December 17, 2003
100 years in the air
Flying has always been one of my passions, and one day I'll fully live it, although it all started when I was 11 years old and at 16 I took my first glider flight. Soaring is the discipline of sailplane flying that led Otto Lilienthal to fly in the air in 1891. His studies inspired the Wright Brothers, who years later took me up in the air and caused one of the best addictions I've ever had… flying.
“No one equaled him in power to draw new recruits to the cause; no one equaled him in fullness and dearness of understanding of the principles of flight; no one did so much to convince the world of the advantages of curved wing surfaces; and no one did so much to transfer the problem of human flight to the open air where it belonged.
As a missionary he was wonderful. He presented the cause of human flight to his readers so earnestly, so attractively, and so convincingly that it was difficult for anyone to resist the temptation to make an attempt at it himself, … he was without question the greatest of the precursors, and the world owes to him a great debt.”
With these words Wilbur Wright in 1912 characterized the work of a man who became the most important ancestor in practical flying and flight theory before the Wright brothers: the German engineer Otto Lilienthal.
Between the years 1994, 95, and 96, I was a pilot apprentice, although the economic failure prevented me from completing what at that time meant taking a sailplane flight course. However, this did not prevent me from traveling with someone and piloting planes at times. My passion for aviation was varied, but the true pleasure was experienced above a glider.
The first glider that kept me in the air for 22 minutes and allowed me to experience a flight at 220 km/h was a Blanik L-13. It was made in the Czech Republic and was a beautiful two-seater - a bit heavy - but very nice to fly. I also remember the patent number, LV-DGD. Later, I had the opportunity to fly in beauties like a Grob 109b, and the spine-chilling Nimbus 4DM two-seater valued at over $350,000. Pure German engineering pioneers in sailplane flight, but not better pilots than the New Zealanders...
Those times of joy at the San Martin Aero Club located in Mendoza, Argentina, a place that fostered my passion for flying, located 3 km from the city of San Martin, where I shared barbecues, flights, and luckily, no accidents for 3 years...marked in me the nature of continuing to fly wherever I may be... someday I'll finish my course and pilot every weekend... and I'll feel like Jonathan Livingston Seagull again.
“I have no home! I have no flock either. I am an Exile. And now we fly at the forefront of the Wind of the Great Mountain. A few hundred meters more, and I will not be able to lift this old body anymore."
“Yes, you can, Jonathan. Because you have learned. One stage has ended, and it is time for another to begin."
Just as understanding had illuminated every moment of Jonathan Seagull's life, it now illuminated this moment of his existence. They were right. He was capable of flying higher, and it was time to go home.
He took one long, final look at the sky, at that magnificent silver land where he had learned so much.
“I am ready," he finally said. And Jonathan Livingston Seagull rose with the two radiant gulls to disappear into a perfect, dark sky.
I still remember my nickname at the aeroclub... "Fang" :)