Where eagles dare, Australian hang gliders will be sure to follow
World hang gliding championships in Forbes. Photo: Mark Fox
Standing in the middle of a dusty paddock in 35-degree heat in a thick jumper might seem like madness to most.
But that's exactly how Canberra-region hang glider pilot Trent Brown spent much of last week with the rest of the Australian team competing in the world championships in Forbes.
"For every 1000 feet (300 metres) of altitude, you lose three degrees [of heat],'' Brown said.
Trent Brown at the world hang gliding championships. Photo: Mark Fox
The 32-year-old and his Australian teammates have been riding the winds to seven times that height this past week. From their vantage point they could see the scars caused by bushfires at Bogan Gate and Trundle.
The hang gliders have also needed to co-ordinate their flying around water bombing aircraft refilling tanks at Forbes Airfield.
Starting from the airport strip, the competitors were towed into the air and released at a height of 600 metres. From there they travelled a course that could be more than 150 kilometres, and which could see them spending up to six hours flying.
Trent Brown takes off. Photo: Mark Fox
The aim is to find thermals - rising currents of warm air - to gain enough altitude to finish the course. And for this some help from birds with far more flying experience, is always welcome. Brown said sometimes eagles would guide the hang gliders to the thermals. On Wednesday Brown said an eagle flew from its perch to help him finish the course, and put Australia into first place. But there isn't always a warm welcome.
"Sometimes they can get territorial and put $2000 holes in your wings, but nothing life threatening,'' he said.
The 104 pilots in the competition are tracked using GPS technology. The purpose is to finish the course in the fastest time, but if no one finishes, it is ranked in order of who flew the furthest.
The maximum altitude is 4.2 kilometres, although only about half reached that height this last week due to the weather. Seven Australians are competing but only the top three results from each day are recorded for the teams. With another week of flying to go, Australia was in the top four with the United States, Italy and Austria.