I have been working for an international airline for 26 years now. In that time I have witnessed the rolling out ceremonies for new aircraft and have been spoon fed the propaganda that goes with each technological leap forward.

Phrases such as “pinnacle of aeronautical  design and engineering”, “unparalleled efficiency” or “unsurpassed flying experience” are repeated thoughtlessly by manufacturer and airline alike at the launch of each new model.

Recent claims to have “mastered the art of flight” are simply ridiculous.

Have these people never seen a Turkey Vulture? The front end may not be aesthetically appealing, but if you want to see flight efficiency, look no further than these artists of the air.

My companion for the day was Jerry Millet, a former competitive glider pilot, who told me stories about sharing thermals with soaring birds and about the Turkey Vultures’ singular ability to gain vertical lift from horizontal turbulence (he lost me a bit here).

We were watching birds at Upper Newport Bay, south of Los Angeles. A few of the vultures glided (glid? glode?) low over our heads and we stopped to watch them for a while. At first, they were close enough to see each tiny adjustment of tail and tertial as they used their innate skill to ride the warm currents of air rising from a maintenance yard. They gained height quickly and easily before sailing out across the estuary, leaving me with the thought that powered flight comes up hopelessly short when compared to the organic original. For the vultures though, it was natural and effortless.

I am resigned to working my way towards retirement in heavy metal. Not for me the freedom of wind and warm air to power my flight. But I can watch and marvel. To be able to dance on the wind with such elegance and grace must be the most exhilarating of feelings. I don’t suppose them ‘ol black buzzards chill in “Hang 8” T-shirts during their down time, nor have I ever heard them holler and whoop as they ride the crest of a breeze, but I jolly well would if I could master the art of flight like they have.

After angel dancers in the last post and aerial ballet this time, what’s next? Dinner and a show?

Reports for trip to Los Angeles and Newport Bay can be found at the Redgannet blog.

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Written by Redgannet
Redgannet has been working for over 33 years as a crew member/flight attendant and enjoys the well-ventilated air of the outdoors. The nom de blog, Redgannet, was adopted to add an air of mystery and to make himself more attractive to women. His father first whetted Redguga's appetite for all things natural by buying him his first pair of 7x35s and a copy of Thorburn's Birds. Having no mentor beyond an indulgent parent, he spent the first season hoping for an Egyptian Vulture at the bird table in his English garden. His most memorable birding moment is seeing an Egyptian Vulture with those same binoculars 26 years later. Redgannet is married to Canon, but his heart and half of his house belongs to Helen and their son Joseph. He is looking forward to communicating with people who don't ask if he is searching for the "feathered variety" of bird.