Short Final: Soaring


My first piloting experience was as an Air Force Academy cadet, soaring at the Academy’s airfield (6576 feet MSL). This great summer program offered a checkout and 25 hours in Schweizer two‑ and single‑seat gliders. There were more winch tows than tow ships, so the opportunities to venture far for lift were limited.

My big chance finally came in the Schweizer 1‑26 single when I chanced on a booming updraft. We had been instructed to report such on the radio, which I attempted. While peering at the altimeter’s “1” and a bunch of zeroes, I breathlessly told the world that I had strong lift and was passing “a hundred thousand” feet. Needless to say my instructor and all my buddies were more than eager to welcome me back to the airfield.

Wilhelm Percival

Las Vegas, Nevada

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  1. Not far from the USAF Academy was Black Forest Gliderport (now closed). One of my fondest aviation memories is a wave-soaring flight over Pikes Peak in the early ’80’s. Dressed in cold-weather gear and breathing from a diluter-demand oxygen mask, we released at 7,500 MSL and then soared the wave to 21,000 MSL. I have the barograph to prove it as well as a photo looking down on the cog railway station on top of Pikes Peak. We could have gone higher but ATC wouldn’t allow it due to conflicts with the airliners going into (then) Stapleton. Returning to Black Forest, our altitude was still up in the teens. I asked if we could do spins to descend. One of my fondest aviation photographs is looking down on the hangar roof painted with “Black Forest” and in the frame I captured the yaw string fully out to the side proving we were in a spin. Those were the days, my friends.

  2. Great story. Soaring is thriving today with Duo Discus, Discus 2s, and DG-1000s, contractor-flown Super Cub tow planes, and acro and racing teams that regularly travel to compete. Best leadership program at USAFA!
    Bob W, ’95

  3. Thank you for the story Wilhelm. It’s been over 30 years since I last flew a 1-26 or 2-33 but your story brought back many memories. We flew around central Illinois so our flights were all aero tows and thermalling but loads of fun. A lot of great stories.

  4. I fly jets, turboprops, single and multi-engine seaplanes, helicopters vintagew–nearly every kind of aircraft–but perhaps the most fun in flying is gliders.

    Other than a motor glider, NOBODY flies a glider by themselves–it takes a towplane, someone to run the wing to get the glider into position–someone to run the lines–each person on the flight line helps the others, and receives help in return. This results in the tightest-knit camaraderie in the aviation business. In what OTHER aviation activity can a neophyte mingle with the “best in the business”–and afterward, everybody socializes. Can you imagine flying with, socializing, or getting tips from “the best in the business” from any OTHER aspect of aviation?

    There’s no “business use” for gliders–no pretense of using it for transportation–it’s just FUN–and a chance to have fun with friends. It’s something that has become rare in the General Aviation business!