This article is from The Seattle Post Inelligencer Jan 11, 2007
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Glider Ride On Oahu: Soar like a bird over paradise
|THE ORIGINAL GLIDER RIDES|
|A tow plane pulls a glider aloft over the Oahu coast. After release, the glider generally will cover a radius of five to six miles during its 20-minute flight. The aircraft can carry up to two passengers.|
When you fly in a glider, you're still floating in air, absorbing spectacular views while drifting casually toward earth; but instead of hanging limply from a parachute, you are enveloped by the protective cocoon of a non-powered plane.
"It's the most exciting adventure many people have on the island," says Bill Star, aka Mr. Bill, co-owner of The Original Glider Rides.
After 36 years in business, he's confident of its popularity and dedicated to giving visitors an experience to remember. Situated on Oahu's famed North Shore, The Original Glider Rides takes off from Dillingham Airfield, about a 50-minute drive from Waikiki.
Riders may go individually (weight limit 270 pounds) or in pairs (combined weight under 340 pounds). But if you're flying with a companion -- my adult daughter and I shared a ride -- be sure it's someone you don't mind cozying up with in the compact rear seat.
While twosomes ride in the back, a single can opt for the front -- and the opportunity to take control of the glider in a mini flying lesson, an option my husband, Larry, chose. The FAA-certified pilot gave instructions from the rear seat -- and fortunately had duplicate controls, since Larry was too busy savoring glorious scenery, as well as snapping picture after picture, to be bothered with flying the glider, too.
Because a glider has no engine it must be towed into the sky by another plane. How high you go depends on the length of the ride and wind currents. Rides generally ascend to 2,500 feet, cover a five- to six-mile radius, and last about 20 minutes.
After making sure my daughter and I were properly snug, our pilot, a member of the Honolulu Soaring Club, maneuvered the lightweight craft into position, tethered it to a small plane and hopped in just before we started skimming the runway.
|THE ORIGINAL GLIDER RIDES|
|Gliding silently over the blue Pacific is a heavenly, reasonably smooth experience, depending on the air currents.|
Takeoff feels like being pulled in a sled or wagon. Suddenly the glider's wheels are off the ground and, ever so quietly when we reach the desired altitude, the tether is dropped, and the host plane flies away. There we are -- gliding through the air, awed by the spectacular beauty of Hawaii's coastline.
Row after row of waves roll to shore, break silently against the sand, and retreat. Coral shines beneath the clear blue water. I catch glimpses of cattle and horse trails along rugged volcanic mountains of the Waianae range, and the vegetation seems greener from our vantage point. Blocks of sugar cane fields from Waialua Plantation drift beneath me. Sunlight casts long shadows over mountains, surf and sea -- we can even see the shadow of our glider.
It's eerily quiet. Being motorless, the glider moves silently, with only the sound of wind and our clicking cameras to break the reverie. With 30 to 40 miles of visibility, the view from our bubble-topped sailplane is breathtaking. "We fly in a rural area, perfect for sightseeing," says Mr. Bill, who knows the landscape thoroughly.
Whoosh -- a rush of air lifts us higher; then a downdraft plunges the craft. Although winds may buffet the plane with up and down movement, the ride is still reasonably smooth -- unless you have an adventurous pilot bent on giving you a thrill ride.
Gliders stay airborne from air flowing over the wings, creating lower pressure on top. Because this low pressure only partially supports the weight of the glider, it gradually descends. By maneuvering the glider to catch thermals or updrafts, the pilot keeps the aircraft aloft and can climb higher.
If you're game, the pilot can achieve a roller-coaster effect -- or not, if your stomach rebels to extra motion.
Truly gutsy riders can take a spin in one of the company's specialty aircraft designed to perform a series of aerobatic maneuvers at 5,000 feet. Tackle the loop-the-loop, roll wing-tip to wing-tip, or draw cloverleafs in the sky. Want an even wilder ride? The pilot can pull the craft straight up into a hammerhead stall and then take it into a straight down vertical dive, where G-forces slam your body.
For our trio, the milder scenic tour provides enough excitement. We float gracefully through the air, enjoying panoramic vistas as the glider slowly drifts downward. We see the ground approaching and wish the ride could last longer.
With a slight bump, wheels touch the runway, and the glider wobbles gently to a stop. The pilot jumps out to properly align the craft and move it to the edge of the runway. Our adventure ends, but the thrill and excitement linger. "Absolutely fantastic," says my daughter, and I agree.
When you go, allow enough time, either before your ride or after, to enjoy the many beaches and major waves -- if you're lucky -- for which the North Shore is famous. Rent scooters or kayaks at Waimea Bay, to extend your adventure either on shore or in the water. Also factor in time for sampling shaved ice and sightseeing at Haleiwa, a quaint historic town and surfer mecca with abundant shopping and dining opportunities.
The Original Glider Rides offers flights daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., weather permitting.
A 20-minute scenic ride is $99; the aerobatic ride is $169; lots of other options available. Check for Internet specials and discount coupons at honolulusoaring.com. Call 808-637-0207 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
"Real time" videos (made with cameras inside and outside the glider and a microphone to record your comments) are $35.
Return to www.HonoluluSoaring.com