Flight is freedom, flight is fancy, flight is fantasy, flight is grace, flight is poetry. The mere mention of the word “flight” brings up a torrent of emotions. Just observe an eagle soaring high up with wings spread out or an airliner taking off and beauty of flight sinks in. We have always harboured an unbridled fascination for flying. For us earth crawling creatures, flight denotes breaking free, letting yourself go, savouring the freedom and exploring the vertical dimension. Haven’t we all made countless paper planes in our childhood, some of us even do it now, and played with them hours together?
I am lucky enough to have a vast open farm field at the back of my house, rich in flora and fauna. It attracts birds of all kinds and I do get a sneak peek in their flying styles and habits. The best and the easiest way to understand flight is to observe birds. After all that was how the airplane was built. A kite(bird family) or an eagle soaring up above with its wings spread wide open not only exudes grace but also style and is in perfect harmony with the wind. Once it catches a thermal, it can stay aloft for hours together without bothering to flap its wings. It is completely serene and peaceful. Watching an eagle glide has a calming effect on me just like watching fish in a fish tank. When it dives to catch its prey, wings folded, beak out and eyes locked on its target, you cannot help but get awestruck by the speed, grace and power. Its nature’s ultimate ground attack machine. Flight of smaller birds is swift, agile and random. They can change direction, speed and altitude anytime. At all stages, their flight is effortless whereas larger birds need a significant effort to get airborne but once in the air, they are equally at ease. However, they have one thing in common, they are in complete sync with gravity and air. Another interesting aspect of a bird’s flight is the ability to stay still in the air when faced with strong headwind. Smaller birds usually flap their wings and manage to kind of hover while the larger birds just spread their wings wide open and stay still as if they are hanging from a string. Watching a bird soar or glide has a soothing effect because it instantly connects with our soul’s inherent desire to break free and fly. Maybe that is the reason why we spread out our arms, hold our head up and close our eyes in ecstasy when we are standing on a high windy cliff.
Similarly, watching birds like cranes, swans or large passenger/military aircraft take off is absolute treat. The birds run a little distance on land or water to generate air speed and then slowly start gaining altitude. It feels like gravity is gradually letting them go. Similarly large jets build air speed over the runway, their wings arching up as the speed increases and finally lift off. While the larger jets have grace in their flight, the smaller combat aircraft radiate power, swiftness and arrogance. Not only do they get effortlessly airborne within few hundred meters or runway, they also cock a snook at gravity by climbing 30000 feet in few seconds! A sure shot way of getting that adrenaline rush is to watch a fighter jet take off with full afterburners. With advanced flight controls and thrust vectoring, these aircraft have turned the conventional laws of flight upside down. Rockets and missiles present another enjoyable aspect of flight. If you happen to watch a rocket lift off live or even on television, it doesn’t get more dramatic. The humongous thrust it builds up behind the smoke plumes, the gradual lift off and then the overarching trajectory on its way to space is nothing but heavenly.
But you don’t always need to look at birds and airplanes to appreciate flight. Simple objects like a boomerang that curves back to you or even a flying disc or a frisbee skimming through the air is pure joy to watch and play. The bottom line is, the phenomenon of flight continues to fascinate us and activities like hot air ballooning, parasailing, paragliding, gliding, sky diving and bungee jumping reinforce this fact.
I can’t help but sign off with lyrics from the song “Plane” by the band Jefferson Airplane:
“I’m getting ready for a great leap forward, ready for a leap in the pool
Ready to touch the stars again, ready to go back to school
Puttin’ the pieces together, put on your wings and come with me and
Fly, fly, fly to the centre of the sky, let’s go flying….”