Get some fresh air in Gregory with the Sandhill Soaring Club
By Andy Nixon
A local club offers the public a bird’s eye view of the surrounding neighborhoods through the magic of glider flight.
Gazing at the sky as a red-tailed hawk or vulture glides over the landscape has fired the human imagination for generations. Looking closely, you may notice the bird circling in a thermal to reach even greater heights. Everyone should experience the gliding sensation, and thanks to a local flying club in Gregory, you can.
Formed in 1984, the Sandhill Soaring Club trained new pilots aged 14 to 70. The club is located at 19935 Doyle Road at Richmond Field Airport – a grass runway dotted with a few metal hangars and a clubhouse. During the summer months, over 50 glider flights take place from this strip of grass each weekend. The public is always welcome to stop and watch the action or chat with one of the friendly pilots. Jim Nowacki, Treasurer of the Sandhill Soaring Club says, “As a 50130(c) non-profit organization, our club’s mission is to get people interested in aviation. It adds “our professional pilot’s full discovery flights for Boy Scouts as well as the general public on weekends.”
Coming from an aviation background, I had the chance to spend my weekends at Richmond Field from the age of 12. My grandfather discovered this hobby and believed that aviation was much more important than sleeping as a teenager. Sitting on a thick cushion in the front seat, I started my glider lessons with an 80-year-old former German Luftwaffe pilot named Eberhard Geyer, who signed me solo at age 14. Flying a glider alone before knowing how to drive a car was exhilarating. Today, as a private pilot, I continue to use the lessons learned while flying gliders.
To take off, a glider is towed behind a specially equipped aircraft. At the Sandhill Soaring Club, a former dust collector called Piper Pawnee usually does the job. A standard tow will bring the glider to 3,000 feet above the ground. Once the desired altitude is reached, the pilot will release the tow rope and be free to soar. Without an engine but with a long wingspan, a glider can stay aloft for hours with a skilled pilot due to rising columns of hot air called thermals. In fact, the fluffy clouds you see during the summer are formed by thermals. A gentleman named Fred Huenl of the Sandhill Soaring Club set a record in the early 1970s by flying his glider from Ionia, MI to Maryland in a single flight. The distance record stands today.
Taking a discovery flight is the best way to discover this relaxing hobby. Starting at noon on weekends, people can drop by and sign up for a ride. For the thrill seekers on your list, they also offer gift certificates. According to the club, July seems to be the least crowded month for rides, especially during the holidays.
For anyone wishing to become a member of the club, the fees are very reasonable. A one-time initiation fee of $500, with $37.50 paid as a monthly membership fee. Individual and family subscriptions are available. Once a member, gliders are rented by the hour starting at $20. A tug plane ride at 3,000 feet will cost you $40. Regarding expenses, Jim Nowacki mentioned that “flight instructors volunteer, as do the pilots who tow gliders aloft, which makes this hobby affordable for those interested in flying”. When comparing gliders to motor aircraft instruction and overall expense, this is an economical adventure for those looking to participate in aviation.
To spend time flying over the county, hearing the wind blow through the canopy becomes a relaxing escape from the events below. Brief turbulence will indicate that you have found a thermal. By circling the glider along the outside of the thermal, your altitude will steadily increase, allowing you to stay aloft. Don’t be surprised if a hawk or an eagle joins you in the fun circles as you both seek to achieve the same goal. When the flight is over, expect a soft landing on the grass field and a smile that will linger until your next tow through the air.
“And once you have tasted flight, you will walk on the earth with your eyes turned to the sky; because that’s where you’ve been, and there you’ll always want to go back. – Leonardo DeVinci
For questions visit www.sandhillsoaring.org or stop at Richmond Field.