Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Runaway Children take to the skies

Hang-gliding in the Peak

“Joe and the others held their breath, awaiting their awful fate but, suddenly, from out of the sky, four great shadows appeared, each with ten-foot wings. One by one, they whooshed down from above, snatched a child from the enemy's claws and ascended sharply back into the air. The women, now a hundred feet below, yelped with frustration, like hyenas cheated of their prey.” (Extract from The Runaway Children Volume 1 – Flight from the Nunjas)
Are they planes? Are they prehistoric birds? No, they’re hang-gliders, soaring into the skies like brightly-coloured and highly adventurous eagles.  Considered by enthusiasts to be the most demanding, yet exhilarating, of all free flight experiences, hang-gliding provides a wider scope than para-gliding, as pilots can climb faster and more freely in varying winds and weather conditions. Which no doubt explains why this thrilling activity is so popular in the Derbyshire Peak, where Pennines to the east and Welsh hills to the west create a climate as hard to predict as the next Derby winner.
      Take a hike up Mam Tor near Castleton on a bright, breezy day and you’re likely to see hang-gliders preparing for flight  -  that’s if they’re not too out-of-breath from hauling their gear up to the summit! Quite often, these intrepid birdmen and women seem to spend ages not really doing very much, but they’re actually waiting for the ideal conditions in which to take off, no doubt gauging the weather by means of a wind sock. Pilots also need to assess any hazards in the area and ensure maximum safety for themselves and others.
      Accidents do happen, although these usually involve unqualified pilots who, having acquired the equipment, believe all they have to do is take a running jump from the nearest hilltop. Fortunately, most hang gliders have been thoroughly trained by a British Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association (BHPA) registered school, a course that normally takes about 10 days. Pupils learn how inspect their kit and assemble it safely, to assess the dangers, to read the weather, to take off and to land properly – ideally on their feet. However, in case landings go wrong, trainees also learn how to roll to minimise injuries.
       When learning to fly, some gliders are ‘aero towed’, or hitched by winches to microlights, which pull them into the air. According to Airways Airsports, this is the easiest way to get airborne as it cuts out all the hassle of hill-climbing over and over again just to gain a few seconds of flight. Airways Airsports’ professional team - including three-times World Champion Judy Leden MBE and World record holder Chris Dawes -  provides tandem hang-gliding aerotow tuition for beginners, helping them spread their wings with 20-30 minutes in the air from their very first lesson.
       Whether they could swoop down and rescue four children and one hairy shot-putting Scotsman from the ground is open to debate but, for those who know what they’re doing, it’s an exhilarating experience like no other.

UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005FY0CNG

US http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005FY0CNG


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