Gliding with Southern California Soaring Academy

Aviation, in all of its forms, has been on the top of my 2012 bucket list. Seeing LA from a helicopter was breathtakingly beautiful, but piloting a helicopter over LA during my first helicopter pilot lesson was even more spectacular. Similarly, piloting an airplane was exhilarating, but piloting an open-cockpit biplane that is purposely stalled over the ocean to spiral to what seems to be an imminent death is the most invigorating, adrenaline pumping adventure of a lifetime. Flying a jetpack opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of flight while proving that anything truly is possible. I set the sky as the limit and soared through one adventure to the next. I only had one aviation bucket list adventure left on my 2012 list: piloting a glider. I made it happen with Southern California Soaring Academy. Darren and I, along with Darren’s Brother, Kevin, learned to fly by learning to soar. 

My introductory lesson was approximately 45 minutes with a 5,280′ tow. I was able to get a taste of everything I’d need to become a licensed pilot. My lesson included instruction on aerodynamics; rules of the road, or should I say air, and hands on control of the aircraft.

As we soared over mountains high above the valley floor, the serenity of engine-free flight held my interest at new heights. I felt like I was part of a flock of birds rather then looking at the from afar. We, too, used the wind currents and air to glide over Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel mountains.

For the first time in the sky, I simply wanted to soar over the beautiful desert landscape and the mountains rather than experience any aerobatics. I was content with the peacefulness of gently and quietly gliding. I felt as ease in the sky, like I was part of something more.

Extreme adventures have encompassed my life and filled my heart with joy, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and enjoy the view. Piloting a glider, with the lull of the wind brushing over you, is liberating. The ground restrictions are lifted leaving you in a calm state of peacefulness. Some people go to a spa or meditate to get that feeling, but I’d choose the sky any day.

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67 thoughts on “Gliding with Southern California Soaring Academy

      • Ummmm.. yeah he would absolutely love that! I have worked on overcoming my fear of flying over the years, and getting in to a glider would be a monumental step forward!

        Have a great day Lesley! Thanks for taking the time to respond.

  1. My wife just bought me strip with a glider company up here on Vancouver Island Lesley. It’s always been one of my wishes to go aloft. Reading about your escapades just excited me more.

  2. I enjoy flight, but prefer to have someone else pilot the craft. The guilder experience sounds ideal. The closest that I have come to this was hiking at the Pinnacles near Monterey, CA. At the top of the hike, I could look down sheer cliffs and watch the birds guide on the updrafts.

      • We took a couple of 4 – 6 seater flights in single engine float planes in Alaska. One was to a remote camp on Kodiak Island. We told the pilot that we wanted to see some mountain goats. He turned and flew straight at a mountain side until those little dots became mountain goats. I’m sure that we came within 6 inches of hitting the mountain, but you know how perceptions can be when you do not feel in control! The other flight was a tour of Misty Fjords National Monument out of Juneua. This was our “Christmas-Birthday-Mother’s Day-Father’s Day-Anniversary” present to my brother and his family. We shall never forget that wonderful adventure.

  3. I always wanted to learn how to fly a plane or helicopter. I even asked my parents to let me get lessons when I was younger but it was too expensive with a million other kids in the house. Maybe I need to add this to MY bucket list. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Awesome adventure! Being in a helicopter is scarier (in my opinion) than a small plane. Very admirable you were brave enough to take helicopter lessons! And it must have been a beautiful site to see soaring above Southern California’s terrain in this sunny weather =)

  5. Of course, you have to understand how much I agree with you, being a WWII pilot. My instrument of choice was the Catalina Flying Boat. If I had the opportunity – I’d take a ride in that plane one last time. I don’t know if any of them are still operational. Thanks for your post – most enjoyable.

  6. I’m inspired that you’re able to live your life straight out of a choose your own adventure book!!!! It seems an amazing ride!!

  7. Nice to meet another lover of flight! I have 27 1/2 hrs (can’t forget that half) of flight time in a Cessna. But after watching a glider in action, I always wished I had started with one of them instead. I think I sat in a Huey helicopter at an air show but I’ve never really had a desire for helicopters (too noisy). I grew up near LaGuardia airport and now I live near the Indianapolis International airport. I still get that feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I see one of those large birds taking off. They look like rockets, almost perpendicular to the ground! What a thrill! Taking off was always the best part for me. Boy, if I had a blog back then when I took flying lessons, what tales I could tell!!! You go girl!!

  8. How cool you’re getting your pilot’s license!! I once had a helicopter ride over Maui with the pilot playing Top Gun music. AWESOME. I’d rather someone else be driving the plane so kudos to you for taking “the plunge.” :).

  9. Great post Lesley. It helped me recapture some great feelings from my teenage years. I grew up on a farm not far from a small airport whose main traffic consisted of gliders. I used to watch the tow planes and gliders as I worked in the fields and wish that I was flying instead. When I was 15, I dipped into my savings and took flying lessons. I had to ride my bike to the airport since I was too young to have a driver’s license.

    I used up all my savings but it was well worth it. There’s nothing like flying solo in a sailplane–it’s the purest form of flying I’ve ever experienced.

    My gliding lessons stood me in good stead a few years later when I was flying an ultralight. I aborted a couple of landing attempts in a farm field due to dangerously high crosswinds and decided to divert to the nearby airport to make a safe landing. By the time I got to the airport, I had been flying so long that I ran out of fuel. I was directly above the runway and flying perpendicular to it in order to do a short approach. Because I had been taught from day one of my gliding lessons that sufficient airspeed is critical for safety, and because the way you get airspeed in a glider is to point the nose down, my natural reaction when the engine died was to push the stick forward. This ensured that I maintained enough airspeed to avoid a stall and maintain control of the aircraft. From there, I was able to do a tight left turn and put the ultralight down right in the middle of the runway. I had to push it a half mile to the tiedown area, but I didn’t mind in the least!

  10. Great post! I had the chance to fly a glider at the Southern California Soaring Academy about a year and a half ago with my dad. It’s something he’d been meaning to try for a long time, and it was a fun adventure for me as well. I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and this certainly got my heart pumping, but it was also incredibly relaxing once the plane tugging us along let go. It is truly zen-like up there soaring over the mountains. I loved it!

  11. Lesley, you are positively inspirational. You have turned your love of adventure into a business, that only demands that you do more adventure and report on it. Terrific. I hope I can turn my passions into something worthwhile as well.

  12. How neat! I’ve never ridden in a glider, but work at an FBO and get to ride in the 150′s and Mooney’s as often as possible. I got to ride in a Twin Commander, a King Air, the Ford Tri-Motor and a Piaggio, too but the smaller aircrafts are the absolute most fun.

  13. That must be the coolest thing ever! I still remember my skydiving experienced years ago, and even though I tried to put that adrenaline rash behind me somehow it wants to pull me back in again. Can’t say that I am planning anytime soon, though! Continue the great adventure, Lesley!

  14. You are awesome! I have been a paid member of AOPA for three years now and still haven’t had the opportunity to fly. Lack of funds holds me back. Hence, for now, I have to glean the vicarious enjoyment of flight through others. Thanks for your great story.

  15. I always wanted to learn how to fly a plane or helicopter.Even most of the time i asked my parents to let me get lessons when I was younger but it was too expensive with a million other kids in the house.

  16. Having flown on a Tiger Moth with my brother, a commercial pilot, I do have some idea of what it feels like to be soaring above above the world. It’s so liberating as well as intoxicating! Thanks for liking my post!

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