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Cheap Thrills

By Val Paget

Some glider pilots were sitting on the deck of the clubhouse reliving the day’s flights.  One gave a detailed description the 325 mile flight he made. A recently licensed pilot celebrated her Silver Badge distance flight of 32 miles.  Another just smiled and recalled the afternoon spent flying from cloud to cloud, soaring with the hawks. No one was thinking about the cost of the flight. No one needed to worry about it.

Glider on TowSoaring, or gliding as it is also called, is an unusual sport.  The better you get, the less it costs. The current charge for getting a tow plane to give you a lift up to 2,000’ is about $25. That is the only costs for power.  All the rest of the power will come from the energy you harness. The sunlight that warmed the earth and created the thermal lift and the wind that blew across the ridge line creating an up-draft are free. At most clubs, the rental fee is about $12 an hour for the glider.  A three hour flight cost only $24 more than a one hour flight.  In power, many aircraft cost $130 an hour or $390 for a three hour flight,

Clayton Jones, licensed glider pilot and a member of Soaring Club of Houston for five years, made the following observations:

“Soaring is cheaper than golf.  Heck, it’s cheaper than flying radio control aircraft. Then, being a Texan, he felt compelled to translate the comparison into a regional context, “All that fun for less money than a deer lease for a season.”

Clayton carries all the invoices and records for his flights in his flight bag, so he had the cost break-down for all his flying. During his first 2 ½ years in the club, Clayton spent $6,500. This is the total including initiation, club dues of $30 per month, Soaring Society of America membership, insurance, instruction (free with membership) tows, and rental of club gliders

He made 170 flights for 150 hours of flight time.  Twenty-four of these flights lasted over 2 hours.  These were his first hours of any type of flying. He became a licensed glider pilot and now averages well over two hours per flight. That’s $24.50 an hour.

Glider pilots sometimes reach the point that they want their own glider. I wanted to have the freedom to take a glider to contests and to trailer it west for mountain soaring.  Three other pilots joined me in purchasing PW5, a 13.5m World Class glider. The total cost of the new glider and trailer was $24,000. We flew that glider for 4 years.  At that point, I wanted to spend more time flying at various sites around the country, so I sold my share and bought another PW5. Here is a break-down on the cost:

The author and a PW5PW5 World Class Glider and trailer -$24,000
Depreciation of glider after 4 years- $2,000
Note: Gliders hold their value- a used glider often does not depreciate.
Annual inspection -$35 per year (That is not a typo)
Repairs- 0
Insurance- $900 per year (with AOPA discount)

Total cost of ownership per person: $1435 a year,
Hours I flew in 4 years: 345
Cost per hour for flight time: $16.64

I know these figures seem unbelievably low.  They are real.  At the time I began soaring, I was a single parent with a daughter starting college.  Since I am an educator, cost was a real concern. Yet, today I have 1,065 hours flying gliders, a commercial rating and several US records.

Soaring also makes a perfect way to gain flying experience.  Since you don’t have to worry about managing the engine, you can focus on the essential elements of flight. The sensitive controls on gliders let you feel exactly what happens when you move them. An instructor will help you learn that an uncoordinated turn is easily diagnosed and insipient stalls have distinct warning signs. The landing is done at a slower speed than in most aircraft, giving you more time to perfect your skills. Soaring isn’t just a bargain; it is a way to learn the subtleties of aircraft handling.

PW5 ready for launchI recommend that you try many types of flying to find what thrills you the most. I now fly a taildragger airplane as well as a glider. I have discovered that, even if the cost were the same, my heart still belongs to silent flight.  I love the challenge of finding my own sources of energy and soaring over snow-capped mountains. I join the hawks and eagles as we triumph over gravity, and live in a world beyond my imagination. It’s a thrill that isn’t cheap; it’s a treasure.

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