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I was fortunate as a kid in high school. I worked hard enough to pay for about 75% of the cost of getting my Private Pilot certificate and my parents rewarded good grades and staying out of trouble by providing the rest of the money I needed. They were also willing to drive me to the airport until a few months after my 16th birthday. At some point, they decided that, if I could fly solo up and down the Tennessee Valley in a Piper Cherokee, I could darn well drive myself to the airport. Looking back, I see their point.

At the time, I had dreams of flying for the airlines. The airline industry at the time was in a down cycle and anyone without military experience was in for a long, slow road. I ended up getting an engineering degree in college, a choice I’ve never regretted. A glider add-on rating is fairly easy even for a low time pilot, so, during one of my spring breaks, instead of going to Florida like many of my classmates, I drove back and forth to the Chilhowee Gliderport in Benton, Tennessee and earned my glider rating. I soloed on my second day and completed all my requirements for the rating by the end of the week.


I soloed the glider on my second day of training.

When I came to Ohio, I joined a local glider club and eventually earned a Commercial Certificate added to the glider side of my license. The club offers glider rides to visitors, but to fly a paying visitor at the club, you have to have your Commercial Certificate even though you are not getting paid. Usually club instructors fly these guest flights, but on days when they are busy, it helps to have someone with their Commercial to take that extra load off the instructors. It is always a lot of fun and you meet some really great people.

Flying a glider from the back seat is easier in many ways than flying from the front. The canopy rails provide for a reference to the horizon and it is easier to tell if you are slipping or skidding with the long nose ahead of you. I have also found that I like to keep my eyes on my passengers from the back seat. Their head movement tells me if they are doing OK or if they are ready to land. I learned early on that long before a passenger asks to land, they do a head-bob that is unmistakable.


From the backseat, it is easier to tell if you are slipping or skidding with the long nose ahead of you.

There are a few passengers that stand out over the years. When I reentered the dating world after a midlife divorce, I asked a date if she would be willing to go up with me in a glider. To my surprise, she accepted. While she does not share my passion for aviation, she has proven to be a skilled copilot when we fly powered aircraft. I surprised her when I proposed to her at the Cloud 9 Café next to the airport in Prestonsburg Kentucky. To this day, I am glad she said yes, if only to avoid the awkward silence for the 90 minute flight home.

Flying experienced power pilots in gliders is always entertaining. Most powered aircraft do not need a lot of rudder these days. Gliders generate a lot of adverse aileron yaw, and you have to fly with your feet as much as you do the stick. One afternoon, I flew a gentleman that owned a Cherokee Six. Cherokees are wonderful airplanes, but they are not known for needing much rudder in the air. I let him have the controls of the Blanik sailplane we were flying and, as I had guessed, he needed some work on his rudder coordination. I then had him follow along on the controls to show him how much rudder is needed in the glider. Though he tried hard, he never did get the feel of it.

One afternoon, I was asked to help fly a group of Boy Scouts. I did about six flights that day in blazing heat. Staying hydrated was a real struggle and “pretzeling” myself in and out of the Schweizer 2-33 was no fun at all but, on the other hand, the kids were having a blast! They were polite, respectful, and appreciative. It may have been a long day, but it was one of those days you live for.

One afternoon a longtime friend and coworker asked if I would be willing to take his two teenaged kids for a flight. Seeing what the kids got out of the flights was interesting and caused me to reflect on why I enjoy soaring. His son was a typical gearhead. He couldn’t wait to get on the controls. He enjoyed doing wingovers, stalls, steep turns etc. and asked a million questions.

His daughter on the other hand had no interest in taking the controls, but she enjoyed the quiet and the beauty it. She was particularly thrilled when a hawk joined us in a thermal for a few minutes. She didn’t ask many questions. She was simply content to enjoy the experience.


My friend’s daughter had no interest in taking the controls, but she enjoyed the quiet and the beauty it.

What I learned that day is that the appeal of soaring for me is a combination of the two kids’ experiences. I enjoy the technical challenge of flying gliders, but there is also the aesthetic quality. Gliders connect with the air in a special way. They work with the air rather than against it.

At least twice, I have had the privilege of taking WWII veterans up for their first flights. One of them was a triage medic on Okinawa. He was on the beach on April 2, 1945. Interestingly, 25 years later I played on the very same beach when my father was stationed on the island.

The other gentleman that I flew with was an armorer on the aircraft carrier USS Essex. I first took him up for his 97th birthday. After the flight, I casually mentioned that we should do it again when he turned 100. A couple of years later, his son called and asked if the offer for another glider flight was still good. Even at 100, he was in great shape. The only accommodation we had to make for him was to use a golf cart for him on the flightline. Taking these two gentlemen up brought my flying back to when I started to fly in high school. My original flight instructor was a C-47 pilot in North Africa during the war. All three of them had at least one thing in common: they were all cooler than any of us could hope to be.

There is one passenger who was by far the most memorable. A lady had brought her two daughters, a teenager and a child of about eight, to the gliderport for rides. The teenager was much like my coworker’s daughter, polite, respectful, a good kid. With the ballast, I was able to put her in the front seat of the glider, and we had a great flight. The problem with her younger sister was that she was a tiny child. Even with all the ballast we had, we would have been behind the back of the CG envelope with her in the front seat. The only way to fly with her would be to put her in the back seat where I couldn’t see her very well. Her mother and I talked the child through what was expected of her, what she could, and couldn’t touch, and by the time we’d finished, we were both comfortable that I could fly her safely.

