Fear Conquering & Gliding in a Sailplane
A big thank you to Mark Twain Country and Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes for providing this soaring adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.

Veronica soars above the Fingerlakes at Harris Hill Soaring in New York

Considering that I have now jumped out of an airplane at 10,000 feet in Australia and paraglided off the sea cliffs of Lima, Peru, one would think that I would have no fear of sailplaning.

And I didn't. Until I did.

I had about three-week's notice before taking on this challenge, and with that buffer between the now and the future of it, I only had a happy excitement looking forward.

I didn't even lose a wink of sleep the night before.

I knew the basics; I was going up in a motorless airplane, said plane would be dragged into the air by another plane - one with a motor - by a rope of some sort, then at some point the cord would be cut.

Normally, that would scare the bejeezus out of me, but it didn't.

Until it did.

A sign for Horseheads, New York. You can't make these things up!
You can't make these things up!

We arrived at the mountaintop airfield where our pilot, Steve, proclaimed it a perfect day for soaring. I didn't know about the soaring part, but from my end, it was a perfect day for anything.

It was a flat-out gorgeous spring morning in Horseheads, New York (real name, not making it up!) with bold blue skies full of clouds that told stories.

We had a bit of time to wait before our flight, so David and I sat atop the picnic table behind the main building of Harris Hill Soaring and watched the goings on.

David gets ready to go gliding in at Harris Hill Sailing in New York

That's when I freaked out.

For starters, the planes (both the motorless and motorful) were tiny, so tiny that I couldn't figure out how the pilots were stuffing their legs into the sailplane.

<-- See? Where are David's legs?! Where will Steve's legs go?

Claustrophobia was rearing its head.

Sailplane with its wing on the ground

My tipping point came when I noticed that a sailplane can't sit upright on its own wheels.

Every landing ended with a wing plopping down on the ground.

For some reason, this really shook me.

But I was determined (people do this every day and do not die... people do this...) to do some fear conquering. So when Steve was ready for me, I took a deep breath and heroically strode forced one foot in front of the other to the microscopic plane and went for it.

After a brief safety session (don't touch anything!), I climbed aboard (in the front seat!) and Captain Steve lowered the glass top and instrument panel over me. Everything below my knees disappeared.

Sailplanes are a tight fit!
People do this every day and do not...

The tow plane soon made an entrance and a beautifully choreographed chord attachment was performed by student volunteers working in exchange for lessons. This warmed my heart because our son, The Boy, spent many, many hours at our local airport working his way toward his pilot's license when he was a kid.

I think he appreciates his life as a professional pilot all the more because he worked so hard for it.

Hooking up the glider to the tow plane at Harris Hill Soaring in New York
Note the sideways lean, the wing is on the ground!

With a tug, we were moving down the shockingly short runway -- the end of which was a cliff at the edge of the mountain -- fast approaching... aaaaaaand we're up!

Watch: An unbelievably beautiful experience. And, yes, also scary. Of course, I get in my usual goofy "fear questions" between gasps and panic peeps.

Getting towed in a glider by the tow plane at Harris Hill Soaring
Tow plane working hard to get us in the air


Getting in position to let go of the tow plane - exhilarating!

As we sailed, Steve patiently answered my fear questions.

Do you or does the other pilot cut the cord? I do and it's released, not cut. But it can be cut in case of emergency.

You guys don't have a radio and aren't communicating via voice? No we are a team and my job is to stay behind him and keep his wings on the horizon.

What's causing that sideways scoot? We are between two thermals.

Is my head too big? Can you see around it? No answer.

And much, much more. Watch the video if you don't believe me. ;)

Steve my trusty glider pilot at Harris Hill Soaring, in Horseheads, New York
A poorly executed selfie turned out to be a really cool shot
of Captain Steve!

Steve explained to me the dynamic of how a sailplane stays aloft.

Cool nights and warm days create temperature differences that cause air to rotate in thermal columns.

A glider pilot will capture a thermal to gain altitude. There's a lot of spinning around with the air during this process, with a surprising little amount centrifugal force.

On a perfect day like the one we had, we could soar until nightfall (though I'm guessing the bathroom facilities aboard are primative). It crossed my mind to ask what would happen if we stayed in a thermal for too long, but I chickened out.

When we caught an especially good thermal Steve told me "now we're soaring just like an eagle."

The eagle analogy worked for me and I settled into a peaceful mindset. Once I stopped freaking out I found the motorless quiet calming, and was able to observe how much more smooth the flight was than in any other aircraft I've ridden.

Sailplaning high over the Chemung River in New York!
High above the Chemung River - the blues and greens are spectacular!

In eagle mode, I soaked in the stunning scenery as we chased the blue and green Chemung River, looked out over farms and pasture land (baby lambs!) and viewed the Finger Lakes from a distance.

I never wanted to come down.

The National Soaring Museum in Horseheads, New York
There's also a really cool museum on the grounds

After safely landing, David and I bid farewell to Captain Steve and walked over to the National Soaring Museum.

Eileen Collins, the first woman space shuttle pilot as seen at the National Soaring Museum in Elmira, New York

My favorite exhibit told the story of Eileen Collins.

Not only was she the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, but she was brave enough to command the first flight after the Columbia mission lost all seven astronauts aboard.

Ms. Collins found her inspiration to fly while growing up in the area and watching the sailplanes take off from Harris Hill.

She now gives back to her community by hosting aerospace camps every year at the museum and in turn inspires a new generation of aviation lovers.

Eileen Collins' NASA flight suit seen at the National Soaring Museum in Horseheads, New York

The Albatross, a glider that forced the pilot to fly with his head out the window. Seen at the National Soaring Museum on Harris Hill in New York.

As always, we were attracted to the odd stuff -- this time scattered in amongst the beautifully restored sailplanes -- our top picks being:

The Albatross. For some reason, someone decided to create a flying machine where the pilot must soar with his head out the window.

Talk about the wind in one's hair and bugs in one's teeth!

A truck that used to sling gliders in the air at the National Soaring Museum in New York

And an old General Motors pickup truck outfitted with a high-speed winch used to slingshot gliders into the air.

All in all, I liked Captain Steve's method better.

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

DELVE DEEPER and find more to do in the Finger Lakes Area of New York:
Visit the Harris Hill Soaring website
Kick some glass in Corning!
We drove our motorhome on Watkins Glen Speedway!
Go plum Western at the Rockwell Museum
See all of our adventures in New York!

A big thank you to Mark Twain Country and Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes for providing this soaring adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.

YOUR TURN: Would you go up in a tiny, motorless plane?




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