The Story of Leni, Part 1
23 Jul 2010
Leni is a young Red Kite, and was born last summer in the Austrian Alps. Approximately half the size of a Golden Eagle, Red Kites have nearly the same wing area as an eagle but only 30% of the body weight - therefore, they are truly excellent thermal pilots. Red Kites are also migratory birds; born in the Alps, each autumn they travel south across the Alpine Main Ridge and down through Italy, with some going all the way to Sicily! It is typical for a young Red Kite to make this 2000km cross country flight just a few months after they learn to fly. And Red Kites do learn to fly, they are not born with the knowledge of thermals, turbulence, and wind... Leni is learning to fly with the help of a paragliding instructor, Helmut Achatz and the falconer Paul Klima, who is also a paraglider pilot. Paul and Helmut are currently flying with Leni all over Europe, and have followed her in thermals in Austria and also soared with her at the Dune du Pyla. Leni enjoys chasing and following her flying friends on their Ozone Swift and Geo II. One year ago, Paul began working with Leni. Other Professional Falconers all told Paul that it would be impossible to train Leni to fly with a paraglider, because red kites are 'mavericks' and they always fly alone. In Helmut's words: "Leni was trained by Paul to stay with us and make her first small flights while I was groundhandling just beneath her. So from her very beginning, we (with our paragliders) were her family. One of the most fascinating thing for me is, that even these "born pilots" have to learn how to fly. In the beginning young birds can only flap their wings... But they know nothing about wind, turbulence, thermals, windward / lee and so on. They go down in valleys on the wrong side of the mountain, they lose thermals, they even can get a full collapse of their wings in turbulences, losing 50m or more altitude. It was our part to show Leni how to cope with real world aerology... "But after 1 year we could prove to everybody that it has worked. Leni is now constantly flying with us, even landing on both of us in the air if we call her. A few weeks ago we were at the Dune de Pyla with Leni and Sky (a golden eagle) to train them and to produce a film with the golden eagle. This will be part of the film, "Play Gravity II". "In the meantime, Sky is also flying with us. Sky and Leni have also now been trained to fly with an HD-Camera on their back. Both birds produce incredible films while flying with us. As far as we know they are the only ones right now filming in HD, worldwide." We will post more news here as this story progresses, and we are really looking forward to some amazing images of Leni, and by Leni, in the coming months. We hope that she doesn't embarrass Paul and Helmut too much as she learns to fly much better than any human can... but we imagine that they will be very proud of her at that point ;-) Cheers from all the Team.