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Cloud Nine


In fact there wasn't a single cloud in sight.  I just couldn't think of a better title to describe the feeling of my experience yesterday. Imagine suddenly growing wings... then imagine something grabbing you, rocketing you a thousand metres up and... letting you go.  It was exhilarating!

 It all began a few weeks ago when I was chatting with a colleague during a business trip.  He had flown someone recently to shoot some aerial images and a video of our head office in France.  We talked about his hobby of flying an ultra light aircraft and gliders.  We casually agreed that on my next visit to France, he would take me to their flying club.

 I had no idea what to expect.  My knowledge of gliders at that point - in fact until yesterday - was purely theoretical from Aerodynamics classes back in 1994! He begun by showing me around the hanger and explaining how this is a social sport due to the number of people it takes to make it happen.  I met a nice bunch of people and spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon with them.

The gliders are so light that they are towed to the runway using an electric golf cart - two gliders at a time! The wing is lifted off the ground and one person steers each glider simply speeding up or slowing down the walking pace.  It's all done in a very relaxed way and everyone smiles as they get everything ready.


Once they've gathered the gliders by the runway, the pilots do their pre-flight checks and agree on the order of take-off.  I took this time to get a few shots of the other flying machines around me.  They ranged from the weird to the wonderful; from the brave to the crazy; and from state-of-the-art-technology to the home-made ones (yes, home-made planes!).

I walked back to see our glider being prepared.  This was the moment when I found out where I would be sitting.  This was the moment when I started wondering if there was enough room for my camera!  This was the moment I wondered why I was putting on a parachute... But it still hadn't hit me...

I couldn't get over how small these things are - nor how long the wing span is.  I knew they had to be long to provide the required lift - but they still looked long even with this expectation.  We were now second in line... I was still too busy taking photos and soaking in the wonderful weather and atmosphere of the place.

I watched as the first two gliders were air-towed... I watched in order to anticipate what would happen.  I needed the comfort of knowing and understanding the process.  This white/blue/red plane pulls the gliders and climbs gently into the air.  The 60m line behind it launches the glider into the air; and the pilot of the glider releases him/herself whenever they feel ready.

It was now our turn... I was shown how to release a parachute 'just-in-case' (gulp) and immediately got into the cockpit with my friend.  We strapped ourselves in and the canopy was closed.  At this point I asked myself: 'What the hell am I doing here?'.  I'm so glad I was busy taking photos beforehand, because as I started letting fear take over, my friend told me that the sign for telling the pilot of the plane we're ready, is to lift the wing.  He told me this as the wing was being lifted.  Seconds later, we were in motion...

The point-of-no-return is how I describe the above photo.  I describe it as such as I sit here with a coffee and type this post.  At the time, there was only one word going through my mind... repeatedly!

I very quickly pushed fear aside and concentrated on the dials and the surrounding views.  At this stage we were climbing at a rate of 2-3 m/s, doing 130 km/h at an altitude of 300 m.  A few moments later, my friend told me that he would release the glider and we would be on our own.  No engine thrust, no noise, no fumes - just air.

The fun part is finding rising air currents and using them to ascend/climb.  This is done by feeling for the thermals, and by reading the variometer.  Sometimes, other gliders would try to climb in the same area and this is where the etiquite of the sport is very apparent.  Everyone competes to achieve the heights, but there is a respect for safety and a constant visible contact is necessary to avoid accidents.  They turn in circles in the same direction opposite one another.  This allowed me to get some shots of others in the air. Unfortunately, it was a little hazy and I didn't have a polarizer to counter the reflection from the canopy.

After an unforgettable hour in the air, mimiking birds in finding rising air and gliding down (it's amazing how well they do this), we headed towards the airfield.  My friend allowed me to take full control for a couple of minutes... and I was immediately hooked.  Who wouldn't be?  You feel every movement and control your flying, all with the power of the wind. It's sailing - but at 1200m in the air.

After a glimpse of the airfield, I saw the air-brake applied and soon after I heard the landing gear coming out.  A perfect landing executed by a master; and a wonderful end to a memorable day.

The best word I can think of to describe my flight yesterday is 'graceful'.  I loved every minute of it (after the initial few seconds of fear) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope the images convey some of this joy to you.I cannot end without saying a huge thank you to my friend (fifth photo) who made this possible - not only for this opportunity but for his generous hospitality of dinner with his wife and adorable little son. Merci beaucoup Monsieur Le Dévéhat.

Reader Comments (25)

OMG, OMG, OMG !!! Wow, wow, WOW!!! Need I say more?..amazing photographs which tell an entire story. So proud of you, I can't wait until tonight when I show the children :) Those photographs have really made my day, I shall be smiling all day...thank you :)

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUm Yousef

WOW! Awesome photos and looks like you had a great time gliding there!

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermario

man u just killed me, i believe this is thrilling as much -if not more- than motorcycles or bungee ...i always wanted to try this but never had the chance i even forgot it even exists , when is your next trip to Paris?
do i sound over excited?
well i'am

and as the Greeks say: ela re Bou Yousef ;-)

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdrenaline

wow thats some adventure you had there! Love reading this post and all the pictures!

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMathai

That is seriously amazing! Amazing photos and well said! I wouldn't know what to expect with all that! Its amazing! I have this urge to fly a helicopter but thats another story! lol

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarzouq

WoW! That mustve been SO amazing, and breathtaking! Exhilirating and being one with nature mebe...Great that we too could share those moments throught your pictures and words too. Thanks.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteronlooker

WOW!!!!! You're the best Bu yousef!

Loving this post so much!

Please share with KS, Im sure they'd drool over it :D

This will be in my "things to do before I die" list ;)

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterC2B

ooh ur soo lucky .. amazing stuff .. and great shots! ;)

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterQ80BOY

You're such a brilliant artist!
I could'nt imagine you could make such photos with the hazy sky we had! A_M_A_Z_I_N_G!

Thank you also for the very precise report of that day.

I spent a wonderful moment flying with you, and reading "Cloud Nine" I almsot feel like being there again.


September 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commentereole

Very nice photos and good story too! This looks really fun :)

So the glider can stay in the air for 1 hour without an engine? That's pretty cool actually.

(P.S. Merci beaucoup, not boceaux :p)

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAbid

:) Your comment made my day... Thanks :)

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

Thanks mario... I really did.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

Sorry... It was better then a motorcycle and a bungee jump (though I haven't tried either of those) :)

Thanks for the nice comment

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

Thank you... Glad you liked it :)

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

Thank you :)
Flying is fun whatever way you try... The special thing here was that there was no engine! Looking forward to your Helicopter adventure :)

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

As always, thanks you for the nice words :) I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

... and you're embarrassing me with your generosity :) I'm glad you liked it.

I wasn't sure whether or not the KS forum would like it - so thanks for recommending I add it. It's there now :)

Good luck crossing it off your list...

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

I know - and thanks :)

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

Thank you :) Glad you liked the final result. See you shortly.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

Thank you :)
It can actually stay longer - yes...

Thanks for the correction too - it's now fixed in the text.

September 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBu Yousef

very nice!!

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSummer

You have such a colorful life. Always somewhere doing something exciting. How on earth can you afford this :D

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermyphotoscout

beautiful pics and glad you had a great time :)

October 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmu

NO comment !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :P

October 4, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermaitham

Life is good :))))))))))))

That was beautiful.
This thing is in my list of things to do before I'm married :D
Thank you for sharing.

October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAGWAF

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