Saturday, October 15, 2005


This morning I decided to attend a meeting of the Civil Air Patrol glider flight here in Phoenix. They are based out of a glider port a good ways north of town, but since I live on the north side of town anyway, it wasn't too tough to get to. I have pretty much curtailed my flying for the time being since I'm nervous spending that kind of money for something that is not essential. We aren't hurting for money, but freelance writing is an inherently financially unstable undertaking, so it just doesn't make sense to spend $100-300/month on something that I don't really have to. I'm kind of bummed about that fact, but it's a trade off I'm more than willing to make to be a full-time writer.

One of the big reasons flying is so expensive is due to the cost of gas these days, of course. My natural thought, then, was "Hey! Gliders don't use fuel! Why don't I get a glider rating?" It turns out that since I'm already a private pilot, I can get a glider rating after just a dozen or so flights. Pretty easy to do. If I used a Civil Air Patrol instructor, they don't charge for their time (CAP prohibits it since we are an all-volunteer organization), and using CAP's glider only costs about $10/flight (to help pay for maintenance). Sounds like a good way to keep proficiency, eh?

Sadly, no. While the glider is cheap, the thing still has to be towed to altitude. That costs about $55/flight to tow up to 3000 feet. Since I can rent a Cessna 152 (the two-seat powered plane I learned to fly in) for about $61/hour -- and gliders don't generally stay up for an hour per flight -- it's actually cheaper to just stay current in powered aircraft. Ah well.

Still, I can think of no feeling that's closer to actually flying like a bird than piloting a sailplane. I'm told they are very, very quiet. You don't hear anything but the wind whistling across the fuselage. There is no electrical system in the airplane (since there is no motor to power it), so the instrumentation is very simple. Nothing but pure, unadultered flying. Definitely worth trying once or twice, but since I mainly want to fly for pragmatic reasons (to take my family places, fly search and rescue, etc.), it's really not going to be something I will sink the money into. It's too bad, really -- as I've said before, authors should collect experiences to inspire their writing, and I think this would be a good one. If there is a glider port near you, I think you'd find it worth your while to take a demo flight. I think I'll satisfy myself with that as well...

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