Residents get to soar with eagles for a day
Glider rides given to Franconia, Sugar Hill and Easton residents Saturday
|A Grob glider landing at the Franconia Field, Saturday, part of an all day event to thank residents for supporting the airfield. Art McGrath. (click for larger version)|
August 18, 2010FRANCONIA—Soaring as quietly as birds, around 60 residents of Franconia, Easton and Sugar Hill took to the air in gliders Saturday.
They were participating in what organizers in the Franconia Soaring Association hope will be an annual event aimed at the local community.
"It's our way of giving back to the community," said John Kwasnik, president of the association and primary organizer of the event.
Residents of the three towns were being given 10-minute rides in the gliders for $25 a person. Normally a ride costs $100 and left from the airfield on Route 116 in Franconia.
"The $25 is to cover our costs getting the gliders in the air," Kwasnik said. The numbers of people were more than he had hoped for.
Kwasnik said that the people in the three towns hear the airplanes all the time, especially on the weekend—sometimes as many as 25 flights per weekend day—and that the club wanted to thank people and give them a chance to see their communities from the air.
Two gliders were available. A Grob, which is a newer model made in Germany, and a Schweitzer, which is an older glider made in New York. The company no longer makes gliders but helicopters and during World War II made many military gliders. Most gliders today have to be bought from Europe, especially Eastern Europe, because of the cost of construction.
Each is a two-seater, which allowed one rider per flight. The passenger sat in the front seat to enjoy the spectacular views from 2,000 feet in the air.
Once safely strapped in, the glider was towed to 2,000 feet by a propeller driven tow plane. Take off was remarkably fast, it did not take much runaway to get airborne. Once the tow cable is released, the craft feels like it has been dropped from the powered aircraft. The glider slows and then turns quietly. The only noise is from the wind and the flaps operated by the pilot.
Going about 45 to 50 mph, the ground does not whip by but contours and landmarks can be observed at leisure. The ride ended all too quickly.
Two propeller driven planes were used to pull the gliders. A 1957 Cessna Bird Dog, which first served as an artillery spotting craft for the U.S. Army, then ended up in the French Air Force, before returning to the United States.
The other is a Piper Pawnee, which originally was used for crop-dusting and looks the part. The Bird Dog, because it is quieter, will eventually replace the Pawnee for most tow flights.
"We're trying to have as little impact on neighbors as possible," Kwasnik said.
The Franconia Field is the only field in the state dedicated exclusively to glider flights, Kwasnik said. Most others have been encroached upon by development, he said. The members of the association know how rare the field is and are doing what they can to protect it.
The location is perfectly suited to gliders. There are several different types of winds available, some of which can keep a glider in the air for five or six hours, according to Ed Gaffey, of Burlington, Mass., who also has a house in Swiftwater. With Cannon Mountain and ridges just beyond the airfield, there is plenty of opportunity to do all kinds of soaring, he said.
Kwasnik agreed and said there was no experience on earth like flying 25 feet above the trees on ridgeline while flying 70 mph. That was not an experience offered to guests on Saturday.
The ride the guests did have was enough to thrill them. The reaction of members of the Aydelott family—Jack, Peter, Judy and Katherine—all of Franconia, was typical.
"It was great. We see the planes all the time when we drive by and from our house. It was nice to be in them for a change," Jack Aydelott said. "And you can't beat it for $25."
He said he hopes the event is held again next year. He said he will be ready to fly up again.