Migration Pilot Chris
August 23, 2005
|Chris Gullikson's first flight with cranes. Photo Joe Duff, OM.
the new pilot in training, I have had many first-time experiences
since arriving here in June, 2005.
first time I put on the white crane costume;
first time visiting the new arrivals
at the north site;
• The first time I taxi-trained the chicks behind
the wingless ultralight; and,
first time I had cranes fly with me in ground effect.
were all memorable experiences that
with me for a lifetime, but on August 23, 2005, I got to
experience the ultimate first, the one I have been dreaming about
with six young whooping cranes on my wing.
For the last week I have been flying behind Richard or Joe [experienced
pilots] as they train the oldest cohort from the north site. This "chase"
position gives me an excellent
view of how the birds and ultralight interact with each other. It also
allows the cranes to get used to another trike (ultralight
plane) being in the air with them. As the chase
pilot, my job is to hang back and fly slightly higher than the lead
observe what is happening. When the lead pilot turns, I keep to the outside
of the turn to discourage the cranes from taking a shortcut
and trying to fly towards
me. I am also there to pick up any birds that happen to leave the lead trike.
It was inevitable that I would be flying with cranes soon...
Big Day Arrives
Joe took off with 6 birds in tow. I pulled into the
chase position while the cranes formed up beautifully on Joe's
wing — 3 on each side, riding
the wave of air generated from the wing. We flew northeast into
a slight headwind and headed out over a heavily wooded area. The birds were
very well is this morning's chilly air, and Joe was able to get them
a couple hundred feet off the ground. Everything was going very well
until we approached
a highway north of Necedah. One bird broke off Joe's wing and decided to
head back to the refuge. A couple other birds initially followed
the first bird,
but then decided to stay with the trike. When they moved, they lost the benefit
of the wing's vortex ("lifting" air current). Now they were working
hard to catch back up to Joe. These
that they would head back to the refuge after all. They again broke away
from Joe's trike and flew back to the southwest. Joe gave me the go
ahead to pick
birds, so I veered off to the south. I was able to get a lone bird on
my left wing quite quickly. This bird formed up necely on my wingtip.
southwest to chase down the two birds that were flying together. Within a
few minutes I caught up to these two wayward birds and,
as I passed
them to their
right, they eagerly joined up on my left wing.
in the Air
Joe instructed me over the radio to turn the birds away from the pen
and head back north; we don't need these birds to think they
can go back home whenever
want to! I must admit I was not exactly sure which way north was at this
point. I had 3 huge birds on my wing and I was too busy trying to figure
out how fast
I needed to fly to keep them comfortably on my wingtip. Too slow and
they would begin to fly out ahead of me; too fast and they would
be working too hard to
stay with me. I sort of figured it out after a few minutes and was able
to get re-oriented with my location.
were headed west and were already past
site. I was beginning to feel somewhat comfortable flying with 3
birds when Joe called out over the radio to turn south. He wanted
to hand off his 3 birds
me! With a mixture of excitement and anxiety, I slowly turned south.
Joe moved in on my left with his 3 birds, slowly pulling up even
with me. It was
a perfect handoff as Joe pulled sharply up and over the top of me
while his 3 birds moved in to join up on my wing.
I now had 4 birds on my left and one on my right. The 6th bird
was nowhere to be seen. Oh wait— there he is, below and behind
me to my left, and working
to keep up. The costumed helmet really limits our peripheral
vision and it's difficult to see behind the trike. Joe instructed
me to lead
the birds back to
the pen. I could see that they were getting tired. They were losing
altitude and I had to compensate. I dropped down and flew just 20
feet off the deck,
maneuvering around the lone trees on the wetlands of the Necedah
Refuge. I could not see the north pen site from this altitude.
I knew that I was flying in the general direction and that I should
be coming to it
soon. I cleared
a line of trees. The pen was just to my southeast, although I was
not lined up on the runway at all. I turned east to fly a pattern
to land on
runway. Joe informed me one bird left my wing, and he moved in to pick
it up. I swung
around to the west and set up for a landing, my 5 birds still hanging
with me. Wait! Joe's bird just broke off and was headed for
the field, on a
collision course with my trike! I powered up and popped up over the top
of this bird,
just a few feet over it's massive wings. I did a 180-degree circle 10
feet off the deck and set up for a landing back to the east,
my 5 birds still
on the wing.
I touched down and rolled up to the pen, watching these magnificent birds
gracefully step out of the sky on either side of my wing.
I wanted to pump my fist in the air and give a shout of joy.
casually got out of the trike, grabbed my puppet head, and spread out
a few mealworms for
the birds. They gladly ate them. Joe landed with the bird that had
cut me off and taxied up to the pen. Mark and Angie opened
up the pen doors
we led the
birds back into their pen for the day. Just another normal day of training
for the others, but one that will always be a memorable day for me.
This! Journaling Questions