"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air …
… an excerpt from "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
When 19-year-old John Magee Jr., wrote "High Flight," he was just beginning his service in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941.
You don't have to go to war — or even learn to fly — to experience the feelings evoked by his winsome words. All you have to do is show up at the El Tiro Gliderport on El Tiro Road this Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14 and 15, with $50 in your hand. The Tucson Soaring Club is holding an "open house" and inviting anyone who has ever had an interest in flying or gliders, or just a curiosity, to come out and take advantage of "half priced" rides (they're usually $100).
Gates open at 9 a.m., with the first rides at 9:30 each day. There will also be a "2 Buck Lunch" which consists of a hot dog, chips and a drink, with other refreshments available.
The day's flights include glider rides as well as aerobatic demonstrations.
Each glider rider is also entered in a drawing for one of two "aerobatic" rides given away after the demonstrations at 4 p.m. each day. If you are present when your name is drawn, the extra ride is yours.
A pilot of powered airplanes who's never experienced the quietness of a glider ride might be able to expand aviation horizons and add another "memorable" flight to the logbook. The Tucson Soaring Club has more than 100 members, men and women, with 30 club-owned and privately owned gliders based at El Tiro. Instructors offer training from "basic pilot" through "instructor pilot" and even "cross-country" training.
How can an aircraft with no engine fly "cross-country?" In 1977, Karl Striedieck flew out and back a distance of 1,015 miles, flying from dawn to dusk after he took off from an airport on top of Bald Eagle Mountain in Pennsylvania, soaring to the starting point above Lock Haven, Pa., and flying along a ridge of mountains that took him through the states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and into Tennessee. Near Oak Ridge, Tenn., he photographed the Bull Run Creek Bridge to prove he was there, then turned and headed for home. Along the way out and back he searched to find thermals, the upward-rising currents of air that would keep him aloft, and he finally landed at the airport back in Lock Haven, his official start and end point, just before sunset. The flight took just minutes over 14 hours.
Striedieck had flown 1,000 miles another time the year before, but because of a camera glitch he had not properly photographed his halfway turn-around point, and he was denied the record until he repeated the flight.
In Argentina, in 2003, a German pilot named Klaus Ohlmann flew out and back a distance of 1,396 miles. Tony Smolder, one of the glider owners and a member at the Tucson Soaring Club, has flown 400-mile glider trips himself.
Andy Durbin, tow-plane pilot, said in his charming British accent that gliding is "… the least expensive way to learn to fly." Student pilots in gliders can "solo," flying the glider with no one else in the aircraft, as early as age 14, and can get their glider license at 16.
Nicola Galanta, 31, of Italy, is working in Arizona and decided to learn to fly gliders while he is here. He has done a dozen flights and hopes to solo within the next few weeks. "It's sporty," Galanta said. "It requires knowledge of all the items and you may be able to fly long times if you learn to use lift.
"It's also very relaxing."
Cool fall days usually make for the smoothest rides and are ideal for fun rides and flight training.
Tucson Soaring Club open house
Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 14-15
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
El Tiro Gliderport
18999 El Tiro Road, Marana
Free admission and parking
To schedule a ride, call Bill at 575-2500
For more information about the open house or flying lessons, call 275-2500.
To get to the open house, take Avra Valley Road 11 miles to Trico Road, and turn onto Trico Road north 2-1/2 miles to El Tiro Road at Super Mart, and turn left 4.5 miles to end of the road. The last mile or so is dirt, so please drive slowly.