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.

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