by Ashley Stepanek
A couple of years ago, an item in the Maui newspaper caught Dexter Binder’s eye: an ad for a one-day-old mallard duck for $4. Dex bought the bird, brought him home and—presciently—named him Chuck Yeager after "Mr. Supersonic," the radical aviator who broke the speed of sound in 1948. For the first few months, the palm-sized, yellow duckling slept in a cardboard box near Dex’s pillow, but eventually he moved to a custom pen outside, one that Dex currently cleans three times a day. "Ducks are way more work than cats or dogs," he says with a smile, "but you can’t fly with a dog."
photos by Jaysun Cross
And you can definitely fly with Chucky. He was four months old when he started trying to take off in the backyard, fluttering his wings and standing up on his short legs. Dex decided it was time to take his pet to the training hill in Upcountry Maui, where he teaches (almost exclusively human) beginners to fly at his school, Proflyght Paragliding. Chucky took to aviation like a duck to... air, and today, Dex says, "He flies circles around me."
On any given day you can find the two of them preparing for flight about fifteen minutes up the hill in Kula’s Polipoli Flight Park. Dex runs down a grassy clearing in full paragliding gear—flight suit, helmet, harness and stringed wing overhead—trying to catch a breeze for lift-off over the treetops. Chucky waddles surprisingly fast after Dex, webbed feet running, wings flapping furiously.
Once they’re both in the air, Chucky slows down and effortlessly bows his wings, gliding alongside Dex, who skillfully directs his paraglider with slight pulls on the lines. Then Chucky’s wings start to flap again and suddenly proverbial rocket boosters fire out of the bird! Much like his wild brethren that fly south when it’s cold, he clocks thirty-five mph—almost twice the normal speed of a paraglider. Occasionally he doubles back to urge Dex on with quacks that sound like, "Hurry up, let’s go!" But seeing that it’s no use, he sets his emerald neck with determination, wags his feathery tail, and takes off like a shot, headed straight for the landing zone.