Portrait of Andrea KuhnUsing the Skywing on grass skis
and on snow and ice Flying in a threesome – a given for Andrea
PORTRAIT ANDREA KUHN
GLEITSCHIRM 4/95 Portrait Andrea Kuhn
TEXT: NOTKER LEDERGERBER
FOTOS: LEDERGERBER/WUERGLER/ARCHIV KUHN
To some extent the younger generation of paragliders hardly know him anymore, but long before the years of boom Engadin native Andrea Kuhn was an unparalleled pioneer. Today he runs a small flight training school, does taxi-flights, performs daredevil acrobatics as a Skywing pilot and dreams of times gone by. Times in which he shaped or type of sport in an essential way, but also times in which he did not do well financially inspite of his pioneer work. „At least I have trained more than 1000 people, most of them on the Skywing rod“, Andrea Kuhn remarks. A stock of about a dozen colorful bags clearly proves that a lot has been going
PIONEER WITHOUT HERITAGE
Andrea fared like many other pioneers. He gave a lot of fresh impetus to the development of the paragliding sport, but was not able to turn his great idea of free flight into money. Today he spends most of his time at home in the small family-run boardinghouse of his brother (a picturesque place between Lake Sils and the mountains), lives a very modest life, and earns his bread and butter doing taxi-flights, training courses and sales.
At the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s the Americans undertook first attempts to launch their flight devices on foot and glide down steep mountains. At the same time two other pioneers made considerable progress: Dr. Dieter Strasilla and Andrea Kuhn. Chemist Dr. Strasilla had been developing round canopy parachutes since 1961. With the help of his brother he soon got hold of those issued by the NASA and started refining them. He had himself pulled uphill on skies. At the beginning of the 70s the round shape was superseded by the rectangular design. The maneuverable Skywing sails did not only serve as a towing aid in the mountains, they were also used to play with the wind on meadows and lakes – and eventually they were suitable for flying.
TV quote from Gleitschirm 4/95
A German tv station made the following report on the new type of sport: „Today we present you a type of sport no one has ever seen before on TV. And inventor Dr. Dieter Strasilla will show you how to handle the gear“. When Dr. Strasilla finally had the chance to speak, he pointed to his
backpack and said: "In there, we have the skywing, a wing which can be used to ski, sail and fly."
He caused quite a stir with his Skywing, also as far as Andrea Kuhn was concerned. When Dr. Strasilla had himself pulled across frozen Lake Sils, Andrea Kuhn was totally on fire. He ran after Dr. Strasilla and could hardly wait to glide across the lake himself as a Skywing pilot. Andrea Kuhn became the first „disciple“ of Dr. Strasilla. The two of them made a good team, went together very well and constantly set new goals for themselves. In the winter of 1972/73 Andrea Kuhn performed the first tethered flights near the ground and floated freely close to hillsides. His first high-altitude flight took place in front of the press and the public in 1974 (check out the poem).
The same year Dr. Strasilla sailed up to Aletsch Glacier in about an hour. The day after – in different wind conditions - he flew down to Lauterbrunnen. Just imagine: A flight from Jungfraujoch to Lauterbrunnen in 1974 – a flight with 3000 m difference in altitude, 20 years ago!
However, the real boom did not set in yet, even though it was already possible to do tethered soaring or free soaring close to hillsides for hours on end. „Skywing sailing was a type of sport closely in touch with nature. We sailed up snow-covered mountains on skies and afterwards flew back down into the valley“, Andrea Kuhn remembers. Magazines from far and wide made reports
on the new type of sport and Skywing sailing was also the subject of many TV contributions.
FIRST INQUIRY TO THE SHV
Andrea Kuhn was very taken with the element of air. Next to Skywing sailing windsurfing was his second great love. Thus he could often be seen on a lake with his Skywing where he had himself tugged on waterskis or a surfboard. Already back then it all looked playful and easy even though there was a lot of training and a great sense for the element of air behind it. The Skywing pilots became fledged. Back then the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (BAZL) stated that this kind of flying actually needed to be organized in an association of its own; then again the agency wanted to have as few reference persons as possible. In 1981 Andrea Kuhn contacted the Swiss Hang-Glider Association (SHV) for the first time. Several years passed until then general secretary Thomas Bosshard stated that the new type of sport was "fancy-schmancy" and would disappear off the radar pretty soon. Eventually the SHV took care of Paragliding anyhow. And Andrea Kuhn passed his training as a flying instructor for the BAZL/SHV in the first course that was offered in 1986. Soon after there was a certain Hans Bollinger among his students who indeed suffered an open fracture of the leg when performing his third high-altitude flight (the injury was brought on by his own fault, according to Andrea Kuhn), but later on became world champion „Hausi“ Bollinger as history tells us...
AN INGENIOUS PILOT
Until last year Andrea Kuhn was a member of the Swiss Paraglider Division. As a competition pilot he had been taking a backseat for some time already, but as for his command of the chute, he repeatedly caused a sensation. Hardly anybody else plays with his chute in the easy and ingenious way Andrea Kuhn does. The chute is not just a flying device for him, but a toy. When he is strapped to the chute. the chute does not control him, but Andrea Kuhn makes the chute do what he wants in in the seamingly simplest way, commanding it with steering tethers and shoulder straps. „Playing in the wind serves security purposes; unfortunately, too many people haven't got that yet - or they got it too late; too late because many accidents could have been prevented. In the wind, you can practice fold-ups or stalls on the ground, and you learn to control your chute which has a positive effect when dealing with difficult starting, flying and landing conditions“, Andrea says and hopes that pilots will stay on the ground again for now. „It's not important wether they do it with old gear our with the latest gear. The main point is they do it! It's a pity when the old chutes are in the attic and nobody uses them anymore. Play with them in the wind, go wind sailing!“ „You benefit from playing, because flying starts on the ground and won't end before you have touched down again“, he goes on. And as for the Swiss division, he has a firm goal: „I want to go back, and then I'll soon call the tune again!“
DREAMER OF REALIST?
