School: Eighteen Birds Train Together
By Chris Gullikson
September 25, 2006
was pilot Chris Gullikson's turn to lead the chicks on takeoff
Flight School on
September 25. Chris flew his ultralight
plane from the hangar over to the pen site where all 18 birds now
live together. He dropped down low to land by the large pen
Waiting outside were Marie and Robert, two costumed crane handlers
waiting for Chris's signal to open the gates. What signal did Chris
use? Read for that answer and a terrific training day story in
rolled up to the pen doors, turned on my loudspeaker that broadcasts
call, and gave
the thumbs up signal. They swung open the pen doors and the birds
stampeded out onto the runway looking very excited to get underway.
I find it almost impossible to try and count birds in this disorganized
frenzy, so as soon as I saw that all the birds were through the
door, I poured on the coals to begin my takeoff—desperately
trying to stay
ahead of the birds who were airborne and flying right beside me.
the Hang of It
(click to enlarge)
Off: How Many?
"My wheels left the ground after
a short 200-foot rollout. I dropped my engine down to 4500 RPM's, flew
making a gentle right turn out over East Rynerson. I had a whole
bunch of birds with me, some right on the wing, others further
back and cutting
the corner to catch up to me. I quickly learned over the radio
that 2 birds had never made it out of the pen, and that 2 other
leaving my trike to head back to the runway. Brooke moved in to
work with these 4 birds while I headed past the tower and to the
14 birds following in a ragged formation.
This was only our second flight with all 18 birds together, and
they haven't quite gotten the hang of flying with each other yet.
5 minutes of flying low and slow over the Necedah wetlands, they
started to get the hang of it and closed up the formation; six
birds on my
left wing and eight on my right.
Flying Amid Thousands of Birds
"It gets a little crazy this time of year as thousands of
arrive on the refuge to await migration. Ducks and geese were taking
off below us by the hundreds, and the air was filling up fast with
waterfowl. It's hard enough to keep an accurate count of the birds
on your wing, and having this flying mayhem all around you just adds
I soon realized that one bird had lost the draft and fallen way
behind us. I did a slow 180 degree turn and began a gradual decent
the bird catch up. The air below was getting pretty rough
at this point, so I headed back to the pen with my formation of
to fall apart again as we got into the trashy air.
A Pretty Good Day
"I landed my group of birds at the pen
and Brooke landed shortly after with the three that he had managed
a very long
flight training session, but we felt they did great for just their
second time flying together, and considering we haven't been able
to fly much due to weather. A few consecutive days of good weather
have all 18 birds flying well together."
Journey North is pleased to feature this educational
adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).