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Flying with Pasipo
Carter Coleman
May 03, 1993
A hang-glider pilot and his trained hawk soared above the mountains of Tanzania
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May 03, 1993

Flying With Pasipo

A hang-glider pilot and his trained hawk soared above the mountains of Tanzania

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"Sawa, bwana," I tell him. "O.K." Then I whisper to myself, "Wingtips level; angle of attack copying the slope of the ground."

I run down the sloping runway. The head wind deflecting off the promontory sucks up the glider, lifting it in a nearly vertical line. The fear that always mounts in me before takeoff falls away. I place my feet in the tail of the harness and zip the cocoon closed.

I bank the ship and sail along the ridge of the mountains, climbing gradually in the narrow band of ridge lift. The variometer on the control bar chirps steadily. I glance at the needle on the little box: The ridge lift is rising 200 feet per minute—a nice, gentle current. At the end of the promontory, the variometer falls silent as the lift disappears. I swing the ship through a U-turn and head back. Four hundred feet over the launch site, I maintain altitude, turning slowly through a series of figure eights.

Georgi and Pasipo are below me. They gaze upward, and Georgi yells, the sound carrying clearly, "Drop the lure!"

From a pouch on the side of the cocoon, I pull out a piece of steak and drop it. A string, tied to the control bar, stops it three feet below. Georgi throws Pasipo up off his fist. The head wind heaves the raptor backward a foot until she rights herself and rises in the ridge lift. Much more aerodynamic than a hang glider, the augur buzzard sweeps up rapidly through the current, heading for the flame tree.

"Pasipo!" I shout, reaching down and shaking the lure. "Pasipo!"

She passes over the flame tree, as if she can't hear me, and keeps flying, over the field and on toward the high peaks.

"Bloody buzzard," I mutter as I throw my weight hard to starboard, whipping the ship through a tight turn, giving chase. Five hundred feet above the peninsula, the ridge lift vanishes, and I am too low to follow Pasipo. With my glide ratio of 10 feet forward for every foot I drop, if I find no more lift, I will sink slowly for a mile into the trees and the folding ridges of the Usambaras. I scan the sky without sighting Pasipo and head back to the aerie. Passing Georgi, I shout down, "She flew off!"

Over the triangular rock face that drops 3,000 feet to the savanna below, the glider rocks and creaks, penetrating the veil of sinking air that surrounds a strong updraft. The variometer chirps rapidly. The needle reads 1,000 feet per minute. Straight up. The wide expanse of dark rock absorbs solar radiation, making the air next to it much warmer. By midday the rock face regularly generates a thermal column, a sort of slow-motion tornado, or gyre—what the poet W.B. Yeats referred to when he wrote, "Turning and turning in a widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer." Turning in the gyre, I spiral ever higher for five minutes until the thermal dissipates, 2,500 feet over the aerie.

The variometer begins to moan like a sick cow; it's the sink alarm. The gauge registers an 800-foot-per-minute down-draft. I swing the ship around and glide back toward the aerie. As I come in over the peninsula, I see Pasipo perched high in the Ethiopian flame tree. I dangle the lure and dive down toward the flame tree.

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