Flying "on the back" of an eagle
Victor, the nine-year-old white-tailed eagle, is no ordinary eagle.
He was specially trained to fly over the Alps with a 360-degree camera on his back and a GPS to track his progress, to help humanity accomplish one of its two biggest dreams, according to French falconer and Freedom Conservation founder Jacques-Olivier Travers: "to swim with dolphins and fly with eagles".
Victor is set to start his five days journey on 4 October 2019, from the top of the Swiss mountain Piz Corvatsch. He’ll fly through Germany, Austria and Italy before ending his mountain tour in France on October 7.
The falconer will release Victor from the top of each peak. During each flight, the eagle will fly three to five kilometres (1.8 to 3.1 miles) — and descend 1,500 to 3,000 meters (5,000 to 9,800 feet) — in search of Travers below.
“This is the first time that we’ll really ride on an eagle’s back over such distances and such vistas, and see how he flies", adds falconer Travers.
According to qz.com, this is not the first trip done by an eagle trained by Freedom Conservation.
In 2015, an eagle named Darshan launched into flight from the top of the world's tallest building, Dubai's Burj Khalifa tower (828 m or 2,717 ft) and Freedom Conservation claimed the flight set a world record for “highest-ever recorded bird flight from a man-made structure.”
Freedom Conservation has also launched eagles from the Aiguille du Midi peak (3,842 m or 12,605 ft). It was an exceptional experiment, where man and animal had to work together - one on skis, the other in the air. The camera on the eagle's back produced unique images of the Mer de Glace glacier and the surrounding summits (Grandes Jorasses, Aiguille Verte and Aiguille du Dru).
Victor, the eagle, will carry a 360-degree camera on his back while flying over the Alps. Photo source @abcnews.go.com
Factors that determine Victor's success
Whether or not Victor's flights are successful highly depends on the weather conditions, says Mr Travers.
Upon his release, Victor will need to see the falconer in order to return to him. If his vision is obstructed by clouds, the eagle will not come to the falconer.
“It’s essential that he sees me", says Mr Travers. “I don’t have a remote control. So if he doesn’t see me and decides not to come to me, he could go anywhere", continues he.
Moreover, carrying the camera slows the eagle down.
“It’s a bit like putting a washing machine on the roof of your car. You don’t go as fast and you use more energy,” Travers said. “It’s the same for him. He doesn’t fly as fast with that on his back and it demands a greater effort from him.”
Soaring eagle films Alpine glaciers on the brink of collapse, photo source @Daily Hampshire Gazette
Victor flies to raise awareness of global warming
Victor's efforts will pay off, hope the organizers.
Besides offering magnificent views and a sense of how it feels like to fly like an eagle, this mission has another purpose as well.
Travers hopes that the bird's heavy lifting will provide humanity with powerful images that will make melting glaciers impossible to ignore.
Victor's flight comes soon after the whole world found out that a gigantic part of the Planpincieux glacier, found on the Italian side of the Mont-Blanc massif, is on the brink of collapse.
Ronald Menzel, the Managing Director of Freedom Conservation, thinks that at the rate the planet is warming, it is too late to save the Alps' glaciers, but not too late to fight climate change more broadly.
“We hope that once more, people are going to see nature from a totally different perspective and just reconnect to it and realize that wow, it’s actually something that is amazing and that we want to do something to preserve,” he said.