Flying a wing is not easy. Flying one without an engine? A little harder. Positioning that wing (and your body) so that you can put your feet down on the wing of another non-motorised aircraft? This kind of aerial artistry is starting to sound impossible.
But not for hang-glider pilot Matjaž Klemenčič , who, earlier this year, successfully pulled off the mid-air manoeuvre high above the river Soča in Slovenia. He needed the help of his friend Nejc Faganelj, a sailplane pilot. After three days, they succeeded.
"The idea occurred to me when I realised that hang gliders have become so technologically advanced, that they reach tremendously high speeds while, at the same time, allowing precision. I was also interested in a Blanic type sailplane because of its special ability to fly slowly enough for a hang-glider to catch up with it. I started digging in search of more details. It all seemed doable. The next step was to find a pilot who would be willing to give it a try," Matjaž explains.
"I found Nejc, a test pilot for Pipistrel, who has been my friend for quite some time now. Together, we worked everything out to the last detail."
The biggest challenge? Speed and timing. Hang-gliders have become much faster, but still fly slower than a sailplane – and speeding up and slowing down is not as simple as hitting the gas or pumping the brakes.
Where could things go wrong? Turbulence created by the plane and glider itself. Matjaž continues: "A flying object, which travels through the air, also moves the air."
The feat required complete control from both pilots. The pilot in the plane had to predict the plane’s movements with the weight of the hang-glider added to its wing, and successfully prevent any possible turns towards the hang-glider.
With ‘exit plans’ in place, they finally linked up over the unpopulated parts of the Soča Valley at a height that would, in case of any serious complication, provide enough time to solve it. How did Matjaž feel? Great! "Once we had done it, the feeling was amazing. I think we are the first ones in the world to carry out such a thing successfully – but I’m not sure anyone else had ever tried it!"