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Flying his powered hang-glider just under the clouds is the perfect way for Dr Stuart Malone of Riverview Dental in Shepparton, VIC, to spend a weekend.
“I love windsurfing but when I moved from Melbourne to Shepparton, there wasn’t many opportunities to get out on the water. I decided to go to the nearby mountains and have some hang-gliding lessons. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; I knew immediately this was the sport for me. After I completed my 20 hours of training, I wanted to fly at every opportunity. I purchased a hang-glider from one of the trainers and was up in the air every weekend.
“There are many different ways to get into the air—launch from the top of a hill, towed behind a car, taken up by a powered winch or towed behind a powered hang-glider. You can fly for as long as lift is present. There’s coastal soaring, where you fly in the lift generated as wind comes over the ocean cliffs. The best places are in the updraft over the cliffs, or in thermals, which is called alpine flying. Once you’re rising at a constant velocity, you can’t tell if you’re going up. You need to rely on instrumentation to stay under the maximum height of 10,000 feet. For every thousand feet you go up, the temperature drops about three degrees. It can be 30 degrees on the ground, but seven degrees in the air.
“I’ve had a few close calls in my 30 years of flying but hang-gliding is very much a calculated risk. I’m not fearful and I’m not a daredevil. I have a good attention to detail and that’s important. In the past few years, I’ve started using a powered hang-glider, often called a trike. The beauty of the trike is that it’s fully transportable on a trailer, takes about an hour to set up, and then you have a machine that’s ready to fly.
“Gliding is like surfing the air and it has the same attraction that surfers have for the ocean. You’re not only immersed in nature but you’re gently using it to your advantage. Some of my favourite memories have been flying right at the base of a cloud with the countryside spread out underneath me. At that height, you can see the rising water vapour turning into a cloud.
“I used to fly in competitions but now it’s just for pleasure. Being able to roll out to an airport, hop in a microlight aircraft and fly up to 10,000 feet for a look is amazing. It’s a whole other world.”