by Ashley Stepanek
photo Wizard Publication
“I was really freaking out around birds,” says Armin Engert. He’s busy putting fuel in his $40,000 powered hang glider as he tells me the story of his childhood back in Bavaria—a region where it’s the castles, mountains and beer festivals that usually get people excited. But not Armin. Even as a toddler, he was marveling over his fair-feathered friends’ ability to fly.
Armin’s confidence and warmth is undeniably pacifying, even if the idea of flying over Hana as a passenger in his Airborne XT 912—a micro-light “trike”—is, well, unnerving. Utilizing a traditional hang-gliding wing and weight-shift operation, this contraption is basically a tricycle for grownups but with a wow factor: a four-cycle aircraft engine.
As Armin continues his preflight preparations, the conversation steers back to Germany’s alpine meadows and lakes (queue The Sound of Music) where, in 1971, his family was hiking when something strange suddenly caught his twelve-year-old eye: “I could see tents moving around in the air!” Armin hiked closer and met the pilots of these supposed tents, who introduced him to reality: the then-newfangled sport of hang gliding. “And I said, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do.’”
Ready to go, he turns the engine, and soon we're speeding down the tarmac; a minute later, we’ve climbed 1,200 feet over Hana Bay, and we're flying swiftly up Maui’s eastern flank. He teaches me the basics of weight-shift control, aerodynamics and aviation safety, which he learned for fifty German marks ($30) at Drachenflugschule Hartheim, his community club, in 1982. Cutting the engine completely, we soar like a bird back to the airport—except this bird lands at eighty mph. His wings may be different, but Armin’s passion has proven that flying isn't just for the birds after all.
Hang Gliding Maui