The Big Mac Blog

Big Mac Travel Blog: The glider ride

Riding in a glider a few thousand feet above the ground is a rare thrill.
Riding in a glider a few thousand feet above the ground is a rare thrill.

Minutes before commencing on a thrill-seeking adventure the bigger thrill came when not a single waiver document was needed for a timely departure.

Talk about un-American, where malls will soon require a signature or two just to walk through the door to avoid any potential liability.

But a glider pilot in the middle of the desert near Phoenix?

“If I crash and kill you I know your family is going to sue me even if you do sign the documents, so what’s the difference?” the pilot, Gary, told me.

On that note of encouragement I embarked on my very first, and hopefully not the last, glider flight. This is a uniquely awesome experience that I cannot recommend enough.

I literally stumbled into a place that should just list its mailing address as “The Desert.” What passes for an airport is a small shack and a long stretch of dusty land next to a trailer park.

The planes that tow the glider don’t exactly look new, and it doesn’t appear as if the FAA knows this place even exists (it does).

Gliding, more commonly referred to as “soaring” — is just one of those niche “sports” and outdoor activities that receives virtually no attention. There are only about 10,000 credentialed glider pilots in the U.S. How often have you ever seen an actual glider, or sailplane?

The only time I can remember seeing one was Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo in the 1999 movie “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

Or watching clips of old World War II movies when a tow plane carried ground troops in the infamously titled, “Flying Coffins.”

This particular sailplane seats a pilot, and up to as many as two passengers. It has no motor, and glides on the winds. Sailplane is the perfect description. It feels like taking a sail in the air.

The glider is attached by a rope, and it’s towed down a runway by a small plane. We climbed to about 3,000 feet above the ground when the pilot said, “Don’t hold to anything. We are going to take a little bit of a drop when we detach.”

He wasn’t lying. When the cable goes, so too does the plane and the bottom of your stomach drops, the same sensation one might feel on a roller coaster. The only difference is you are 3,000 feet in the sky, but it’s not a jolting drop. The sailplane ride is smooth.

It is a serene way to fly; with no prop’ blade or motor, a sailplane is quiet and offers expansive views of any horizon. In this case, you get a good view of the mountains in Flagstaff, Arizona, which are about 100 miles north.

The fun came when the pilot took a few turns, and then you really feel it. Or when he made a pass at the runway; he went into a sharp dive only to pull up and then fly up and down as he circled back for a landing that grinds into the gravel.

The ride lasts about 15 minutes, and it left me asking, “Can we go again?”

The answer is, yes, provided you have another $150 for another go, but there are no forms to sign.

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Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof