The wings of the wind

With a terrain conducive to a number of nature sports, Turkey is especially well-suited for paragliding.

The children of the gods loved to be in the sky. Bellerophontes lived in ancient Tİos (modern Fethiye), the sports capital of the Lycian League, and viewed the Earth from the sky on his winged horse Pegasus. He couldn’t get his fill of its sandy coastal strips and magnificent mountain ranges and the deep blue Mediterranean with its endless lovely coves. Born of a human mother, Phaethon enjoyed a similar pleasure in the chariot of his Sun-god father Helios. He went too fast perhaps, and he was stopped by Zeus, but his name remains, and the tracks he left in the sky.  Mythological tales are always more than they seem, a virtual inventory of man’s deepest desires, urges and inner conflicts, not only for those days but for modern times as well. Never once in the history of the universe has man succeeded in flying. Yet, merely on hearing the sough of the wind, he has dreamed his greatest dream of being hundreds of meters high in the sky. And this inner world is reflected in myth as the desire to be up there, among the gods. It is for this reason that Icarus’s tragic fate is so heartbreaking, and why the story of Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi is accepted without question.

‘Paragliding’ in English, ‘parapente’ in French, this branch of sport developed as a response to the human urge to fly. It dates back to the 1980’s when a handful of path-breaking aviators sought new forms of flight. A running start on a slope gradual enough to be climbed on foot is sufficient for becoming airborne with a paraglider, which operates on the same principle as an airplane wing.
There are two types of paragliding, ‘single’ and ‘tandem’, in which two people fly in the hands of an experienced pilot. “Flying is something I used to dream about when I flew a kite,” says Görkem Haki, just one of many people who have experienced the sky’s vastness on a tandem flight. “That was how my love of flying began. ‘Take me with you’, I used to say to myself, and I wondered how much bigger I would have to make my kite in order to be able to fly with it.”

Pilot training consists of three stages, ‘Student Pilot, Club Pilot, and Pilot’, each one with both a theoretical and a practical aspect. The training course teaches  experience with equipment, aerodynamics, flight technique, meteorology, types of takeoff, flying in unstable conditions and using a reserve parachute, as well as thermaling and cross-country flying. To qualify, a student pilot makes more than fifty flights during a typical training course.

Once you’ve completed the training and packed your parachute in its bag, there is no limit to where and how long you can fly. İsmail Büyükay, who has made the skies of Kazakhstan his paragliding home, is one of those who exploits his freedom to the hilt: “I glanced up over the canopy as I was soaring and couldn’t believe my eyes. A giant eagle was flying right over my head. He must have felt threatened to see something larger than he was flying through his territory because he escorted me for about ten minutes in an attempt to scare me away.”

There are three paragliding disciplines: cross-country, bivouac and acrobatic. In cross-country the pilot flies to a previously specified goal. Acrobatic on the other hand gives the athlete complete freedom. Bivouac flying means expeditions of often a week or so that involve going from one place to another and staying overnight. The parachutist takes flight, covers some distance and, if he is forced to land, climbs another hill on foot and takes off again - all made possible by the fact that he can carry his maximum 15-kg parachute and other kit in a backpack and be all ready to fly in about ten minutes.

Bivouac flying is done either for the purpose of adventure or simply for recreation. The most incredible flight of this type ever made was the expedition undertaken in the Himalayas by Phillippe Noden and Julian Wirtz, who flew around the summit of Nanga Parbat and over the Trango Towers and, soaring to over 7,000 meters, crossed the world’s two largest mountain glaciers. Another adventurer, Bojan Marcic, covered 337 kilometers on a flight in South Africa’s  Kuruman District.

If you can get a driving license, then you can go paragliding. Anyone with normal sight and hearing (or whose problems are correctable with glasses or a hearing aid), who doesn’t have cardiac or other health problems such as epilepsy, who is able to climb hills of around 70 meters and who isn’t afraid of walking and running can fly a paraglider.

With a terrain conducive to numerous mountain sports, Turkey is in an excellent position when it comes to paragliding. At 2000-meters in elevation, Babadağ in Fethiye is regarded as Turkey’s paragliding Mecca with its convenient thermals, wind currents and breathtaking Ölüdeniz landscape. Also on the Mediterranean coast, Kaş and neighboring Elmalı in the highlands are both highly suitable. Similarly, Çokelez Dağı, Kaklık and Honaz in Denizli province; Gökçeada with its two hills of medium height; Ganos Dağı and Tekirdağ Uçmakdere in Thrace; Manisa with five points at differeint altitudes at Karlık on Spil Dağı; Çakırman Tepesi in Erzincan; Ormanlı in Istanbul, which also offers training; Ali Dağı in Kayseri; Bozdağ at Ödemiş in Izmir province; and the Turkish Air Force’s C Hill at Eskişehir are some of the parts of Turkey most suitable for paragliding.

Görkem Haki realized his childhood dream. Taking off from Babadağ, he saw the Mediterranean from the sky: “The takeoff was easier and less harrowing than I expected. As I got farther away from the slope, I saw the hills and the trees and the sea stretching away beneath my feet… I landed on the sand and I thought about how high up those who had taken off after me were and how I too had come from there.” His dream did not disappoint him. His feelings after the flight must be little different from those of others who have had the same experience: “Ever since that day there have been two kinds of people for me: those who can fly and those who can’t… How nice to be remembered among the flying mammals!” 

We would like to thank Ikarus Sportif Havacılık for its contribution