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The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch - Sleepy Eye, MN
  • Like a bird

  • I love my job!

     


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  • I love my job!
    Last Friday I had the opportunity to go to the Sleepy Eye Airport and interview members of the Minnesota Soaring Club based out of Stanton.
    They had brought five sailplanes by trailer and one two-seater training plane, called the Owl, was towed by Aero tow from Stanton.
    These ‘gliders,’ as they are commonly called, are designed to navigate between thermals with a minimum of lost altitude.
    “What the heck are thermals?” I asked the members.
    They explained that thermals are rising air currents created by the fluffy cumulous clouds. There is one very important difference between these sailplanes and regular powered aircraft—they do not have an engine or propeller.
    Gulp!
    These small planes soar very much like a bird does, sustaining flight by taking advantage of rising currents of air. Since sailplanes don’t have wings to flap like a bird they need some way to get enough altitude to soar. These glider planes on Friday  use what is technically referred to as an Aero tow. A single engine plane equipped with a tow hook and a 200 ft. rope connects the tow plane to the sailplane with a similar hook. The tow plane pulls the sailplane up until the sailplane releases the rope, typically between 2,000 and 3,000 ft. above the ground. 
    Once the glider pilot releases the tow rope they circle the air like a bird, rising and soaring on the currents.
    The members of the soaring club told me they like the Sleepy Eye Airport because it is structured much like the airport they are based out of in Stanton. Both airports feature wide, grass runways and are well maintained.
    Not only that, they agreed they always feel welcome and have so much fun when they come to Sleepy Eye.
    “We come over to Sleepy Eye mainly to fly and have fun,”?said soaring club member Dale Fletcher.
    Members of the soaring club first came to Sleepy Eye in 1975 when they were looking for an airport to set up a competition with the glider planes. They did not start making it an annual event until about 15 years ago when one member remember how much fun they had in Sleepy Eye and decided to return.
    Each year since then the group has had buttons made signifying the event. This year’s buttons, of which I am a proud owner of one, says “Soar Sleepy Eye, MSC 2012.”?
    Dale told me he’s been piloting glider plans for the past 42 years. He explained that getting a glider pilots license is similar to getting a powered aircraft license, except you don’t have to know about the fuel and engines and the test you take is specifically for gliders.
    Page 2 of 2 - After watching some take off and landings, I was offered a ride.
    Double gulp!?
    Anyone who knows me knows that going up two steps on a ladder gives me vertigo, and lets not even revisit what happens to me on cruise ships!?
    After a momentary laps in judgement, I decided to put on my big girl panties and give it a whirl.
    Phil Schmalz, the pilot, climbed into the “backseat” of the glider and after his preflight checklist gave me some simple directions. Because it was a training plane, there were controls in both the front and the back and I would need to steer clear of bumping the joystick that steered the glider as we were in the air.
    “I’ll let you know what we are doing the entire time so you will know what to expect before it happens,” Phil told me.
    “Okay,”?I?said meekly, wondering if it was too late to jump out and run screaming back to my car.
    “We are about to take off. Are you ready?”?he asked me.
    I believe I mumbled something that resembled an agreement, but my heart was thundering in my chest so hard I thought Phil could probably hear it!
    The glider has three small wheels on it that help it glide across the grass runway while it is being towed. It was a surprisingly smooth ride! It didn’t take long until we were airborne.
    Shortly thereafter Phil cut the tow rope and we were at the mercy of the thermals.
    What an indescribable feeling!!
    I asked Phil if I could take a picture with my cell phone while we were in the air. I?knew my friends and family would never believe I had done this without proof!
    Following the experience I came home breathless as I?told my kids what I?had gotten to do that day.
    “Lucky,”?they grumbled. “Why do you get to do all the fun stuff?” they muttered.
    I think I was still smiling that night as I went to bed.
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