Bucking the wind

A 70-80 kph wind lashed us mercilessly as we sat in the open air. Believe it or not, the indicator was showing minus thirty!

Had it snowed there I wondered? ‘There’ was Lake Meke, one of Turkey’s dream spots on which, despite Arctic temperatures, the snow has turned its back in recent years, coyly refusing to come down.

A number of volcanic cones large and small dot the landscape southeast of Konya’s Karapınar township. Lake Meke distinguishes itself from the other formations in the vicinity by its stunning appearance unlike any other. This crater, formed tens of thousands of years ago by a volcanic eruption, filled up with water in time and became a lake. The cone in the middle of it was formed later by a second eruption in more recent geological time.

Although I realized after a series of phone calls and some searches on the internet that the snow cover was light, I still wanted to see for myself, so I set out from Ankara and next thing I knew was standing by the crater. Ideal for photographing, the snow was also insufficient to pose any risk on landing or takeoff. I immediately rang up my friends in Fethiye and asked them to bring their microlight. The three days about to begin would be difficult for all of us.

As the name indicates, a microlight is an extremely lightweight sport aircraft that can be folded up and hauled in a trailer behind a car and flown by a pilot with one passenger. It is the ideal choice for aerial photography due to its reliability, its relatively low cost, its landing and takeoff distance and its good angle of vision. I had made many a flight as a passenger in this fascinating craft; but this was my first time to try it under winter weather conditions and frankly I was a little nervous because I remembered how cold I had gotten even in the heat of summer due to the wind and the chiller air at higher altitudes. And when turbulence, the body’s lack of time to adapt to lower concentrations of oxygen, and the effect of gravity on the return were added in, there was a good chance my photographic skills might be compromised. Weather conditions can change abruptly; what’s more, an unforeseen eventuality like a snowy, icy landing surface could scupper the flight entirely.

After meeting up with my friends, who had spent the whole night on the road, we  identified the areas suitable for takeoff and decided on a spot near the crater. Another snowstorm that morning had left a new cover over the previous one; but even in the sub-zero temperatures that could easily disappear shortly in the sun and wind. Despite being very salty, the lake had begun to freeze over lightly around the edges. We removed the microlight from the trailer and started the job of assembling it. This is a process requiring strict attention and brooking no errors. There is no making up for even the slightest oversight; since you lack the chance to go to a nearby service area for a spare part, you could end up having to cancel your flight altogether and all your efforts turn out to have been in vain. It wasn’t long before we encountered the first hitch; as we were lowering the craft down the ramp, the trike unit slipped out of our hands and turned upside down, and we only missed breaking the propeller by the skin of our teeth. We were spared a crushing disappointment thanks to its being made of a carbon-fiber substance and to the soft volcanic tufa that covers the ground here. With three experienced people working together, the whole process, including unfolding the wing and attaching it to the body, took less than an hour. After a few test flights it was my turn, and I took my place in the narrow back seat with a tingle of excitement.

We began to pick up speed on the plain with its sparse carpet of dry grasses and occasional patches of snow, and when we gathered sufficient momentum were suddenly airborne when the pilot shoved the trapeze bar forward. From now on we were at the mercy of the air. Minus five degrees on the ground, the temperature dropped steadily as we gained altitude. Our heavy clothing, flight suits and thick gloves were inadequate protection, and 70-80 kph winds whipped us mercilessly as we sat in the open air. Finally we didn’t even have it in us to enjoy the beautiful landscape. Before long my fingers were too numb to adjust the camera’s shutter and ISO settings. At one point, when we reached 3000 meters, the indicator - believe it or not - showed minus thirty degrees! The intercom system that enabled us to talk with each other went out of commission. Since I couldn’t make myself heard over the wind and the roar of the engine even by shouting, I resorted to sign language to indicate the places I wanted to photograph and the direction I wanted to fly. I was doing my best despite everything, ever mindful of how difficult it would be to arrange another such flight. Shortly after sunset we landed at the same spot. When the engine stopped, we were both shaking like crazy, too paralyzed even to speak. My hands, and Gustave’s feet since he had been more exposed to the wind sitting in front, were almost frozen. Nevertheless, the photographs would make it all worthwhile, and smiles broke out on our tense faces. As we hovered over the car radiator gulping hot coffee from our thermoses, we could hardly wait for the next day when we were planning to see the winter landscape at Lake Beyşehir. I appreciate better now the advantage of being insulated from the outer atmosphere when I look out at the clouds and the earth below from the comfort of a passenger plane cabin.
We would like to thank www.flysouthmicrolight.com for its contribution.