Do you want to experience an adventure of a life time? Try soaring. Yes …. flying in a sailplane without an engine. The way it works, you fly with an instructor pilot in the back seat. A long cable is attached from the “tow plane” to the front of the sailplane. The tow plane then takes off towing into the air.
You see the toe tow plane ahead and the long cable attached to your sailplane for the first 10 minutes as you climb several thousand feet in the air. Sound scary? IT’S NOT. The takeoff is gentle and the tow is so smooth you will forget that you are being dragged through the air.
Once you get high enough, the instructor pulls the release lever and the tow cable separates from the sailplane. The real adventure begins now as your pilot circles the sky looking for lift.
Sailplane Ready for Take Off
My instructor released the tow rope at 7,000 feet and banked sharply to the right as we separated from the tow plane. The rest was pure bliss. Now most sailplanes are quiet but I was in a sailplane that was older and a little noisy from air seeping in but other than that … it was pure bliss !
We reach a top altitude of 10,500 and stayed in the air for about an hour. We could have stayed up all day but we were only scheduled for an hour.
We soared and zoom along the Southern California Mountain Ranges and over the dessert valley. Palmdale, Edwards Air Force Base Dry Lake Bed, Victorville, Wrightwood …. All visible from the north side of the mountain range. We swooped over the mountains but not too far over …… I could see all of the Los Angeles Basin including Palos Verdes and Catalina Island 80 miles away !
Sailing at 10,000 ft over Angeles National Forest and Mountain Range
My pilot George who also was a flight Instructor was terrific. He explained everything as we flew. I didn’t let on that I was an ex-corporate pilot and a flight instructor. I just wanted him to treat me like a typical non-aviator passenger looking for an adventure and George delivered ! He was courteous and professional. George made the flight fun and explained everything to me as it was happening. Even if I never been in a plane in my entire life, I would feel safe and secure doing this.
A little about where I took this adventure. Nestled on the high desert floor close to Wrightwood and Victorville, is a little desert city called Llano. This is home of the Southern California Soaring Academy where they train many aviation enthusiasts to become license sailplane pilots. Even though they gladly give rides, there primary focus is flight training.
Southern California Soaring Academy has lots of sailplanes and several tow planes. It appears to be a small family run business and everyone you meet is super NICE and FRIENDLY. I mean it …. Its not one of those typical adventure where they first take your money, whisk you through the line and get you out of the way for the next customer. They treat you like an honor guess ….. (no BS here). They are happy that you want a glimpse into their world of sail-plaining and they take all the safety precautions necessary while not being so “anal” that’s it not fun. It’s like flying with family. They are safe, fun and educational.
As an ex (small plane) flight instructor, Southern California Soaring Academy reminding me of the flying community that I spent 20 years of my life so actively involved. It’s really like a flying fraternity and they treat new-comers with the upmost respect and sense of adventure. Everyone is super friendly. I can’t say enough about this adventure. Bring your camera. You’ll have great photo opportunities in the air and on the ground. Some sailplanes accommodate 2 passengers in the back with the pilot up front. If sailplanes or soaring sounds dangerous … it’s not. You have a ground and flight crew that is very professional. The ground crew hooks up the tow line to the sailplane, gives the signal when all is safe, and you’re off on your adventure.
Should the tow line break prematurely, the sail plane glides gently back to the airport. The area is all open land so even if the tow line broke immediately after takeoff, you would simply land off airport in the dirt field … no big deal.
The ride is phenomenal. We flew close to the mountains as George circled in small pockets of lifting air. The turns were gentle and nothing bother me …… but again … I spent my adult life in small airplanes. However, the passengers I spoke to before my flight loved every minute and there is nothing but praise when reading online reviews. So if you want to take a once in a lifetime adventure ride …. Do it ! The Southern California Soaring Academy is just 70 miles outside of downtown Los Angeles in the High Desert of Llano.
Office of Southern California Soaring Academy
At the time of this post, the cost is $175 for 30 minute ride and $265 for a 45 minute ride (my ride was about 1 hour). It’s a full day. Its approximately 1 hour and 30 minute drive (no traffic) from Downtown Los Angeles. They accept credit cards so you don’t have to bring cash. You should show up 1 hour before your scheduled ride. Get acclimated and meet the folks. It’s a breath of fresh air … the community is so friendly, they will get you prepared for your adventure. The desert is really hot in the summer so wear light clothes and bring a cap.
To finish off this great adventure after flying and taking pictures and video, have late lunch or dinner in the mountain resort city of Wrightwood, specifically in Wrightwood Village (Highway 2 and Park Ave). There’s are several good restaurants to choose from as well as eateries and bars. After your wonderful flight adventure, try dinner at the Grizzly Café or beer at Yodelers. It’s a great way to cap off a fantastic day of flying adventure with a good meal in a small mountain resort town that is only 25 minute drive from the airport.
Also when you arrive at the airport, its tempting to turn into the first parking lot that you see as you turn left of 165th Street but read the sign ! Its another ½ mile drive down an unpaved dirt road before you get to the airport and glider facilities … so drive slow !
All in all, this is one of my favorite and secret adventures that I enjoy sharing with you. I know you will enjoy this adventure as much as I did !