It was little over a month after moving to our new base in St. Hilaire du Touvet, in the Rhone-Alpes region of France, that this small mountain village became the focus of free-flight fanatics (no offence) from the world over. The 44th Coupe Icare was in play and we, the relatively earth-bound family of 4 (plus dog), were to be treated to four days of areal display, madness and spectacle.
For those of you not familiar with the world of free flight (which pretty much includes me), it refers to a variety of airborne activities that range from hang gliding, paragliding (what I would describe as a mash-up of hang gliding and parascending), microlights and gliders. Basically, anything that gets you up into the sky without, in most cases, any form of propulsion or a full pilot licence. One thing that many of these activities have in common is the effort involved with getting off the ground.
But, once in the air, there is a certain grace about the whole thing and one can easily see how such a sensation might be, on one hand, exhilarating whilst at the same time, somehow meditative.
Of course, not all the flyers are completely without their own propulsion, as the Para-motors aptly demonstrated. Filling the air with a continuous, and only mildly annoying, buzz (imagine a swarm of angry hornets flying past at high speed), the speed and manoeuvrability of these motorised gliders allowed for some pretty spectacular displays.
But even these high-speed flyers had, eventually, to come-back down to earth.
All this, set against a backdrop of dramatic and beautiful scenery, can only make for an excellent experience.
One of the highlights of the event is the costumed-gliding competition, where a whole array of ideas take form and throw themselves from the cliffs and into the wild blue yonder. On the advice of a local Coupe Icare veteran, I had positioned myself below the launch site for this event and was able to get some compelling images of flying witches, gondoliers, Olympic canoeists and, of course, Smurfs.
However, it wasn’t all about flying (though mostly, it was), and there was definitely a family atmosphere to the whole event with a smattering of street performers, craft stalls, terrestrial acrobatics and fair-ground rides.
And most importantly, plenty of time to sit down and take it all in…
That all said, the day(s) belonged to those brave souls that took their skills into the skies and, as a result, my camera’s shutter count increased significantly during the festival – not least because much of what was on offer could be seen (and therefore photographed) from the comfort of my workroom.
But, of course, to really get the feel of the festival, to fully appreciate the experience (and experience the appreciation), you gotta get out there and be part of the crowd.
The main events all happen during the weekend and each of those days were punctuated by displays from the world of powered flight. Aerobatics included planes from the past as well as the more modern ones.
At the end of the four days’ extravaganza, it all proved too much for some spectators…
Still, time enough to sit down with a (green?) beer and reflect; recounting the cautionary tale of Icarus to the young folk and speculating as to how we, earthbound souls, might go about experiencing the contemplation of free flight for ourselves.
All-in-all, an action packed four days in this otherwise sleepy village. My only regret is that I wasn't able to clone myself to ensure I got round to see all the various shows and events (I didn't even get to see any of the entries to the film festival that was also showing for the entire festival). Ah well, there's always next year...