It seems like once in a while you get a passenger that “gets it”. I could tell that she understood about flying when we were about 100 feet in the air on takeoff. From behind me, I heard this long drawn out “woooooowww caaoooooolllll”. Throughout the flight, I would ask how she was doing or what she thought, and the answer was mostly some form of “wow, cool, or neato”, always drawn out with a sense of awe in her voice. After the flight, she darned near hugged the stuffings out of me. I would like to think that maybe by now there is a lady flying F-16’s or a 737 for Southwest, who tells people about how she got the flying bug when her mom took her and her sister to a gliderport one day.

We are all familiar with the grand descriptions of flight by John Magee, or Richard Bach, or perhaps Ernest Gann. They speak as adults to other adults and they do a fine job of it. At its simplest, flight goes beyond description. Flight speaks to that inner child in all of us, full of wonder and amazement, the potential for untold adventures in a limitless sky. Just like the WWII veterans that I flew took me back to where I started my flying as a teenager, that child took me all the way back to where I began, back to when I first fell in love with flight.

Bill Hunt
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6 replies
  1. Dale C Hill
    Dale C Hill says:

    Bill, What a great way to share your love of flight with others, especially the youngsters. When I was commander of the 61st Fighter Squadron (the Top Dawgs) at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL, the 56th Fighter Wing (of which the Top Dawgs were one of four F-16 training squadrons) had a base ‘Open House’. There were many different aircraft that flew in to support the event as static displays for our visitors to view. Each of the four squadrons sponsored various crews who had flown in for the long weekend. Among others, the Top Dawgs sponsored two instructors from the Air Force Academy (the AFA in Colorado Springs, CO) who flew a powered glider used to train AFA Cadets, to Florida. Yes, it had an engine with which it could launch itself and then shut down and glide. I don’t recall how long it took those two intrepid aviators to make their journey, but, as their host, I offered them a flight in the back seat of an F-16 on a range mission (dropping bombs and shooting the 20 MM cannon) and, being good aviators, they jumped at the opportunity! They really enjoyed that flight and, after landing, they offered to give me a flight in one of their unpowered (and fully aerobatic!) gliders should I ever get to Colorado Springs. My parents retired in Colorado Springs, so when my family went to visit them one week, I made certain that I got that flight! For someone who has flown low and slow as a Forward Air Controller in an OV-10, fast in T-38s as an IP, not so fast in A-10s and REALLY fast in F-16s, that was a memorable experience to hear the air rushing past the canopy and to watch the other aviators in the sky (the birds) share the thermals as we soared and swooped over the Rockies! The only part of the flight where I was uncomfortable was when we flew inverted for an extended period — probably less than 30 seconds, but an eternity for me because that particular part of the flight envelope was prohibited in every airplane in which I was qualified — negative ‘g’s’ would disrupt the flow of oil from its intended purpose — oil pressure was what controlled the pitch of the props in the OV10 (you could experience a ‘runaway’ prop with zero oil pressure), and, of course, the flow of oil kept the engines in the OV-10, the T-38 and the A-10 as well as the ONLY engine in the F-16 operating! BTW, the Thunderbirds have a special set-up with their airplanes so they can do the negative ‘g’ thing for their shows. BTW, I love the Museum at W-P having donated my SEA ‘Party Suit’ among other things to their collection. Cheers & Check 6!

    • William Hunt
      William Hunt says:

      I was taking a class at Hurlburt several years back. One of the other folks was an F-15 pilot got his glider rating in Texas. I made the offer that if he came to Wright Patt that we’d get together and fly the Blanik. A few months later he was up here and we managed to get a flight in. It was kind of a weak day. I was doing ok with it, then he had a try. My thinking was “he’s a Texas pilot, booming lift, what does he know about little gopher fart thermals in Ohio?” Turned out he knew more than I did. His technique was jerky, abrupt, hyper-fast, vastly vastly different from what I was doing, but it worked. It worked much better. What I learned that day was that it doesn’t matter what you fly. An excellent pilot is an excellent pilot, regardless of what you fly. I learned quite a lot that day and it’s stayed with me.

      BTW: I flew my neighbors kid to Indiana Saturday in a 172 to an airport that has an ice cream stand next to it. It’s part of my plan to get a rock from the moon or Mars. It’s been looking like the kid is getting the aviation bug. I figure he’ll join the Air Force (maybe Navy), become a test pilot, join NASA, then be ready for the Mission to Mars. I’m playing the long game here…

  2. Caio Braga
    Caio Braga says:

    First time in a glider was last year during summer. Instantly became enamored with the “quiet flight”. Sick and rudder skills at its best. Having learned to fly in stick/rudder aircrafts (ultralights), the transition to glider flying was quite seamless. I am looking forward to the day I have more time to join the glider club and be able to volunteer and fly these “birds”.

    • William Hunt
      William Hunt says:

      Someone like you would have absolutely no problem at all. It looks like you’ve got the bug!! Have fun!!


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