Saturday, June 27, 2009


“I could never tell where inspiration begins and impulse leaves off. I suppose the answer is in the outcome. If your hunch proves a good one, you were inspired; if it proves bad, you are guilty of yielding to thoughtless impulse.”

-- Beryl Markham

My impulse or inspiration is to ascend, to float free, to fly; to be suspended by nothing much, to see from strange heights. To do these I need flying machines; I build them as I learn to fly others. Below, an agricultural tank suitable for converting into a high-altitude ballooning pressure capsule; below that, my pressure suit slowly takes form, cobbled together from a Mig pressure helmet, a diving drysuit, and a dozen other items. Below that, landing my wing on the beach during a test of a customized helmet.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Laying back in bed I close my eyes and cut myself adrift from everything and everyone. It's time to go to Alaska, for a few minutes, in my mind. I listen to Holst, "Neptune."

I feel the burn as my legs push me uphill, I feel the wing packed on my back, I see the small patch of iceblue snow where my headlamp illuminates. On the summit, panting, I use an old, practiced motion to unclip my pack and swing it off my shoulders in a single move, then I zip up my hood and slide on heavy mittens as I sit to rest; it'll be cold now that I'm not moving, soon my sweat will begin to freeze and crackle inside my clothes. I'll sit quietly to monitor the wind direction and speed. No need for a wind gauge, I know what 5mph feels like, I know what 8mph and 11mph feel like. I visualize every action; checking my clip-in before launch, reading my checklist, thinking through my flight plan...everything.

Later, when I know everything is right, and the wing is inflated above me, drawing up at me, I'll feel the solitude. I haven't yet found the words to convey the sensation of complete isolation, of riding on the dark side of the moon; there is no one set of words, I realize, the feeling changes, it heaves and slides from terror to calm, it grazes every hue in the spectrum of fear, sometimes it is soft, sometimes razor-sharp. A sharpness will remind me to make my launch flawless. When the wing is stabilized I'll turn and jog a few paces dowslope. That's all that I should need. I might have a single opportunity to abort a launch, a few seconds to spin and drop the wing if it's not right; on the other hand, in some places, I won't. A few paces, I can feel the wing wanting to surge ahead, I use a little brake to slow it, my boots plow heavily in deep snow, then suddenly I'll disengage from the Earth and cast off in to the sky. Everything is done by feel, my body will be tuned into the wing and how its every flex and surge feel when transmitted down through the medium of the lines that connect me to it. I might carry an instrument to indicate my sink rate and altitude, or I might not--it will depend on so many things. However the launch goes, it will be perfect, and the cliff will slip behind me, and a thousand feet below and leaping out ahead will be the unbelievable sight of the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean under a night sky. I might as well be flying above the surface of a distant, unnamed planet.

This is how to do it, laying back and cutting myself off, thinking through every minute action. I've done this for years, visualizing what's to come. Below, generating the numbers that allow me to grasp, crudely, at reality.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Flight Tests

All summer; flight tests to evaluate the performance of my wing in preparation for the Arctic this winter. In the photo from last summer I'm setting up a landing; this is my final pass over the road. Luckily, the last thing I will see, in any respect, in the Arctic, will be any trace of humanity.