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For The Lancaster News
Perhaps you’ve seen a strange aircraft in the sky, one with extra long wings that makes no noise at all. Rest assured it’s not a UFO or a military drone. Chances are, it’s a glider that has taken off from Bermuda High Soaring School in eastern Lancaster County.
Located on S.C. 903, the facility operates as both a commercial business and a soaring club for members. In the commercial aspect, flight instruction and introductory flights are offered for those interested in flying a glider. From the club aspect, members can store their gliders at the facility, which works to promote cross-country soaring and social gatherings. For the past three years, Bermuda High has had a booth at the Shaw Air Force Base Air Show, and this year club members who manned the booth during the May 5-6 air show got a surprise from the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s official air demonstration team.
“We received a lithograph of the Thunderbirds in flight, signed by all of the pilots,” said Frank Reid, owner and operator of Bermuda High. “It was to show their appreciation for our promotion of aviation over many years. It was quite an honor for us.”
Jay Campbell, Bermuda High club member, and Robin Fleming, club member, and flight instructor, were there to receive the lithograph.
“I also think they gave it to us in appreciation for the time and trouble we take to participate in the air show,” Fleming said. “Our goal, when we are there, is to make the public aware of soaring and the place it has in modern aviation.”
Fleming said the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., teaches potential new pilots to fly gliders before anything else.
“Soaring is the most precise type of flying, other than acrobatics,” he said.
During the air show, the Bermuda High booth had a large flat-screen TV hooked up to a computer, which was used to demonstrate the actual flight of a glider as would be seen from the air.
“Because of the visualization, people were better able to understand how the glider can fly with no engines,” Campbell said. “Soaring is a very green sport; there is no noise or pollution while the glider is in flight. Anything like that would only come from the tow plane, which isn’t in the air for very long.”
Campbell said soaring uses the biggest engine that can be found – gravity – and uses the biggest fuel supply available – heat from the sun.
“On a good day, you can fly hundreds of miles,” he said. “The way it works is like this – you get energy from the sun. As it shines on the Earth, the heat is transferred to the air. If anything comes along to disturb that hot air, it rises in a bubble or a column. Then, all you do is find enough of that rising hot air to counteract the effects of gravity to extend the flight.”
The Earth provides many ways to use the sun’s energy, Campbell said, but it depends on the topography of the region and the time of year as far as what can be done in a glider.
“Around here, it’s thermal soaring, using the principle I just described,” he said. “But in the mountains, for example, you can do something called wave soaring. The upcurrents generated off the mountains make it possible to fly as high as 24,000 feet, with oxygen, of course, but that’s something strictly limited to the mountainous region.”
Campbell said that the highest recorded glider flight took place at an altitude of 51,000 feet, and the longest distance recorded was more than 2,000 kilometers, or about 1,200 miles.
“Those were under special conditions, of course,” Campbell said. “But it can be done in a glider, and that’s what is fun to prove.”
In this area, the tow plane pulls the glider to a height of 5,000 feet before releasing the glider from the tow cable. Like an eagle or other large bird of prey, the glider will find a current of warm air and circle, continuing to climb on the thermal energy of the current.
Landing the glider is done in much the same way, by circling toward the intended landing field, and is surprisingly smooth. A typical glider has a 66-foot wing span, twice the length of a regular private plane, and is composed of elements such as carbon, fiber and Kevlar, making it lightweight and efficient in flight.
“We have had to land in farmer’s fields many times, during extended flights, for one reason or another,” Campbell said.
“It sounds cliché, but in a glider, it happens quite often,” Reid added. “That’s another good thing about soaring – you can make a landing like that if you need to with very little fuss.”
Bermuda High Soaring School is open to the public Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. depending on weather conditions.
For details, visit the school’s website at www.glider.org or call (803) 475-7627. Prices for rides and flight instruction can be found on the website.