I have been fortunate to fly for a long time. I have flown pistons and jets, and if things go right I will have my first WACO ride next month but there is nothing like flying a glider.
My first glider ride was in a Schweitzer 2-33 trainer. My pilot was not very good and he came in way high on approach and had to do a full slip to land. If I was not a pilot I would have been very scared of his approach. I went on to take my ticket, and my instructor was ex air force and national aerobatic champion in gliders. I can still hear his voice behind me when I am flying to this day.
There are three major glider ports in Arizona, one in north Phoenix, one in south Phoenix and one in Tucson. I took my lessons in the winter, and we could only stay up for about 30 minutes. All our tows were aero tow behind a Piper Pawnee. Arizona is known for great soaring in the summer when the thermals are working. I was amazed how we could glide for hours in the summer.
I learned more about weather flying a glider than I ever did flying an airplane. This was very important for staying aloft. When I purchased my high performance glider I was required to take spin training. When flying in a thermal we are at minimum air speed to get the best lift. It is very easy to stall and spin a glider if you get too slow circling in a thermal to get the best lift.
The Air Force Academy and Israeli Air Force start all their recruits flying gliders. The Air Force Academy out of Colorado Springs always has some great pilots competing in our contests in AZ.
In 1990 I was elected President of the Arizona Soaring Association (ASA), which is a subsidiary of the Soaring Society of America. One of my responsibilities was to arrange local and regional soaring contests. I loved doing this and meeting other glider pilots from around the western US. Glider pilots are a unique bunch of people. The thing I loved most was the knowledge glider pilots were willing to impart to other pilots of lesser experience. In a contest or just gliding for fun they would say stick with me and teach me how to fly cross country. It is not unheard of to fly at 15,000 feet in AZ. When flying a glider you go from point A to B and so on. You do not leave for point B until you have the altitude to get there. In all my time flying gliders I only had to land off field once. I landed on a private strip and the owners came out to meet me with water and anything else I needed that day. The strip was owned by the first President of the ASA and he had a pristine Piper Cub in his hanger. I made a call to my crew and they brought my trailer to pack me up and take me back to my base field. We all made new friends that day. When flying a glider you always have to have an out if you can not make your next waypoint. That day I hit a lot of sink and could not make it home.
When I first started flying gliders there was no GPS. When GPS came out we were not allowed to use it for our contest. Now GPS is allowed in all contest. My glider would fly for 12 miles for each 1000 feet of altitude. We used this on a chart to figure if we could get to the next waypoint. Glider flying is so quiet that at 15,000 feet I felt I could get out of the cockpit and walk alongside of my ship. The trainers are loud as there are not good seals in the ship, and it is loud inside.
There are several kinds of tows for gliders. I used aero tow. There are also winch tows that take you to 1000 feet agl and create their own thermal at release. Some people use car tows. With aero tow I would drop off at 2000 to 3000 feet agl when I found a good thermal. The first part of my flight is to stay in a thermal and gain altitude before going on course. One never flies a glider straight and level. We are always looking to gain altitude to go to the next point. When on a course we are always losing altitude until we find the next thermal and start the process over again. When I got high I can fly 180 miles without stoping to grab a thermal. There are super ships that can fly 50 miles per every 1000 feet of altitude.
If you ever get a chance go take a glider ride. I guarantee that you will be hooked!