I Loved Flying Sailplanes
Airplanes and flying run in both sides of my family. My father studied aeronautical engineering, but had to quit after he had kids, though he built, designed and flew model airplanes for sixty years, up until the day that he died. Oddly, he was scared of flying. A cousin is an airline pilot, an uncle was a flight engineer (flying "third seat") in WWII and during the Berlin airlift. Later he got a private license and his own plane. Another uncle also had a private license.
When I was ten, I had a ride in a Cessna 185 float plane, and the pilot let me take the controls for a while. After that experience, I always knew that I'd fly someday. Someday came in 1988.
I was living in Atlanta GA, and found out about a nearby glider club. I brought my girlfriend along, and she took the first flight. In my own devious way, I hoped that she'd like it enough to be supportive of my flying, and she was good natured enough not to be jealous of the time and money I spent on soaring.
The first sailplane I flew in was a Grob 103 two seater. Fortunately students get the front seat, and what a seat it is, with the incredible view out of the canopy. It's so much better than being in a powered airplane! There's no tall instrument panel to block most of your forward view, the wings are behind the cockpit, so they don't block the view out the sides, and there's no roof, just a clear plastic canopy. You never get the feeling that you're driving a machine in a sailplane. You're also reclined, as if you were sitting in a formula one car.
Occasionally, when the fiberglass sailplanes were in use by someone else, I flew in an ancient Schweitzer 2-33 sailplane we called the 'School Bus.' The metal wings made oilcan-like sounds as we rumbled down the runway, which was not confidence-inspiring. I avoided the School Bus whenever possible, though it was dirt-cheap to fly.
The second sailplane I flew was a Schleicher ASK-21 two seater. It was more refined than the Grob in its handling, and was rated for aerobatics. Doing loops at an altitude of 3000' in it was incredible. Point the nose down steeply, and when you reach 110 knots (127 mph) you pull back on the stick and feel the G's push you down in the seat. At the top of the loop you hang by your seat straps, looking up at an upside-down world through the canopy. What a feeling!
After I soloed in the ASK-21, I got to fly a single seat Grob 102. The difference between the two seat trainers and the 102 was surprising. It felt light as a feather, and responded to the slightest control input. You don't sit in a single-seat sailplane so much as you wear it. The wings were just behind my shoulders, and when I flew it I felt like a soaring bird.
Club soaring is some of the cheapest flying you can do in a professionally designed and built aircraft, and if you already have a pilot's license, you can add gliders to your license cheaply and easily. I met a lot of airline pilots, engineers and architects while flying sailplanes, though you don't need to be any of these to learn to fly gliders. If you're interested in learning to fly recreationally, you should definitely try an introductory soaring flight. The point of soaring is finding lift and staying aloft, using thermal, ridge or wave lift, instead of flying a power plane from point to point for the proverbial $100 cheesburger, which now runs at least $200. If you'd like to find out more about soaring or you'd like to find a nearby soaring club, go to ssa.org.