Soar across the Upstate: Gliding can liberate thrill-seekers

Ira Pace

Upon landing at Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport, which serves as the base of operations for the Carolina Soaring Association, Phil Neumann climbed out of his glider to take a break from riding the thermals.

Neumann, the youngest member of the association, is trying to increase membership, especially among aspiring hobbyists – including college students. He would love to see more students from the Upstate taking off daily.

At Greenville Technical College, Nuemann studies mechanical engineer. He has been flying for his entire lifetime, while owning a gliding license for the past six years.

Soaring is overall more affordable than normal flight lessons. Using only a tow plane or winch to garner speed and altitude, gliders can travel long distances or fly around the area for fun.

Some flights can last up to five hours depending on the weather and abundance of thermals, with gliders reaching speeds of almost 150 miles per hour. Thermals are up-drafts of warm air, which carry the gliders higher and increase their speed.

The club even offers discounts for students. Waiving the initiation fee, a monthly fee of $10 covers most of the expenses for students. Other expenses include launching fees. Tow plane launches cost $35, while winch launches are only $7.50. Winches require an individual to “wind-up” the tension ropes. Even working the winch can earn a free launch. For every 10 launches a student runs the winch, a free winch launch is given.

“Gliding does not have the instant gratification like many hobbies or sports, but after a year of lessons and practice, it offers such freedom,” said Neumann.  “Sticking with this can be the most liberating experience; flying is the most freeing experience one can enjoy. The hardest part of gliding is overcoming the lack of dedication.”

Thanks to Spartanburg’s mild climate, the Carolina Soaring Association enjoy flights every weekend, weather permitting. Anyone interested is encouraged to contact the club via their website . The club will be happy to have any students who are dedicated to join.