Once every year or two, I have a peculiar and memorable dream while I sleep. I am quite sure I’m not alone among pilots—and likely among mere mortals as well—in occasionally dreaming that I’m flying. I don’t mean flying in an aircraft or manipulating the controls—although I have those dreams too. I mean bird dreams, minus the molting and the worm diet—just pure, joyful, unadulterated flight, wheeling over the earth with absolute freedom, borne on unseen wings.
I’ve had these dreams since early childhood, well before I knew what flying actually felt and looked like, which leads me to believe that man has dreamed of flight as long as man has dreamed, and these dreams likely helped to inspire the eventual realization of their subject. So far as I can recall, however, none of my bird dreams actually included the taking off part, only majestic soaring. Well, it’s majestic soaring that I’m after today, but to get there I have to take off in decidedly non-birdlike fashion: run pell-mell down a short-sloped ramp and take a leap of faith into a 1,500-foot chasm with the beachside suburb of São Conrado, Brazil, far below.
“Samuel, are you ready?” Manny asks enthusiastically. Manuel Navarro is a tall, thin Brazilian whose job it is to conduct me back to terra firma safely. “Yes, I am ready,” I respond with much more confidence than I actually feel. Up until a second ago, I was still sussing out how we both fit inside and around the triangular framework and bracing of the tandem hang glider without tripping over each other as we run and jump. That would be bad.
Manny was very clear about one thing during our three practice runs, sans glider, in the assembly area: Once you start running, do not stop. Manny has had two students develop second thoughts on the last few feet of the launch ramp, and both times, the result was a nasty crash into the steep hillside below. So when Manny gives me a little sideways nod and says, “Let’s run,” I run like hell, pumping my legs with abandon to keep up with his long strides, until we’ve literally run right off the edge of the ramp, our legs flailing at air like Wile E. Coyote. For one heart-dropping moment, we fall.
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