My stomach dropped and I squeaked out a gasping laugh as the glider plane took a nosedive towards the earth. I had asked the pilot if he knew how to perform any crazy tricks and he kindly obliged in providing me with an exhilarating adrenaline rush. Besides that several second free fall where we plummeted towards earth, I was surprised to find just how peaceful soaring in a glider plane can be.
Glider planes have always intrigued me and terrified me at the same time. The thought of flying in an aircraft with no motor sounds quite nuts if you ask me, but even so, it’s something I’ve always wanted to try.
When we were road tripping through the Finger Lakes, we had the opportunity to visit the National Soaring Museum on Harris Hill in Elmira, New York. On our first day of the trip, we toured the museum and learned so much about the history and technical side of soaring and aviation as a whole.
We saw the first forms of glider planes and how they progressed and developed over the years. We learned about how gliders fly and what conditions are needed such as thermals, ridge lift and wave lift and how wind and clouds play a part in these conditions. We were told stories of how gilder planes were used during past wars, which makes sense since they were silent, and plane engines were anything but. We heard tales about fantastic people and the feats they accomplished in glider planes. Simply put, I was fascinated. And I wanted to go soaring in a glider more than ever before.
After learning more about the history and understanding how gliders soar through the air, it made me much more comfortable and at ease with the thought of hopping in one for a flight. I was holding hope that we would have a chance to take a flight after touring the museum, but unfortunately, the conditions just weren’t cooperating and we had to stay grounded. We were told that we could come back for a flight later in the week if the weather conditions improved, so I basically kept my fingers crossed all week long.
As luck would have it, on the last day of our trip, we were given the green light—the weather was cooperating and we could come back for a ride! We rushed back to Harris Hill full of excitement, and honestly, just as many nerves to match.
There would be two pilots taking us out, and since we were road tripping with our friend Evan, there were three of us going for rides. We decided Evan and Micah would go up first and I would take the last spot. The butterflies in my stomach were growing when I watched Micah and Evan get towed across the runway. Thankfully, our lessons in how gliders stay up in the air did wonders to help calm me down.
When it was my turn, I climbed into the front seat and excitedly buckled up. After we closed the glass dome above us and gave the okay, the tow plane took off down the runway, pulling us with an attached rope. Watching the tow rope as we sailed through the air made me feel like we were flying on a kite. The pilot kept me posted every time a bump was coming up and what to expect when the tow rope cut us loose. He did a great job explaining how the air currents worked and it made me feel very comfortable despite the fact that we were flying without an engine.
Our flights lasted about 20 minutes and we got up to around 6,000 feet in elevation. The length of the flight and elevation you reach are dependent on the weather conditions of the day, so each flight will offer something a little different. And the pilots don’t typically do crazy tricks when they give people rides, but if you ask nicely, they might just oblige! Micah was happy to report that he had a entirely peaceful ride as he was not interested in nosediving towards earth like me!
The one thing that stood out to me throughout the flight was how quiet and peaceful it was as we were gliding through the air—the ride was so smooth that it was actually relaxing! Except for the nosedive, that was the perfect punch of adrenaline to make the flight unforgettable.
If you are in the Finger Lakes region and close to Elmira, making a trip to Harris Hill is a great decision. The museum is worth a visit on its own—it is fascinating if you have any interest in aviation and/or history, but if you have the chance, soaring in a glider is an experience you will never forget. It is one of our favorite adventures that we’ve had to date. In fact, we loved it so much that it spurred conversations about someday getting our pilots license!
Special thanks to the Corning and Southern Finger Lakes tourism board for organizing and hosting us on so many amazing adventures throughout our week in New York. As always, all opinions are our own.
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