Look Ma’ No Engines


October is a great time for flying in my area. The foliage colors are in full swing and quite a sight from a few thousand feet. After trying to take my fiance up and having to cancel because of weather and maintenance I was running out of time. I had a random day off of work so I figured I should give something new a try. I have always heard that flying gliders makes you a better pilot. I happen to be lucky enough to have two great soaring airports nearby. Wurtsboro airport and Blairstown airport are each about an hour from my house.

Wurtsboro Airport claims to be one of the oldest operating glider ports in the country. It sits in a valley not far from Ellenville which is a popular hang gliding and paragliding spot. What makes this area great for soaring is the large ridge that cuts through it. The wind hits the ridge and creates a lot of lift which takes your glider up and up. At least that is how it should work once you know what you are doing. I for one had no idea what I was doing.

When I walked into the office to start my lesson I was greeted by the airport operator and head CFI Warren. Also hanging out was the airport dog, Dick the WWII veteran tow pilot, and Dan the airport mechanic. Right away I felt like this was one of those hometown airports I always hear about. A place people go just to hangar talk and hang around. My airport is a corporate airport for the most part and has no personality at all.

After some quick paper work it was time to head out and fly. Warren walked me through everything and what to expect. Our glider for the day was a classic Schweizer SGS 2-33 one of the most popular gliders ever produced in the United States. The Schweizer Aircraft company was actually based not too far away in Elmira, NY.

Once we maneuvered the glider up to the tow area we hooked up the tow line. Gliding is bit of a group activity because it takes quite a few people to make it work. You need a tow pilot, a wing walker, and of course a flight instructor. Once we gave the signal to start the flight we were off. After only a few seconds the glider pops off the ground. Since we actually start flying before the tow plane you have to push the nose back down. Otherwise you might pull the tow plane right off the ground and then all sorts of bad things happen. Within a few more seconds we were off the ground and slowly climbing. This is the part that really surprised me. I had no idea the tow ride was so ‘exciting’ we were constantly moving the stick and rudders all over to stay in the right place behind the tow plane. It seems like this is going to be the hardest part to get the hang of.

Once we were about 2,200ft above the ground I pulled the tow line release. All of a sudden it was real quiet. Coming from a powered plane background it was quite strange. We didn’t have to wear headsets and you could just speak normally to the instructor. It was really quite cool. After I got a feel for the controls and did a few turns we headed back for the airport. Even though the glider was a decades old design it still has a glide ratio of about 22:1. Which means for 22 feet forward for every foot it descends. Quite impressive considering my usual Cessna 172 glides about 9:1.

The whole site picture and everything will take some getting used to. It seemed like there was no way we would make the runway flying a full left pattern. Not only did we make it but we had to bleed off altitude with the spoilers to get it coming down. The whole flight only lasted about 10-15min but was really fun. I was running low on time so I couldn’t get another flight in. I think once spring comes I will head up there and take a few more flights to see if it is something I want to pursue. So far it was a blast and I recommend fellow powered pilots to give it a try some time.

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