June 06, 2007

Up, up and away: Look in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a glider

If you thought Tuesday was a beautiful day from the ground, imagine what it looked like from the sky. Well, pilots in 36 glider planes didn’t have to imagine as gliders from around the country competed for the second week.

The weeks of competition encompassed both regional and national contests at the Albert Lea Municipal Airport where gliders would soar for hours on end through the picturesque southern Minnesota airways, hoping to be the fastest glider in the bunch.

“It was a good flight,” said glider pilot and competitor Roy Bourgeois after he finished a four and a half hour flight. “I’m happy to be back at this point.”

Tuesday’s competition had gliders taking off from Albert Lea, flying to Sleepy Eye, Osage, Iowa; almost to Faribault and back. Roy was the first to take off in the open class and the first to get back, but he said he felt his time was a little slow.

“I saw a good piece of Minnesota today,” said Roy, who is originally from Boston. “It’s a pretty state.”

The picturesque scenes from the sky aren’t the only reason the gliding competitors often find themselves in Albert Lea. Roy and his son Dan, who is from Denver, said they have met only friendly and supportive faces in town.

“The people are just a pleasure to meet and speak with,” Roy said.

While the friendly people are a plus, the gliders have been coming to Albert Lea since 1992 to compete, and unfortunately this year brought frustrating weather conditions. Last week was intended for the Region 7 Competition, but those gliders only saw one day of decent weather and two are needed to make an official contest. Dan, who intended to fly in the regionals, didn’t get to compete.

“We just got unlucky on the weather,” said Paul Remde of Cumulus Soaring, who managed the competition.

The U.S. Open Class Nationals Championship and the 18-Meter Class Nationals Championship flew this week, ending today, and had three good days of flying so far. Four are needed to make an official contest and glider pilots are hoping today brings them good weather. These particular competitions had the largest outcome Remde had ever seen, at 58 gliders competing in both races.

A gliding competitions is much like any other race. Contestants have to hit a few different marks on the flight plan and then return home with the fastest time. However, most gliders do not have an engine so they must be towed up into the air to start and soar on thermals, much like a hawk. To gain altitude the glider circles around in a thermal and then glides to the next thermal until it reaches its destination.

Some gliders reach up to 100 mph between thermals, depending on the weight of the plane. The heavier the plane the better so most carry water weight, which they then dump as they come to a landing. Tuesday’s competition saw gliders stay in the air for four and a half hours, flying almost 300 miles.

By Sarah Kirchner

Read more of this article's from the source at: The Albert Lea Tribune

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