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Eighteen years pioneering all forms of ultralight aviation, whether for the pure pleasure of being alone with his thoughts communing with Nature, or as a competitor or performing at air-shows. Aerobatics, cross-countries, launches from hot-air balloons, high altitude flights in hang-gliders and paragliders. Numerous “firsts” in weightshift ultralights, notably in the Alps, Greece, the Maldives, and the Canary Islands, on floats and on skis. But above and beyond the sport itself, what fascinated Bertrand was observing how superior levels of consciousness emerged at the most critically intense moments in his flights. That is what led him to become a psychiatrist.

The first hang-gliders appeared in the Swiss Alps in 1974. For Bertrand, it was love at first sight. He had just celebrated his 16th birthday, and immediately started flying, taught by a few friends. His first real flight ended up on the roof of a chalet. But that wasn’t about to discourage him. The following year, he won his first competition. A founder member of the Swiss Hang Gliding Federation, he quickly became well-known in air-show circles, making numerous demonstration flights, usually after dropping from a hot-air balloon. He discovered ultralight airplane flying in 1979, on the very first motorized hang-glider trike imported into Switzerland. He was 21 years old and dreaming of adventure. He decided to interrupt his medical studies for three years to

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Hang-gliders evolved, from the early–often dangerous –triangular kites, to rigid wings fitted with aerodynamic control surfaces. In parallel, Bertrand developed his skills, throwing himself into stunt flying and becoming European Aerobatic Champion in 1985.

work on introducing this new discipline into tourist areas. He flew over Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon in Greece, took the aerial pictures for a film made in the Maldives, participated in the first Ultralight Tour de France, and unsuccessfully tried to develop centers giving rides to tourists in the Canary Islands. In Switzerland, he fought against the ban on ultralights decreed by certain ecological lobby groups, and as an act of protest made the first ultralight crossing of the Alps into Italy, which landed him in court. This was his bohemian period, characterized by improvised trips abroad and exotic experiences. He put an end to it by resuming his studies.
Bertrand executed his last loop at Château-d’Oex in January 1992. He then stowed away his hang-gliders to concentrate on preparing first for the Transatlantic Balloon Race and then the Round-the-World Flight.

A door opening onto a world of unexpected riches, which puts us into contact with our deepest values.

Bertrand Piccard


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Hang-glider aerobatics was to remain a source of inspiration to Bertrand in his role as a doctor. It showed him how performance depends crucially on a person’s degree of self-awareness at a given moment. It also revealed that he was able to manage stressful situations in everyday life better, having first mastered the dangers encountered in flight. He acquired an ability to concentrate, as well as quick reactions, and these would help him to feel at ease when facing unforeseen circumstances and other hazards of life. It was this quest for self-awareness – an intuition of what is really essential - that led him to become a doctor and then a psychiatrist. Without going so far as to urge his patients to engage in extreme sports, he thought it possible to derive advantage from existential crises and teach them how to use their inner resources to help them become more responsible for their own personal development.

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«The way is now open for us to explore an unsuspected «space» within us, which daily life and all its demands usually prevent us from seeing. This «space» is the sensation of feeling oneself to be in action and at the very present moment.»

It was this quest for self-awareness - an intuition of what is really essential - that led him to become a doctor and then a psychiatrist.

- medias -


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