© Courtesy Réal Le Gouëff
Up, up and away
…in a shiny soaring machine
Flying gliders is, frankly, fabulous. It’s hard to convey the thrill of soaring silently as a bird and gazing down on the earth below. With Mother Nature’s help, you can enjoy that feeling for many hours of fun. Like sailing, it’s a sport in perfect harmony with nature.
Canada is a great place for gliding. There are gliding clubs across the country, which you can find through the Soaring Association of Canada (sac.ca). Some clubs even offer RV camping which leads to an interesting social life with new friends, great parties and evenings around campfires swapping gliding stories.
For kids considering a career as a pilot, gliding offers terrific benefits: they can learn to fly on the cheap and Transport Canada will credit them with a number of flying hours toward a future pilot licence.
Getting up there
In most cases, gliders are towed up to a given altitude and released to fly on their own. Some gliders, though, have small engines to enable them to take off without a tow. In other cases, engines are designed just to sustain flight.
In the photo above, I’m flying with my co-pilot Alain Laprade above Hawkesbury, ON. We’re in a unique motor glider with an engine that can be retracted into the fuselage when its work is done and allow us to take full advantage of this gracious, high-performing craft.
You don’t need supernatural skills to be a glider pilot. When I was learning to fly, I was very anxious to know if I was going to make it. I asked my instructor what he thought of my chances. He looked at me with ice cold eyes, waited a few seconds, and as I was almost having a nervous breakdown awaiting a devastating comment, he got closer and asked me in the most severe manner, “Do you know how to ride a bicycle?”
Choked with apprehension, I answered with an almost inaudible, “Yes.” He burst out laughing and shouted, “Well then don’t worry, you’ll be able to fly a glider, no problem!”
In terms of performance, it’s almost unbelievable what these machines can do. For instance, a reasonably good glider, released at an altitude of 2000 metres, can travel about 60 kilometres and the best ones can do a lot more.
As you might imagine, many factors come into play which effect performance. You need to use strategies taking into account the terrain, the weather, the winds, your location and the best time of the day to take you where you want to go. The idea is to fly where you wish during a day of gliding always with the goal of returning to the home field at flight’s end. On the other hand, you can simply stay close to the gliding club’s home field. One of the beauties of the sport is that you can gear it to the amount of challenge you’re ready for on any given day.
If you’re the solitary kind, you can use a single seat glider and go your own way. More social types fly two seaters and enjoy the benefit of a co-pilot on board to share the experience.
Gliding is not as expensive as you might think. Despite the fact that we are most of the time flying expensive rented machines, it ends up being cheaper and more engaging than many other summer sports. And if you really get in to it, you can always buy your own glider. A second-hand reasonably good machine will be less expensive than the average ordinary new car.
Like to experience the sport? Most the gliding clubs offer introductory rides. They’ll help you see for yourself what gliding is all about and will introduce you to a new world which you just might find is as addictive as it’s been for me.
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.