‘Whole different kind of feeling’: Local soaring group hosts annual glider competition
Riding updrafts like a roller coaster, about 20 gliders climb higher and higher above Truckee before soaring off into the distance.
The goal is to maintain altitude and speed in an effort to go a few hundred miles from the Truckee Tahoe Airport to Chester, then to Ravendale, and then finishing back at the airport.
Among those competing at Truckee Tahoe Soaring Association’s annual glider contest are members of the United States Air Force Academy, and while first-place finishes may have go to more experienced pilots, the airtime gained above Truckee and Lake Tahoe — a venue that poses unique challenges due to elevation and surrounding mountains, according to local pilots — has proved invaluable.
“I’m a little nervous but I’m feeling ready to go,” said Air Force Academy junior Drew Waite. “I’m ready to do what we’re trained to do and do our best at it.”
Waite said the key to being successful in glider flying events — competitions in which pilots are towed into the air by powered aircraft, and then glide from point to point on a predetermined course — is to give plenty of time to plan and think about where the best conditions are in order to keep a glider in the air and moving quickly.
“It’s thinking about what you’re going to do when all else fails,” said Waite.
This week’s competition in Truckee is the first for Waite, who said he plans on becoming a pilot following his time at the Air Force Academy. He’s been flying for several years but said the experience of gliding versus a powered aircraft comes down to a matter of feel.
“It’s just the feeling of being in the air with in something without an engine,” said Waite. “Getting to feel the air better than you would in any powered plane is whole different kind of feeling. Especially in a small plane like this, you can feel the air on your body almost. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Cadet Lauren Reed, a junior at the Air Force Academy, grew up with both her parents flying. This week marks her second competition, and another chance to gain experience in the air.
“It’s challenging. You learn a lot,” said Reed. “It definitely puts you outside your comfort zone. There’s a lot to it. A lot of it is just feel and experience and that’s something you only get with time. For us, in these competitions, it’s hard for us to compete, but we learn a lot and it’s a great experience.”
Another member of the Air Force Academy, Wyatt Porter made his first competitive flights this week and remarked on the challenging conditions presented by pilots at altitudes of the Sierra Nevada.
“It’s pretty challenging out here with the mountain conditions and having to get out of what we call the bowl with the local mountains around here,” said Porter, who added that changing conditions forced pilots to adjust during races.
“Really, with the winds, (Tuesday) we had out of the east and now we’ll have winds out of the west (Wednesday), it completely changes depending on which side of the hill is heating up and the winds that you are getting off that hill where the winds are going to be.”
Cadet Avery Simer was a first-time competitor at this week’s soaring event and after several planes were unable to make it back to the Truckee Tahoe Airport — including one that had to make a landing in Lake Tahoe while others made landing at airports across the area — she said safety was top priority.
“It’s not worth it to us to go and try and win a competition if we’re risking critical safety,” said Simer. “We’re always briefing that as our number one priority … to be able to be trusted with the aircraft and have the Air Force title, you’re representing the Air Force in everything that you do.”
While roughly 20 gliders soared above Truckee, members of the Truckee Tahoe Soaring Association were on the ground lending a helping hand.
When Soaring Association youngster Makaela Wallace wasn’t helping get gliders off the ground, she was impressing Air Force majors with her skills in the academy’s flight simulators.
“My family has always been flying for various activities and stuff,” said Wallace on raising a few eyebrows with her aviation abilities. “My dad was a pilot for quite a few years.”
This week’s racing will conclude this weekend and has been hosted by Truckee Tahoe Soaring Association. The organization has been together for roughly a half decade and has been a nonprofit since 2015. Truckee Tahoe Soaring Association offers a free youth aviation training program through an application process.
“It’s the best way to start,” said President Karol Hines. “You know so much more about what you’re doing in the air, how everything is working … your flying skills become much more honed.”
Typically, around a dozen children are selected each year for the program.
“The point is they get to learn how to fly,” added Hines. “They learn leadership. They learn aeronautics. They learn avionics. They learn everything about flying and managing a glider operation.”
Truckee Tahoe Soaring Association aims to advance the science, art, and safety of soaring flight in the Northern California and Nevada region with a specific focus on training the next generation of soaring pilots and aviation youth leaders to serve their community and society.
For more information, visit http://www.soartruckee.org.
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