Soaring in Eagle-Territory is not just an exciting, but also an impressive experience. Admittedly, it´s a very rare adventure in our regions, where only few glider-pilots ever experience a mid-air liaison. Fortunate pilots, meeting a Golden Eagle (Steinadler) mid-air above the Alps, maybe soaring together in a respectful distance, will never forget this impressive and haunting adventure.
Alan Beavis, Marlies & Peter Eicher from Australia experience this pleasure more often than they like. Alan flies his self-built Yando-Goat together with Marlies & Peter in their Archaeopteryx. Besides Goat and Archy, they also fly a hang-glider as well as a trike. They tow each other up into the sky over Yando-Airfield, a small and private airfield near Boort/Victoria in Australia, which is located approximately 250 km north-west of Melbourne. This region is world renowned for very good soaring conditions (Benalla, Tocumwal, Waikerie are gliding sites a few hundred kilometres in either direction from Boort), which is not only appreciated by the few ultralight glider-pilots, but by some Wedge-tailed Eagles too.
Foto 1: Google-Earth screenshot, showing the village of Boort and Yando-Airfield
Two Eagle-pairs live in the neighborhood of Yando-Airfield, where they have built their nests to breed their eggs and raise their chicks.
Foto 2: Alan (Beavo) Beavis in his Yando-Goat, just lifting off in aero-tow with their Trike
Wedge-tailed Eagles are about the same size as the Golden Eagles living in the Alps, weighing up to 6 kg. With their impressive wingspan up to about 2,3 m, they can soar for hours without any effort or wingbeat, reaching altitudes up to 2.000 m, sometimes considerably higher. Their keen eyesight extends into the infrared and ultraviolet bands. A prime ability, glider-pilots would be keen to possess.
Mid-air conflicts between glider-pilots and the majestic "Wedgies" are to be expected, as the eagles often defend "their airspace" against the human intruders. The Eagles are especially aggressive during the period of breeding and nurturing their fledglings.
Foto 3: Alan in his Yando-Goat, massively attacked by an Eagle (YouTube-Link)
During this time of the year, the ultralight gliders are sometimes aggressively attacked by the eagles, who identify the gliders as obvious predators, which must be attacked to defend their eggs or nestlings and maybe also as a fat prey good for feeding to their chicks.
The following picture sequence shows impressively, how the Wedge-tailed Eagle attacks his prey "at the neck", trying to grip it with his impressive talons of death.
Foto 4-9: The image-sequence shows the ambush by the Wedge-tailed Eagle
Only few attacks end up with some damage to the wing-cover, but depending on the place where the eagle strikes his talons into the material, he leaves at least some remarkable signs about the inevitable air-combat.
Foto 10: Visible signs of the preceding air-combat with a Wedge-tailed Eagle
Also Marlies & Peter experienced some unpleasant but inevitable mid-air attacks by the "Wedgies", as they soared in the Yando-area in their Archaeopteryx.
Foto 11: Marlies Eicher approaching Yando-Airfield in her swissmade Archaeopteryx
Yando-Goat and Archaeopteryx are not always lonesome gliders in the Yando-Airspace. While the glider-pilots like to enjoy their hobby, soaring in the Yando-thermals, Wedge-tailed Eagles soar nearby and scan the shared airspace for possible prey. Whether they assess the gliders as fat prey for their hungry fledglings or just attack the gliders to scare an intruder out of their territory, will be the secret of the Wedgies forever.
A special adventure experienced Marlies during an approache to Yando-Airfield in the downwind-leg, when she was attacked out of the clear sky by an eagle from behind. Once again, the eagle left some permanent signs of his attacke on the acrylic glass-covering of the inner wing-section of the Archaeopteryx.
Foto 12: Permanent "battle-signs" in the acrylic glass-covering of the inner wing-section of the Archaeopteryx
Foto 13: With the aid of Oratex adhesive-covering-material, the damage was easy and quickly repaired
On a second attack, he dived down over the front-canopy and slipped down striking the nose-cowl and knocking it off. The nose-cowl slowly tumbled down to ground like a dead leave of a tree, but could be located and retrieved undamaged in a field nearby.
Foto 14 & 15: Licensed under Creative Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 unported
Regardless the small damage to the Archaeopteryx, the ambush was fearful for Marlies, as an adventure like this does not happen every day. Especially not at this very low altitude while approaching Yando-Airfield, unexpectedly looking into the eyes of an eagle at such a short distance.
Thanks to Marlies & Peter Eicher and Alan (Beavo) Beavis for answering lots of email-questions, as well as to Don Rottman for his permission to use and publish his pictures.
Yando-Goat thermalling and Eagle-Strike (YouTube-Link)