Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the Earth with your eyes turned to the sky, for there you have been and for there you will long to return.
– Leonardo Da Vinci
Off a gravel road in the Knysna forest, there is an aluminum barn that houses a sleek bird of glistening metal and outstretched wings. It’s an RV8 and as the sun sets over Plettenburg Bay, I will glide 2 000 feet above the glimmering sea in the tandem two-seat aircraft. The runway will fade to a grey ribbon as we climb into the sky and the sea shall stretch before us like royal silk wrapping the Earth. My stomach will swap places with my heart as one aerobatic trick follows the next – a twist, a barrel, the ocean above me and mountains hanging from the sky. I will taste flight, and to these skies I shall long to return.
Buried in an endless forest and alongside twisting gravel roads, the Plettenburg Bay airfield is home to several planes and gliders – including Andrew Beveridge’s RV8 aircraft. Since he first tasted the freedom of flight in a friend’s glider four years ago, Beveridge has been addicted to flying. Weather permitting, his evenings are spent chasing the sunset and practicing aerobatic tricks above the sea.
The runway quickly becomes a faded memory as the great metal bird follows the river through the Keurboom Valley and shares the sky with feathered friends. Our conversation crackles through the headset as Beveridge, wearing a shirt that reads “Probably the best beer in the world”, points out landmarks and flocks of birds.
We fly past the place where the river greets the sea, past watching windows and waves that tirelessly kiss the shores of Central Beach. In the single-engine aircraft with a gross weight of 816 kg and a maximum speed of 356 km/h, we sweep across the bay as effortlessly as a gull.
It is the unimaginable bird’s eye as the aircraft’s transparent roof-casing affords a breathtaking view of a different world. Crashing waters wrap the Beacon Isle Hotel and cars in the parking lot look like abandoned toys in a playground. Leaving Central Beach behind us, we fly to the open air above Robberg Beach.
Beveridge claims his territory in the sky by radioing-in his location and plan – for the next 15 minutes he will be performing aerobatic tricks some 2 000 ft above the sea. Despite years of experience he can only do aerobatics for limited periods of time before the peculiar effects of G-force, such as disturbances of vision and muscle coordination caused by lowered blood pressure and diminished oxygen supply, threaten his ability to fly. Now, as Beveridge pilots the plane to perform rolls, barrels and loops, I realise that our lives depend on tested faith in steel wings and trust in the pilot’s skill. It is liberating.
It feels as if I’m in a snow globe – but instead of floating flakes, the shoreline is laced with gold and reflections wash my world in mirror games. The sea is above me, the sky is below me, and my mind has twisted with my stomach. The G-force lures the blood into my head, and I have to push the camera against my face to keep from lifting (or lowering) my arms.
When the plane twists and turns, we could be the only people above the Earth; the only dancers in the sky. The curved horizon and vanishing light bring the moment to life, and this planet could not be more beautiful.
Icarus has taught us to beware of the sun, so the small plane descends as the lights of a neon compass guide us home. RV8’s have a whispered reputation for crashing while landing, and Beveridge wouldn’t dare flirt with that fate.
The sun has gone into hiding and the dance has come to an end. The grey ribbon draws a line beside the trees; the airfield is the picture of peace and the aircraft glides to the Earth.
The feeling of freedom follows the flight and pastels paint the evening sky. I look to the empty space and metal wings. I know that I will forever envy the birds, for now I too have been airborne.
Find the original article here: Photo Story: Airborne