I recently finished reading The Road To Narromine, A Life Adventure: In the Air, On The Road and Behind A Camera. As with anything one enjoys immensely, I found myself talking with others about it only to find no one knew what I was talking about! So, as we glider pilots are prone to do, I feel compelled to share it with others, especially the soaring community.
When I heard that this book was available in May (news of it actually came to me via a forwarded e-mail from our club’s web site contact person) I immediately ordered it. It just sounded like a good read. The book's sub-title “A Life Adventure: In the Air, On The Road and Behind A Camera” resonated with me immediately and, besides, who doesn’t like a story of adventure, especially if it involves flying! While I usually read on a basic Kindle I ordered the paperback thinking there’d be a good bit of pictures to enhance the reading experience. Not the case! In the end it did not matter, as Richard’s gift of describing the events he writes about is so vivid that your mind can see it perfectly, especially if you are a glider pilot. (It turns out it is not available in digital form anyway).
His initial exposure to gliders was in 1977 when, while in his late 30’s, a co-worker drew his attention to an ad for Narromine Soaring Centre in New South Wales, Australia. The ad urged the reader to “Fly With The Eagles”. They took the challenge, thus beginning Richard’s love affair with glider flying.
Richards writes of his early fascination with flying when, in 1950, his father surprises him by granting his request to take a ride in an airplane at an Ontario, Canada fair. While his father did not care for it, he was hooked! The Road to Narromine, at 383 pages, contains a collection of 40 stories telling of his transitioning through about 20 gliders, including the L-23, IS-28 & 29, ASW-20, Astir, Mosquito, Hornet, Libelle and Ventus, interspersed with very interesting stories of his using a variety of aircraft including the Concorde, Boeing 747, Harrier, KC-97 tanker and the T-38 to aid him in his professional life as a radio and TV broadcaster, producer, director and cameraman (the T-38 story involved astronaut Alan Shepard). From helicopters to supersonic fighters and the SST, his love of aviation and his inbred genius allows him to gain access to the cockpits of a slew of aircraft and to get paid doing it! His descriptions of the photo shoots are often laugh-out-loud hilarious as he superbly walks the reader through how some of the commercials we are somewhat familiar with are (or perhaps more accurately, were) shot back in the day before computer assistance.
The title of the book is a nod to the drive so many of us take when we go soaring. At one time I literally drove a mere 10 minutes to go soaring. That was before the airspace over us turned restricted, forcing our club to move. The drive is now almost an hour-and-a-half, but that pales in comparison to what many spend to go glider flying, right? Jim’s drive was five hours from Sydney to Narromine. Some of the chapters describe this drive in his modified F-100 pickup, his anticipation of arriving and settling into a few days of flying, as well as his tastes for various kinds of music he’d listen to on the drive (the book even includes a play list of the songs mentioned). You see, soaring was not only his passion but also his escape from the pressures of life off the airport. I am sure many of us share that experience and virtually flee to the sanctuary of the airport in similar fashion.
Richard’s progression through a wide variety of gliders will trigger memories for any of us who have been flying gliders for several decades. The opening chapter is a recounting of his encountering wires on a landout and walking away from it and not totaling the ASW-20 he was flying! From initial L-23 Blanik and IS-28 Lark flying, he proceeded to gain time in a wide variety of standard and 15 meter ships, exploring their pros and cons, experiencing the effects of water ballast and learning that racing is not as easy as one might think. He nails the sounds and sensations we have all experienced, allowing the reader to relive his own past experiences. From the noises various ships make, the pressure of an impending landout to the exhilaration of a low save, Richards has you feeling you are right there. One thing for sure, he makes me want to go to Australia and fly gliders and soar with the eagles there! He recounts doing just that in one of the chapters.
Jim Richards is an award-winning director who has lived in five countries and four of the world’s major cities. Get this book and enjoy the work of a master storyteller, a guy who always sees the up side and who apparently lives lift to the fullest!