Leonard, president of the Midwestern Soaring Association, watches
the club's tow plane come in for a landing at Richter Field
as Mike Haynes waits in the cockpit for his turn to soar. A
group of dedicated glider enthusiasts gathers almost every weekend
during the spring through fall to fly from the grass airstrip near
Barn swallows dive for bugs on the grassy runway of Richter Field,
35 miles south of Kansas City, as the blazing sun beats down on members
of the Midwestern Soaring Association. Waiting for take off in the
engineless aircraft, Ron Leonard wipes the sweat off his brow as the
temperature inside the cockpit rises to nearly 130 degrees.
Most Missourians would wilt in the summer sun, but Ron welcomes the
heat. Where there’s heat, there’s lift. Ron eyes the clouds
as he readies a bright red glider for flight.
The hum of a high-wing airplane is heard 200 feet up the runway. A
bright yellow rope connects the two aircraft like an umbilical cord.
Suddenly, the tow plane revs its engine and rumbles down the grass
runway. The rope pulls taut and Ron jerks back in his seat as the glider
lurches forward. Soon, the ground disappears and the glider is in flight
before the tow plane has even taken off.
As the planes climb
to the silver base of the cumulus clouds, houses and cornfields shrink
below. At 2,500 feet, Ron reaches for the bright red knob on his
dashboard, and a loud pop echoes through the cockpit. The glider
breaks free from the tow plane and sails through the blue sky like
a hawk in flight.
Every weekend for
the past seven years, the Midwestern Soaring Association has come
to Richter Field, just outside of Pleasant Hill, to relive what the
Wright brothers started more than 100 years ago. About a dozen members
take turns sailing through the air on the wings of 500-pound gliders
that typically travel 60-80 mph.
a retired engineer from Platte City, has served as vice president
of the 50-year-old association for the past nine years and loves
the liberty to move in three dimensions when flying.
Mike Haynes flies a sleek sailplane. Gliders can stay aloft anywhere
from 20 minutes to hours depending on lift and flight conditions.
is something unique,” he says. “Like swimming,
you can do flips, dive and go upside down.”
As a child, he
flew in his dreams. As an adult, he comes to Richter Field every
weekend to soar. After he takes off, members of the association hang
out in the shade and watch as Stu tries to find a thermal with some
Thermals are created
from the heat when ground temperatures rise and release moisture
into the atmosphere. The rising moisture collects and creates clouds.
Pilots look for clouds as indicators of rising warm air, which provide
lift, allowing gliders to defy gravity and sail without an engine
for hours. Ron,
a member of Osage Valley Electric Cooperative, explains, “The
trick is to find air that’s rising up faster than going down.”
|Stu Ostrander controls the dual passenger glider flying at 60
mph above Richter Field.
good lift, pilots can glide for hundreds of miles. Every year
Leonard participates in a distance competition called the Kowbell
Klassic in Hutchinson, Kan. The unpredictability and challenge fuel
his passion for distance gliding.
out against uncertainty, against things you can’t control,
bound by forces you can’t see,” says Ron. “You
come back thinking, ‘Wow,
I just went 200 miles in a plane that wasn’t powered
by anything but chance.’”
Ignited by the
thrill of flying, Ron has led the association as president for the
past 11 years. His father, a test pilot for Cessna, originally
exposed him to planes as a child. Ron can remember going
to the airport every weekend with his dad and two brothers.
up there was a little airport about three miles from my home,” he
recalls. “We would drive to the airport and then
fly a two-seater, powered plane to the glider airport about
30 miles away. For me, a family outing was to go gliding.”
haven’t changed much. Ron lives about 10 miles
from Richter Field, and he still goes to the airport
every weekend. The thrill of the sport and the family
tradition keep him coming back.
Members of the
association refer to Ron’s hobby as “the flying bug.”
“It’s the irresistible urge to fly airplanes at any expense,” says
Steve Wert, a member of the soaring association.
Scott Jake and Michael Bruan pull Ron’s
glider out of a 35-foot-long trailer. Ron spends about an hour
assembling the plane for flight.
a part of the association makes the expense of flying more manageable. The
association rents a hanger and airfield and offers free flying lessons
from a certified instructor. In exchange for a $250 initial membership
fee and $25 monthly dues, members receive access to three
gliders. They pay $8 an hour to fly the planes, plus
an additional $23 for each tow from a powered aircraft.
Every week an online
poll determines whether there’s enough interest and
tow pilots willing to fly that weekend. Without
tow pilots it’s impossible
to fly. The association is always looking for tow
pilots as well as new members. Beginners can fly with a licensed
pilot in the dual passenger glider but a license is required to
which includes about 50 dues-paying members, offers free rides to
those interested, but asks larger groups to give a contribution to
support the association, as it isn’t legally allowed to sell
rides. Would-be fliers can join the group’s e-mail list where
information on soaring and upcoming flights is discussed.
frees glider enthusiasts from the expense of owning their own aircraft
and allows like-minded aviators to learn from each
other and share the thrill of powerless flight.
A day of flying might cost $30 to $60 — comparable
to a fishing trip’s worth of gas or a
greens fee at a golf club.
two-seat glider comes in for a landing at Richter Field. The
club often offers introductory flights to guests.
But members say
the chance to soar on the wind is unlike any other
“It’s quite an experience to be in a thermal and then see a hawk
100 feet above you,” says Steve. “It’s
the closest thing that people can do to fly
like a bird.”
Stu agrees the
experience is unlike anything else.
mind-boggling,” he says. “You’re in something heavier
than air and you can just go wherever you want. I’m an engineer
and know how it works, but I still marvel at the phenomena.”
a 2004 University of Missouri School of Journalism graduate interned
for Rural Missouri in 2005. For more information about the Midwestern
Soaring Association, call Stu Ostrander at (816) 903-0212 or visit
Web site at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kcsoaring24/.
|Stu, left, and his
wife, Kathy, push the glider off of the runway to make room for
the next plane to take off. Because gliders don’t
have engines, they can’t be taxied off the runway.