The Art of Flying: What It’s Like To Be On The Flying Trapeze

“Gliders, sailplanes, they are wonderful flying machines. It’s the closest you can come to being a bird.” – Neil Armstrong

Flying is one of the few things humans aren’t able to do by ourselves. We have figured out how to create machines that will carry thousands of pounds and hundreds of people across the sky, and we’ve even learned how to jump from those machines. But unlike a bird, we still can’t fly on our own. However, in the mid-1800s a young French man named Jules Léotard created a miraculous invention. He created the flying trapeze. (His name didn’t stick to the trapeze art he invented –  instead it attached itself to the costume he flew in – the leotard.)

The flying trapeze has evolved since the day of Jules Léotard. It no longer swings over a pool, like when it was first invented, but instead over a net.

Jordan swinging out of lines for the first time. Video by Jordan’s mom, Melanie White

To get up to the board you jump off of to start swinging, you first have to climb up a long ladder. This always feels as though it takes longer than the actual flying, but that’s just your imagination! The board on many flying trapeze rigs tends to be pretty small, but some boards are much bigger, almost double in width – closer to the size of a park bench.

Then comes the trapeze bar, which is bolted into an overhead beam via cables, somewhere in the front third of the rig. The trapeze bar is hooked from where it hangs straight down and is swung up to the board by a thin PVC pipe with a hook on the end called a ‘noodle’. The distance from the board to the trapeze varies from rig to rig, but generally, an adult-sized person should be able to reach the bar by standing on the edge of the board and reaching out. At the far end of the rig is the catcher’s bar. This is what the catcher will climb up to and then swing from in order to catch you.

The flying trapeze rig I fly on at SANCA looks like this:

 A flyer doing a ‘heels off’ trick to the catcher. Photo by Kevin Ruddell

After you’ve flown your trick a couple times without fail, you get to the most exhilarating part: catching. This is where your catcher will climb up a rope to reach the catcher’s bar, hang upside down, and swing toward the board (although they’re still pretty far away). At the top of their arc, they’ll say, “Ready… hup!” You then do your trick, and at the end of the trick, right when the arcs of the two swinging trapezes line up, you’ll let go of the bar, and get caught by your catcher. It’s one of the most magical moments in flying trapeze. It was that moment of the catch when I realized I could fly forever and never get bored.

Jordan doing a ‘pullover shoot’ to catch. Video by Jordan’s sister.

I’ve been flying for a little under a year now and I love the freedom you feel when you’re in the air. It’s something that you can’t really understand until you’ve felt it yourself. The feeling of coming down after a successful catch and the world flaring back into life when you come back down to earth. Flying is something that empties your mind and fills your soul with all that it could possibly need. Flight.

– Jordan

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

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