History of Free Flight Enterprises and Stories of Gary's Vietnam War Service


© John Heiney

Gary was a military helicopter pilot, Jump-plane pilot, skydiver, hang glider pilot, parachute designer, manufacturer, businessman, and many other things I am not aware of.


One hot summer day in the early eighties, I and the other usual suspects were setting up our hang gliders at the “E” with thoughts of “skying out” In our minds, and generally oblivious to all other things happening on the planet at that time. We were all fairly new hang gliding enthusiasts, and no other pursuit deserved any of our attention. We were preparing to do the coolest thing a human being could do.

As I stuffed ribs, I thought I heard something over the normal pre-launch chatter. It was not a very familiar sound, but definitely identifiable. I yelled “HEY!, LISTEN!” as I scanned the sky to the northwest. I had picked the right direction, but the sound was coming from an unusual elevation, not up in the sky, where you would expect to hear this sound from; but down low, not much above eye level.

By now, everyone had stopped what they were doing and was looking. I spotted a speck of an airplane, low against the terrain coming towards us at increasing speed from a dive as the sound grew louder. I pointed and yelled “THERE!” The two round engines and the twin tail made it fairly certain it was a Beech 18, but what was it doing there? The question faded as the rush of this cool buzz overtook my entire being.

Those eighteen large, ancient, un-muffled cylinders obliterated the silence of our near-perfect existence as the plane passed us, parallel to and behind the ridge about five hang glider wing spans away and maybe one above the ground. The terrain does drop away behind the launch area, so it might have been at eye-level. My recollection was that I was looking down at this thing, not up.

As the plane passed our position, it began to pull up. It climbed steeply and started to roll left, and continued this gracefully smooth roll to about a 120 degree bank. By this time it had changed heading 100 degrees, was crossing the ridge, and started to dive down into the “E” canyon partially inverted. It descended fast past our level as it began its roll reversal back towards a wings-level dive into the depths of the canyon and out towards the lake.

I said “WHO THE HELL WAS THAT?!!!” Harold Stephens said “It’s probably Douris”. Harold was a sky-diver and he informed me that that was one of the jump planes coming back from dropping it’s contents. Until that time, I had not noticed there was a sky-diving operation in the valley.

There is just one reason that someone does something like that. It is a balls-to-the-wall expression of a pure love of flying and those who fly. That was the first time I heard the name Gary Douris. Some months later I had the chance to meet Gary at a club meeting in Orange County. He was giving a talk on hang gliding reserves. After the talk I introduced myself and told him about that day at the “E”, and that “someone said it was you.“ His only response was “I wouldn’t do a thing like that”.

I have been present for faster and quieter buzzes such as Ellsworth Getchell’s “saying good-bye” at 100 feet and 300 knots in his Hawker Sea Fury after the Prescott Air Fair a few years ago, and the unknown sailplane pilot who put his tip about twenty feet in front of a hang glider waiting to launch (at 100 knots) at the Mount Laguna launch site last Spring. But this was one of the coolest buzzes I have been privileged to experience. It was so unexpected and so stylishly performed, that it has stuck with me vividly all these years.

I had hoped to interview Gary, but he got sick and did not feel up to it. One of my questions was to ask (now, twenty-five years later) was that you? I have always assumed it was Gary despite his denial. Now, the answer to that question is lost to the wind. But it is only a footnote in the greater flying, designing, testing, and manufacturing career of Gary Douris. But it is one of my fondest memories of the Man.