I Flew in a Glider! (That’s an Airplane with NO Engine!)

‘Highway to the danger zone…’

I’m late in posting this, simply because I haven’t had the time to devote to doing a good job reporting back to you, dear readers, on one of my most exciting experiences lately: flying in a glider.

Not far from our casa upstate is Wurtsboro Airport, which lets regular folk like you and me go up in a glider with an experienced pilot. Brendan was awesome enough to spring for a gift ride for my birthday.

Why go up in a glider? Well, duh, it’s freaking cool. And, we had watched dozens if not hundreds of gliders soar in circles above our property, so it was time to find out what they saw. I mean, did we need to worry that they could tell our lawn needed mowing and our retaining wall looks a little iffy? Or worse, could they see me toodling around the garden, talking to chipmunks?

First you might be wondering what the heck these things are. Gliders are long, lightweight airplanes that lack an engine. They float on thermals — warm updrafts of air created under certain conditions, like in valleys between friendly mountains. We live in an area with good thermals, hence the glider airport nearby.  While some gliders do have engines, most of the ones flying near us are silent, and move kind of slowly. [By the way, raptors (hawks, eagles, vultures) are basically biological forms of gliders, and are often out soaring near the glider airplanes, like little bird flying buddies. As seen in a previous post of mine.]

Without an engine, gliders gotta get up in the air via a less-than-majestic tow ride, usually little single engine prop planes. And all that’s attaching you to the tow plane is a little rope. This is the glider and tow plane that went up before me.

It’s a surprisingly smooth ride, not unlike going up in a passenger jet.

Where do retired U.S. army planes go after they’ve left the service? Well, now you know. That’s the town of Wurtsboro and the Shawangunk Mountains in the not-so-distant view.

As the tow plane lifts you higher and higher, your pilot will put you in charge of one important role: releasing the tow rope. All I had to do — on his signal — was pull a lever and boom! The rope fell away. The tow plane also dove down, headed back to the airport. We, on the other hand, started gliding. Weeeeeee!

This was my view not long after we said good-bye to the tow rope.

My pilot began hunting for little pockets of clear sky — sun beams breaking through the clouds create nice thermals, keeping us aloft. The design of gliders, by the way, mean it’s really hard to lose control, even if the thermals wimp out on you.

After spending a few minutes soaring amid the mountains, I asked him if we could head over to our home, to get a closer look. He ascertained the thermals were OK, and he begun a turn. However, he had a warning: Being in a glider that’s turning,  along with looking down, is basically the fastest way to feel motion sick. Grrrrreat. I already felt queasy, but really curious. It’s a strange combo. I tried to stop looking down. But couldn’t.

Our house! From the air! I kind of want to vomit!

I texted Brendan and asked him to come outside. I could just barely see him waving at me. But I also felt more queasy, as texting and taking photos while gliding? I was apparently wearing my Bad Idea Jeans. I did at least find out that most pilots probably can’t see our property too easily.

At this point, stomach somewhere miles behind me, I decided to chill — telling myself, just enjoy the ride and stop trying to take photos. That helped, except when it comes to having more blog fodder: Therefore, we’ll have to cut short to the landing.

Fortunately, this was easy-breezy! As smooth as an plane landing I’ve experienced, plus with the added bonus of being able to immediately exit the plane and runway.

Thank you Wurtsboro Airport! It was a blast.

8 thoughts on “I Flew in a Glider! (That’s an Airplane with NO Engine!)

  1. craig says:

    Found your blog through the Wurtsboro Facebook page.
    Loved reading it.
    A few interesting comments-
    -I’m pretty sure I’m the person flying the green-with-stripes glider that took off before you. I remember talking to the CFI that day, who spoke of a girl taking photos of her house.
    -The tow plane is an L-19 “bird dog” and they have one painted Army and one painted Air Force…It is also not just where old Army airplanes go to retire, it is where old Army pilots go to retire 🙂 The chief tow pilot flew bombers in WWII!
    -Loved your comment on how birds are natural gliders. I have had the pleasure of circling in thermals with bald eagles over Wurtsboro. They occasionally sort of of looked over with a confused look.

  2. Steve Bartlett says:

    From a newly minted Wurtsboro glider pilot, I enjoyed your enthusiastic description and photos. Well written and fun article.

  3. fati's recipes says:

    I was wondering how it’d get up in the air without an engine! 🙂 Seems like such an amazing adventure, but I think I’d worry myself thinking them ‘perfect’ conditions won’t happen when I decide to try it one day…. 😉

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