Soar Truckee sends people to new heights
July 6, 2017
There's a feeling of weightlessness and complete tranquility that comes with gliding above State Route 267, gently picking up in elevation and drifting along, soaring above Lake Tahoe and looking down at your favorite landmarks from the sky with a perfect bird's eye view.
The Truckee Tahoe Soaring Association runs Soar Truckee, featuring tow planes for glider tours, private pilots, as well as club soaring affiliations and a flight school.
These pilots give people the ride of their life as they're gently towed into the sky by a plane and released at the right elevation to float in the air until you're ready to gently drift back to the runway.
The relaxing and serene experience is one of a kind for a passenger and truly profound for the pilot.
"Truckee is one of the greatest places to glide, not just for the views but because of its elevation," said Richard Pearl, the association's vice president.
Gliders are able to lift into the air to around 15,000 feet and are capped at 18,000 feet. Truckee is cold during summer nights, which traps the air in the rocky landscape.
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"The heat from the sun releases these pockets and you can get up higher — you could spend all day up there," Pearl said.
Gliders weigh 500 pounds to 1,200 pounds and pilots add water to the ballast to increase the weight so the crafts can go faster at the same lift over drag ratio.
Before landing, the water is dropped from the water bladders enclosed in the glider's wings.
"Soaring is really a community sport," Pearl said. "You need help from others. We promote a family atmosphere with 35 camp sites and people who are happy to help pack and unpack the gliders, always willing to give advice."
During their three- to four-month season, the Truckee Tahoe Soaring Association works diligently on training the next generation of pilots through their flight school.
"We have line kids here who help take care of the gliders — they're the eyes and ears of safety around here and as they grow up they stick with aviation through college," Pearl said.
The wall of the glider clubhouse showcases portraits of some of the line children who went on to fly in the military and even for commercial airlines.
"People donate to the nonprofit to help kids get their licenses. These young ladies and gentlemen are learning and achieving all the way up to their commercial license. This program really helps the kids, it teaches them a lot of respect," Pearl said.
There is a strong sense of community among the glider families who house their amazing machines at Soar Truckee. On Saturday nights they barbecue, and all of the pilots share the knowledge they've gained through years of gliding experience. That roster of pilots includes the association's chief flight instructor, an 81-year-old former pilot for the Dutch Air Force with over 12,000 glider hours and 20,000 glider flights logged.
One of Soar Truckee's former line kids, Pablo Saso-Perkins, has been able to work toward earning his glider pilot license through the association. He now is living his dream, flying gliders, and working with other passionate glider pilots of the Soaring Association.
"Flying has always been my passion," he said. "This place gave me the opportunity to work toward my license, and I took it."
Gliders are a tight squeeze — in a touring vessel the pilot sits up front, manning the controls and up to two passengers are snugly seated in a second row.
The roof is a transparent bubble that gives a complete view of the world around, kind of like floating through the air in a bubble.
Single-seat gliders are even more of a tight fit, allowing the pilot the room they need to man the craft, and not do much else.
Henryk Birecki is a glider pilot of 30-plus years, who hails from Poland but flies regularly out of Truckee.
"You have all the world in front of you so you forget you're stuck in there," said Birecki of the glider's narrow seating situation.
"My favorite thing about gliding is the challenge — being able to go somewhere far away and coming back to Truckee," he said.
One of the pieces of wisdom he imparted was about always maintaining a healthy level of respect for exactly what you're doing in the air.
"Novices are too scared to do something crazy, while experts have nothing to prove," he said. "You have to treat it always with respect."
Pilots first go through ground training, then solo training, and then plenty of solo flight hours before earning their private pilots license.
Before each tour the ritual is the same — safety check the radio, gears and wings. Next, walk around the entire craft, observing for potential issues. Following the visual check is a positive control check, ensuring that the controls on the inside are controlling the outside, properly.
Once the checks are complete the glider is hooked up by cable to the tow plane. The two crafts line up on the runway with attendants holding the glider's wings level as the tow plane begins to gradually pick up speed.
The glider is gently lifted off of the ground behind the plane for a smooth takeoff.
Once airborne, the tow plane and glider pilots communicate with one another to reach elevation where it's safe to disconnect the glider from the tow.
At that point, the glider pilot signifies his passengers and pulls the "rip-cord", if you will, officially freeing the glider from the plane and sending its passengers on a relaxing and breathtaking slow drift.
Gliders land back on the runway when control lets them know it's safe to do so, and before long the craft has gently kissed the earth once more, until it eventually slows to a complete stop. That's smooth sailing.
Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.