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THE GREAT RAPTORS

I have always been interested in flying, but it was only as I started training as a glider pilot when I first came to Cape Town, that I became really interested in the great raptors.

Quite often when we were thermalling in rising air, I would sense something at the edge of my peripheral vision on the wing tip, and turn to see one of the grand free spirits riding on air spill from the wing tip of our craft!

I saw the Bataleur eagles depicted in this painting, north of Nossob in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. They are one of the most striking of all the raptors. Some years ago I witnessed a courting pair on the outskirts of the Matopos. They were performing a series of aerobatic manoeuvres with awesome grace and abandon.

Their very broad wings with long 'slotted' primaries give them excellent lift characteristics and enable them to soar and tumble with dazzling skill as the first masters in the art of aerobatics.

The slotted primaries, like 'fingers' of feathers at the ends of the wings, reduce the drag or turbulence off the trailing edges of the wing and improve their lift characteristics, especially for slow flight and tight aerobatic stunts and manoeuvres.

As air becomes warmed and less dense around 10 o'clock in the morning, these raptors take off to soar in the rising pipes of unstable air. Their ability to sense favorable upcurrents is uncanny, for they never flew for long at the wingtip of my glider, preferring to 'peel off' and catch a faster lift to cloud base.

The first time that I had the opportunity to solo and soar over Fisanterkraal near Durbanville, was a memorable experience. As fellow flyers put it, the conditions were so good that if a brick was thrown into the air it would go up! And indeed I did, progressing rapidly to the cloud ceiling at 5000 feet. I had an awesome view over Table Bay and Simon's Bay, the Cape flats, the Karoo and Cape Point!

This was a very 'moving' experience and inspired the poem which I called "The Bataleur's Song'



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