Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 12:15 pm | Fair 60º


Local News

Sailplane Enthusiasts Get an Air Rush as They Glide Over Santa Ynez Valley

Annual gathering of glider pilots descends on Santa Ynez Airport, then takes to the skies — with some help, of course

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Somewhere above the sprawling ranches of the Santa Ynez Valley, with a clear view of the Gaviota coastline in sight, the small tow aircraft pulled the connecting cable from its engine-less cargo.

The pilot of said cargo — a three-seater 2-32 sailplane — all-too cheerfully explained that the nose of the aircraft would tip up and then down before making a hard right turn.

Again, all sans an engine and dependent on rising air, about 3,600 feet high in the sky.

“Thanks, Dave,” sailplane pilot Shawn Knight said to the tow pilot over the radio.

“Now it’ll get really quiet,” he said to his passenger.

A freefall — something only a rookie would worry about — never came, as the metal sailplane floated high above President Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo, the San Rafael Mountains and other valley sights.

The smoothness of the ride explained why sailplanes are also called gliders.

“It’s so clear today,” said Knight, who has been flying gliders for three decades. “No marine layer, no fog out there today. What a beautiful day it is to fly.”

Knight, who co-owns Santa Barbara Soaring out of the Santa Ynez Airport, offered the flight Saturday morning at the airport, where more than a dozen other glider enthusiasts from across California gathered for an annual weekend sporting event more reminiscent of “show and tell.”

Gliders have soared over the valley airport since the 1950s, Knight said, most without engines but some that boast at least a meager means of operating without a tow.

The rigid wings of Knight’s glider sliced through the air, falling about 300 feet per minute — more if the pilot pulls tricks.

Knight fancied a couple nose dips and then 60-degree turns that opened up into breath-taking panoramic views of vineyards, houses, Lake Cachuma and mountains.

He explained that glider pilots are always aware of what they call the “glider ratio,” which depends on head winds, wingspan or even what material an aircraft is made of.

Enthusiasts described gliding as an art form, a sport practiced by a bunch of guys and gals who were formerly kids obsessed with model airplanes.

Gliders can remain aloft anywhere from several minutes to several hours, with distances varying just as widely.

Knight said gliders are always looking for that next “lift,” or waft of elevating air.

In that way, sailplanes don’t really have an autopilot, which merely adds to the fun and challenge, said Peter Hartmann, a Santa Barbara resident who has been flying gliders for more than 40 years.

Back in the air at about 1,800 feet, Knight said it was time to “pull the ripcord,” aka ready for landing.

Stable speed? Check.

Adequate head wind? Check.

With that, the pilot skillfully steered the glider through slight turbulence toward the brown earth just south of the airport runway.

The sailplane glided in for a mostly smooth landing, coming to rest where fellow gliders waited and readied to be towed to the skies.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >