SI Vault
Judy Muller
October 02, 1989
Why am I here? Here being in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, where I am about to be dragged into the sky in an engineless airplane. Actually, I know why. It was that newspaper ad I read: "The ultimate gift. Our pilot takes your friends for a breathtaking motorless soaring flight no words can express. Towplane ready. Rope attached. Towed high above the earth, rope released."
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October 02, 1989

From Chicken To Eagle

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So this is it: the cutting of the umbilical cord, Dumbo losing his magic feather, the moment of truth. Or, as they say, the point of no return.

The towrope releases with a thunk. It sounds like the trapdoor dropping on a gallows. Just as suddenly and fatefully, Getter tells me I am back in control of the plane. My gasp is audible. The difference between being towed and floating on air, sans tether, is tangible and immediate. I pull back the trimmer with my left hand, as instructed, and feel the glider slow. We are going 40 mph, but it seems as though we are hardly moving.

Except, that is, for the sound. I had expected soaring to be a quiet experience, especially on such a calm day. But this is no whisper of a wind. It's a stage whisper, enveloping its captive audience. On a blustery day, one suspects, it would be a roaring soliloquy. What's missing is the sound of anything mechanical, like an engine. It is downright eerie.

We've circled to the right. The towplane is gone. "You see those mountains in front of us?" asks Getter.

"Yes." In fact, they're all I see. We're headed straight for the ridge.

"I want you to try to maintain a constant attitude between the top of the instrument panel and that horizon," he says.

Getter thinks I am ready to try a few maneuvers with the control stick, dipping down and back up. Everything seems to move in slow motion. "Now," says Getter, "I want you to give it a little bit of right stick and right rudder at the same time."

I do this, and get high marks for keeping the piece of yarn dead center. For someone who didn't know a yaw string from a shoestring an hour ago, I'm feeling pretty cocky—until, that is, we hit a bump. A big bump.

"What was that?" I say. This time I do scream. That, Getter explains, is just a bump of air. On a windy day, we would be bucking through a lot more of them. I can't help but wonder how many people have been sick in this man's glider.

"You go ahead and play with the controls," he says, "and be aware of what you're doing. Remember, you can't get us into any trouble."

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