can be my wingman anytime” …… and of course the famous and heavily used, “Talk to me Goose”, all uttered by our favourite neighbourhood Scientologist in the 1986 hit “TOP GUN”. Marcin and I had our own little Top Gun experience in Australia, courtesy of our newly discovered Aussie family members. We may not have had afterburners, missiles and a heated competition with Ice Man but we did not lack for excitement as we soared high above Bathurst Australia, just outside of Sydney, without any engines.
During our 4 months of globe trotting we have been on many….many planes, but our flight over Bathurst was very special….there is defiantly something very different when you are sitting in a plane soaring 5000ft above the ground without any engines, it is truly amazing. It makes you realize that in today’s society, we take flight very much for granted, but flight in general, let alone commercial flight for the masses, is relatively new. For over two thousand years, since the invention of kites in 5th Century BC China, humans have dreamed of soaring above the ground. To get to where we are now, was not any easy road. The first flying machines had to be lighter than air – balloons and gliders were the outcome and they were not overly suited for passengers or long distances because of weight and design restrictions. The first glider flight was short and the passenger lost to history as it seems to have been an unknown boy that George Cayley picked in the early 1800’s. Presumably the poor kid fit the bill for size and weight, but the flight was very short and nothing much came of Cayley’s designs after that. Conversely the first passengers in a hot air ballon in 1783 sounds like the beginning of a bad joke – a sheep, rooster and duck all get into a hot air balloon – needless to say these passengers were unaware of the magnitude of their journey and achievement. It wasn’t until two brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright set their mind to the task that we saw our first heavier than air, engine powered flight in 1903.
As is often the case, necessity is the mother of invention and WWI saw the development of aircraft and its military use make leaps and bounds between 1914 and 1918. Yet despite the advances, planes as a main mode of transportation didn’t catch on. Planes were also still incapable of flying long distances and as such, by the end of the war, no one had yet been able to make the flight across the Atlantic. It wasn’t until May of 1927 that Charles Lindbergh became the first person to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, when he landed in an airfield near Paris an inked himself into the history books. Despite the continued and growing success airplanes were experiencing and this monumental accomplishment, their fate was not yet sealed as the most popular and reliable form of air travel…. this could be in part due to the fact that people just keep disappearing after setting out on journey’s, so naturally people were a bit skittish. So what was emerging as the popular form of air travel, Airships, otherwise known as Zeppelins. These became quite popular in the 1930’s with regular service in Europe and increasing Transatlantic service. So popular were these Airships and their future so bright, that the spire of the Empire State Building was actually designed as a docking station for Airships. The Zeppelins prospects however, came to a screeching halt on May 6, 1937 when the world watched in horror as the Hindenburg caught fire with 95 passengers aboard as it attempted to dock in New Jersey. Needless to say, the public lost confidence in Airships and the heyday of the Zeppelin was over.
Commercial flight did not begin in earnest until about the 1950’s and 1960’s and it was not cheap, nor easy. Imagine that a flight from London, England to Sydney, Australia could carry 29 passengers, required 11 crew and would take 5 days, have 6 fuel stops and cost you 130 weeks of the average person’s pay. Even in 1969, this same route required 5 – 6 stops and took over 32 hours. When you think about flight today, we should be in awe everytime we get on the plane. We have personal viewing devices where we can play games, watch movies, catch up on T.V shows or look at interactive flight maps of our route. Then a lovely person comes around offering us food and drinks while we cruise along seamlessly at 32 000 ft. It really is amazing! Yet, when you talk to people about flying, it is so often rooted in displeasure with their journey – one of my favourite comedians Louis CK has an amazing insight onto our society’s current mindset when it comes to flight…
“I had to sit on the runway for 40 minutes”….”Oh my god, really? What happened then, did you fly
through the air like a bird…INCREDIBLY? Did you soar into the clouds…IMPOSSIBLY? Did you
partake in the miracle of human flight and then lad softly on giant tires that you couldn’t even conceive
how they F%^*&^g put air in them?……You’re sitting in a chair in the sky. You’re like a Greek myth
right now!” – Louis CK
Bringing myself back to our flight….I have a tendency of drifting with my thoughts…..I have to say that when you are dragged along a runway by a crop duster, heaved into the air to 5000ft and then released with a bang to be surrounded only by silence, you truly begin to appreciate the science of flight. It is an amazing feeling, albeit for me…as it seems to be a common theme….a nauseating one…soaring high, riding on thermals and then realizing that you are landing and there are no second attempts. In a glider, when it is time to go down, you are going down whether you like it or not. Of both of our flights, mine was a more docile affair, mostly I assume because the pilot saw that I was changing between shades of Green and Grey; Marcin on the other hand, was treated to the equivalent of a airshow from inside the Glider.
We put together some short footage of our journey, enjoy.