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Glider pilot shares drive to soar further

Doris Grove

Doris Grove went to an FBO in Florida more than 35 years ago to achieve a dream twice deferred. Years earlier, she had shelved plans to be a flight attendant in order to raise a family. Then, after her sixth child went off to school, she had called a nearby airport to schedule flight lessons and found that the instructor refused to teach women.

But Grove was determined. She wanted to fly.

She walked up to the counter and asked for a lesson. The man there pounded his fist on the counter: He was not going to teach another woman to fly, he said.

“I was shocked,” said Grove, recalling the moment. “I didn’t know what to do.” She sat down in another room, holding back tears. After a while, she returned to the counter and asked again for a lesson. She took her first instructional flight that day, in a Cessna with a very unwilling instructor.

Grove later found more obliging instructors, and the determination she displayed in getting off the ground has carried her through a remarkable flying career filled with records and honors. At the 2009 meeting of the International Gliding Commission, Grove received the Pelagia Majewska Medal, given to “a woman for an outstanding gliding achievement or eminent services to the sport over a long period of time.”

Grove qualifies on both counts, having flown the first 1,000-kilometer glider flight by a woman, and serving as a lecturer, author, flight instructor, and mentor to women pilots. She and her business partner, whom she married after working with and flying together for years, own a gliderport and catalog business in Julian, Pa., and the two have traveled the world for soaring competitions.

She took her first solo flight in a powered airplane in 1972, but she soon discovered her true passion was for gliding. Over the next decade, Grove set a series of records for gliding, including four world records for out-and-return flights. She was inducted into the Soaring Hall of Fame in 1988. She said gliding appeals to her because it gives her a singular perspective on the landscape below.

“It’s really quiet—I think maybe that’s it,” she said. “And you’re going slower, and you’re able to see more” than in powered flying. “When you’re up above and flying, you’re just sort of taking in so much more of the earth.”

At first, flying was something to do for herself after a separation from her first husband, while she was caring for six children. It grew into a life’s work. When one of the members of her soaring club, Tom Knauff, decided to start a gliderport business, he tried to recruit some of the other pilots in the group to work with him. To his surprise, Grove volunteered.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘You? But you’re a girl.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m glad you noticed. But I’m also a pilot,’” she said. The two started the business in 1975, and were married a decade and a half later. The record-setting pair has traveled the world for gliding events and for the business.

As an instructor for both soaring and powered flight, Grove said she teaches a lot of women who feel more comfortable with a female than with a male flight instructor. But she said women pilots are accepted more now than when she started flying—not that negative reactions ever stopped her.

Before Grove reached the 1,000-kilometer flight mark, only 23 men had accomplished the feat. Over the course of her career, she has set three world records for out-and-return distance in a single-place glider and one for out-and-return distance in a glider, open class. The records are a source of pride, but Grove says they are not why she flies.

“I never did this to set records,” she said. “What I did was, I went farther and farther just to experience and see the other part of the country. I would just go farther so I could look at everything and see more.”

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