One often gets the impression that Andrea Kuhn is flying in his mind, that he does not have both feet on the ground ("Of course I do - I'm a realist as hard as steel!"). Andrea Kuhn is a kind-hearted person and a colorful character at the same time. Yet as ingenious as he might be, his thoughts seem to be miles away. Always in the air, in the third dimension. The place where the dream of flying became true. It looks like Andrea Kuhn is going to stay there.
Andrea Kuhn is not only comfortable in the air, but also on frozen Lake Sils.
1974: THE FIRST FLIGHT!
The whole family had gathered when Andrea Kuhn performed his first high-altitude flight in 1974(!). His now 79year old mother Adelina recorded the event in the following poem:
Crap da la Mandra, very high above Plaz
It happened here, Andrea, you rascal
First time crossing of the church and the river
Terror for your momma who has to watch
Guests and crew marveling in disbelief
Caffee Marmotta – everybody's looking on
And now for the touchdown, not far from the bridge
Everybody is running there, Kuhn is beaming with joy
Ten years later: Kuhn is a pilot
„Taxi“, the flight off the Corwatsch is your livelihood
Journeys to the North Pole, Alaska and Tibet
Thank God you're not gone with the wind
Author: mother Adelina Kuhn
Andrea, an error of creation
SWISS GLIDER, March 1994, anniversary edition
Andrea, an error of creation?! „An Error of creation“, says Swissair pilot and SHV pilot Markus Rizzi. „Actually he should have been born as a bird. For reasons unknown he became a human“. Andrea Kuhn, the paragliding pioneer from Sils Baselgia / Oberengadin is a master in his line of work. On average, he has been doing two flights each day for the last 20 years. In 1989 he won the third place at the SM at Saleve. The highlights of his flying career are a tandem flight off Mount McKinley and a flight in a threesome off Cho Oyo in Nepal. Andrea's father ran a construction business; little Andrea loved tinkering with Sagex, he used to play with it in the air. There is no place more suitabe for that than Sils with its Maloja wind. This wind had already fascinated Andrea's grandfather who had himself pulled by it – with umbrellas on ice skates or with „heublachen“ (a special kind of covering sheet) on skis. The wind up here is inspiring. Flying has always been the dream of Andrea. When he was asked as a primary school student what he would like to be one day, he always replied confidently: „A rocket pilot!“. He did not become that. Eventually he became a teacher, though, always focused on sports: Surfing, skiing and most of all flying.
It really started in the winter of 72/73. That is when Dieter Strasilla dashed up and down the lake right on Andrea's doorstep with a paraglide. Andreas always ran after him. The two of them became friends. When doing ski-schlepp he happened to be lifted up in the air. He asked what he needed to do now to get back down again. Later on he went up in the air on purpose. 40m and 50m jumps, across obstacles, e.g. cross-country ski trails. People screamed, they thought a UFO was falling from the sky. Soon Andrea would sail (up gentle slopes, down steep slopes, and off into the air)...
Andrea, Erreur de la Creation
SWISS GLIDER, Mars 1994, Numero spezial jubile
»Il est une erreur de la creation!" nous dit l`ancien pilote Swissair, Markus Rizzi, inspecteur des ecoles FSVL. »C'est en tant qu´oiseau qu'il aurait du venir au monde. Difficile de comprendre pour quelle raison il est devenu un etre humain!» Le pionnier du parapente, ANDREA KUHN de Sils Baselgia en Engadine maitrise son metier. Voila 20 ans qu 'il fait en moyenne deux vols par jour. En 1989, il est troisieme aux CS/Saleve. Un vol biplace du Mount Mc Kinley et un vol triplace du Cho Oyo au Nepal representent les moments forts de sa carriere de pilote. Son pere dirigeait une entreprise de construction. Tout petit, Andrea se plaisait a bricoler des objets en Sagex pour jouer dans le vent avec eux. Pour de tels jeux, il n'y avait d'endroit plus ideal que Sils avec son vent du Maloja. Deja grand-papa etait inspire par ce vent se laissant tirer sur patins a glace, parapluie a la main, ou sur skis tenant une bache de foin ouverte. Andrea, pour sa part, revait de voler. A la question, que veux-tu devenir un jour, qui lui fut posee a l'ecole primaire, Andrea repondit avec la plus grande assurance: "pilote de fusee!» II n 'en arrivait pas la, mais devient finalement professeur avec un penchant permanent pour le sport: surf, ski et surtout vol libre.
Le tout debuta en hiver 72/73. Devant la porte de sa maison, Dieter Strasilla faisait des va-et-vient sur le lac gele avec une curieuse voile. Andrea la suivait sans cesse; pour finir, ils lierent amitie. Puis vint le jour ou il decolla alors qu 'il se faisait remorquer skis aux pieds. "Comment faire pour redescendre?", demanda-t-il a ce moment-la. Plus tard, il quitta le sol de plein gre faisant des sauts de 40 ou 50 m pardessus toute sorte d 'obstacles. " Les gens hurlaient pensant qu'un ovni tombait du ciel." Bientot, il remonta des pentes a faible inclinaison puis descendit des versants abruptes jusqu'a prendre reellement l'envol...