I want to fly like an eagle to the sea
Fly like an eagle let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle till I’m free
Steve Miller – Fly like an eagle
Who has never dreamed of flying? Whether its in dreams of the night or dreams of the day most everyone has had dreams of flying.
But have you ever taken the next step and thought you might actually learn to fly?
While most of us will never learn to fly a powered aircraft, many of us can learn to fly, or at least give it a try in a quieter, generally safer and more bird like way.
There are several non-powered ways available for us to experience the thrill of flying including Hang-Gliding, Paragliding, or Soaring in a Sailplane. And if you’re rich and have the endurance of a Tour de France bicyclist, you might even try a human powered airplane like the Gossamer Albatross.
I have investigated Hang-Gliding in the past and Paragliding is something I am interested in, but soaring or flying in a Sailplane was always something I wanted to try. So what is a Sailplane or a Glider all about?
Sailplane / Glider
A sailplane is a beautiful and elegant piece of machinery that you may have seen flying in the skies soaring like a bird but thought it was a motorized plane. The technical definition of this craft is this.
“A sailplane, or glider, is an aircraft without an engine. Sailplanes are made out of a variety of materials, such as wood and fabric or more modern composite materials. In general, sailplanes are comprised of the following basic components: the fuselage with the cockpit where the pilot resides; the empennage with the vertical and horizontal tails and rudder; the elevator; and the wings, each equipped with an aileron. The pilot controls the roll movement of the sailplane with the ailerons. Yaw or the side to side movement of the nose of the sailplane is controlled with the rudder. The up and down movement of the nose of the sailplane, known as the pitch, is controlled with the elevator. Many modern sailplanes are also now equipped with winglets which are gracefully curved stationary extensions at the tip of each wing designed to help minimize drag and maximize lift. Flight computers that have GPS capabilities and use GIS data, such as digital topographic maps and other data such as airports, restricted airspace, or landmarks, are now used in many sailplanes to assist the pilot with navigation.” soaring.psu.edu
What a Sailplane really is, is the means to experience freedom unbounded and to “fly like an eagle”.
So what does someone who wants to “fly like and eagle” do to get started? My adventure started with the Soaring Society of America, an organization dedicated to the sport of soaring in sailplanes or gliders.
While the SSA does not offer flight training directly, they work with flight schools and clubs to help those interested in soaring learn through a program called the FAST program, or Fly a Sailplane Today.
The FAST program offers the opportunity to learn what soaring is all about. It is a program that offers you an introductory lesson in flying a glider, during which you will handle the controls of the aircraft under the guidance of an FAA certificated glider flight instructor.
The FAST program will direct you to a flight school or club in your area to get you flying on day one.
The program in my area led me to The Las Vegas Valley Soaring Association. The LVVSA founded in 1988 is “a not-for-profit sport glider club dedicated to furthering the sport of soaring”. The club is operated entirely by club members, who donate their personal time to the operation of all club activities. The LVVSA is a Chapter of the Soaring Society of America, and a member of the SSA.
The club is located in the Mojave Desert about 20 miles south of the Las Vegas Strip at the Jean Airport.
Arriving at the club house on the east side of the airport in the middle of summer it was right around a 100 degrees. The good news is that heat which can cause thermal updrafts can be your friend in the sport of soaring.
The LVVSA has several FAA Certified flight instructors and I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Jay McDaniel who I met when arriving at the club house. Jay took his first glider ride in 1984, in the same glider I would later be instructed in. Talk about history and experience, Jay has over 1730 hours in gliders in just over 4200 flights.
Jay received his Private Glider Rating in November 1985, his Commercial Rating in January 1997, and received his Instructor Certificate in January 2001.
Bottom line, any fear I had of not getting a proper introduction to Soaring vanished. Jay has an easy going but precise method of teaching and though I was still a bit nervous I still felt supremely confident at the same time. Having someone like Jay as your instructor can make all the difference when getting your introduction to flying gliders.
The beginning part of the FAST program starts with about an hour of pre-flight instruction. You learn some of the basics of flight dynamics such as how a glider flies and how it will respond to simple maneuvers. Once you have a basic understanding of these fundamentals you then proceed to do a glider safety inspection and then are readied for the flight itself.
I will let the following photographs and descriptions give you a better idea of the flight itself.
Let’s Go Flying
(Above) Jay walks me thru the outdoor parking area of a group of gliders owned by individual members of the club and four owned by the club itself. The club owns a Schweizer 2-33 (the one I flew in) a Schweizer 1-26 as well a two-seat higher performance Grob 103 glider and a single seat high performance LS-4 . The range of styles and models varied a lot from the older more utilitarian to high-tech modern versions.
(Above) Jay McDaniel introduces me to the glider I will fly in, the Schweizer 2-33, also known affectionately as the “Soar Cow”. This is the same glider Jay learned to fly in many years ago.
(Above) Here she is, the “Soar Cow”, not as streamlined and modern
as some of the other gliders, but to me she is beautiful.
(Above) Here Jay explains the basic controls and gauges of the Schweizer 2-33
in preparation for the flight.
(Above) Our tow pilot Rob “Boomer” Brandt sits in wait as we ready
the glider behind him just before takeoff.
(Above) Heading down the runway we are off on the adventure of flight, to fly like an eagle.
(Above) We released from the tow plane just after this photo was taken around 3000 feet above the level of the airport, which was around 5800 feet above sea level.
(Above) Jay navigates the glider for the first 10-15 minute then allows me the privilege to fly some basic turns and elevation changes on my own. Yeah…that’s me in the “drivers” seat. Jay was in the back keeping us safe and sound.
(Above) Jay takes over the controls and gives me the chance to photograph
some other gliders flying in the area.
(Above) Here is a shot of another glider as Jay brought the Schweizer 2-33 into a thermal updraft with four other gliders flying below us. Jay says that when a group of gliders share the same thermal updraft, flying like many birds do, it is called a “Gaggle”. Even rarer is when a lower performance glider like the 2-33 is the bird on top. 🙂
(Above) Heading back towards the airport we are on a careful look out
for other gliders in the area like this one.
(Above) Jay takes over the controls completely at this point as we parallel
the airport runway heading back to land.
(Above) The “Soar Cow” comes home safely and lands perfectly under Jay’s control.
(Above) A bit disapointed to be back on the ground, other flyers are coming in for a landing after enjoying their flight for the day. Like me I am sure they are wishing their flight could have lasted longer, but that’s what keeps them coming back for another day.
You too can learn to fly like and eagle.
While this was only a one day adventure into flying that most people can realize those who want to pursue the sport more fully can do so by becoming a pilot themselves.
According to the LVVSA website, if you have little or no flying experience, you can probably expect to fly solo in about 20-30 flights. If you are a power-transition pilot, it may take a few less. To become a licensed glider pilot, you will need to take a written exam administered by a FAA. Also required are an oral exam and a practical flight test administered by a FAA Flight Examiner.
So whether you are looking for a one day adventure or interested in an adventure of a lifetime, give soaring in a sailplane and flying like and eagle a try.
If you live in the Southern Nevada area and are ready to give soaring a go, contact the
Las Vegas Valley Soaring Association or go to the Soaring Society of America website and get started with the FAST program in an area near you.
Finally, Leonardo da Vinci said “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” Now I know what he means.
Post by Nicolas Hale
Special thanks to Las Vegas Soaring Association and especially to Jay McDaniel
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PS. The Las Vegas Valley Soaring Association is Art of Adventure Approved.
You know you want one.