A crisp, clear day with plenty of ‘marshmallow’ clouds in the sky is a glider’s paradise.
While not for the faint of heart, gliding is a somewhat niche sport for aviation enthusiasts or those just looking to enjoy the view from above. The maximum two-person aircraft has no engine and flies using natural air currents.
“[Gliding] is just like watching a bird circling in the air,” said Dale Guenter, president of the Southern Ontario Soaring Association (SOSA) Gliding Club in Rockton. Located south of the 401, it is the largest of its kind in Canada and is one of just three clubs that serve the Southwestern Ontario region.
A long-time aviation enthusiast, Guenter has overseen the club for nearly 15 years. He explained that gliders mainly rely on “thermals,” which are columns of air that get heated by the sun and gradually expand and rise. Pilots gain height by circling this column of air until they reach the top, and then fly to the next thermal. A tow plane lifts the glider into the sky using a rope; once the aircraft reaches 2,000 feet above ground, the glider is released.
“That’s when it gets nice and quiet,” Guenter said.
The average air time for a new glider is 20-30 minutes, but experienced pilots can fly for several hours across hundreds of kilometres.
Like most gliding clubs, SOSA is a not-for-profit club and it is entirely volunteer-run. It currently boasts 135 members, each of whom is responsible for their share of keeping the club up and running year-round. That includes everything from maintaining the grass runway, to servicing planes and organizing events.
This past summer, the club hosted the Pan American Gliding Championships for the first time in Canada. Forty-five contestants from Argentina, the United States and Canada competed for nine podium spots – four of which were snagged by SOSA members.
Kate Stewart, 26, visited SOSA on Thanksgiving weekend after some convincing from her friend Logan Orosz, who is a devoted member and flies almost every day. He was gearing up to take Stewart on an introductory flight.
“I’m excited and nervous,” she said, adding that she comes from a family of pilots who also encouraged her to try it. “It’s about time I get up there.”
Another member, 18-year-old Oliver, is well on his way to obtaining his pilot’s license after clocking the required flight time and perfecting his landings. “It’s a different perspective up there,” he said. “As long as you are comfortable and confident then there’s nothing that will go wrong.”
The view from the glider is impressive, particularly on a clear day, stretching from the Toronto skyline, to Kitchener-Waterloo, to Lake Erie and Niagara Falls. Anyone aged 14 and over can sign up for an introductory flight to try something new and satisfy a thrill-seeking, adventurous spirit.
“Most people can be nervous at some point,” said Guenter. “But it’s amazing … people with nervousness and motion sickness work through it and get past it. It can be a really big personal achievement.”
To learn more about SOSA Gliding Club visit their website.