Viewers to experience 'natural high' of flying - Albuquerque Journal

Viewers to experience ‘natural high’ of flying

Jeff Gilkey flies his ultralight trike toward a rainbow over the Rio Puerco Basin, west of Albuquerque. Gilkey’s video “Over New Mexico and the Southwest,” will be shown at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. (Courtesy Jeff Gilkey)

bright spotCopyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Soaring thousands of feet above the Southwest landscape in his ultralight trike, Jeff Gilkey feels on occasion as if he has gone back in time.

Sweeping above Lucero Mesa, 30 miles west of Belen, for example, he comes upon a scene right out of the Old West, wild horses galloping into a vast brown and green country uncluttered by vehicles, structures or power lines.

“There’s not a sign of civilization, not even a dirt road,” he said. “It’s really fun to fly over.”

And then there are those times when it seems as if he has breached the future.

“The other thing I often feel is that I’m in a little space ship, flying over an alien world, making nice, gentle turns, following the terrain, just exploring it – like in some science fiction movie,” he said.

Natural high

Gilkey, 65, has degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering and is retired from Sandia National Laboratories. He has logged 2100 hours flying his Aerotrike Cobra which has a 30-foot wing and is powered by an 80-horsepower motor.

Videos and still pictures he has taken from his high-flying perch have been used to make five programs shown on the Dynatheater screen at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History.

His sixth presentation, “Over New Mexico and the Southwest,” will be screened at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Natural History Museum. It is different than his previous efforts.

“This new show takes things to a whole new level,” he said. “I bought a GoPro Fusion 360 camera and attached it to the wingtip of my trike. The camera records the entire sphere. It films in every direction and makes it possible to create amazing, immersive videos. When you watch this movie, you feel like you are pulled into this world of flying and exploration.”

It will be shown on the museum’s 55-foot planetarium dome to enhance the feeling that viewers are surrounded by the video.

During the editing process, Gilkey discovered the video was sometimes too realistic for comfort. He said Geoff Skelton, Natural History Museum planetarium technician, warned him to rein in footage taken over Cerro Alesna, a volcanic peak in McKinley County.

“Geoff said ‘You’ve got to slow that way down. You’ll have people vomiting,'” Gilkey said.

“Over New Mexico and the Southwest” includes obscure and picturesque places in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

Gilkey said that sometimes the scenery is so spectacular, so beautiful that it is almost hypnotic. He tells of one such experience while flying above Marble, Colorado, near the Elk Mountains.

“There’s Capitol Peak with its knife-sharp ridge and the Maroon Bells, a double peak with deep maroon colors,” he said. “It’s so overwhelming, you get this euphoria, this natural high. I got so oversaturated by the scenery, I thought I had been up for hours. When I landed, I found out I had only been up for an hour.”

More relaxing

Gilkey started shooting the video for “Over New Mexico and the Southwest” in 2018 and had the project ready to go in 2020, just before the pandemic shut things down. He has been anxious to get it in front of an audience.

“I really enjoy flying,” he said. “But I also really enjoy showing the videos.”

His new camera has completely changed his flying and shooting experience.

“With the old camera, you aimed it with your wing and tried not to hit the canyon wall,” Gilkey said. “I can just forget (the new camera) and fly. It is much more relaxing. The down side is the editing takes ten times longer because you have so many options. You edit with a computer. You tell the camera where to point, when to zoom. It took me a year to figure it out.

“I’d rather just go fly and collect video than do the editing.”

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