Glider Plane Ride in Arizona

For Zach’s 30th birthday I (Steph) surprised him with something he’d been wanting to do for years: a glider ride.

We had seen youtube videos of glider planes and watching them just float through the sky looked so relaxing and peaceful. It’s really incredible how glider planes work. Let me share.

A glider is a plane without an engine- also called a sailplane. The first published glider aircraft was made by Sir George Cayley around 1849 and after that many others started building them. Even the famed Wright Brothers developed a couple gliders in the early 1900’s. Gliders were mostly used for fun but were also used during WWII for landing troops and equipment. In the 1950’s NASA did further testing on new wings that were more flexible and that propelled gliders to take on other categories like hang gliders and paragliders. [See Related: Pima Air & Space Museum]

Gliders are designed to be as light and as aerodynamic as possible. Their wings are much longer and narrower than those on normal planes. Since they don’t have an engine they typically take off by being towed by an engine powered plane using a long rope. Once the glider hits its desired altitude, the pilot can release the rope and fly independently.

Gliders rely on rising air to fly. Thermals are columns of rising air that come up from the Earth’s surface. Therefore areas that are rocky, dark, or asphalt will create more air currents. Other surface changes like hills and mountains can also create ridge lifts of wind. Speed indicators in the cockpit show when the glider has hit these optimal areas of air, that way the pilot can spend time in those pockets of air to gain elevation and speed. Even without an engine, they can go up to 170mph!

Since 30th birthdays are a big to-do, I wanted to go big. I splurged on this ride for us at the Certified Glider rides in Peoria, Arizona. Here’s how the day went.

We drove north near the Lake Pleasant area of Arizona. We pulled up to this little shed where a few other people were waiting for their rides. It was there we paid for our ride, including the photo/video package. I am very glad we got that package because we captured some awesome footage!

When it was our turn to go on the ride, we were transported to the plane. We peeked into the tiny glider plane’s backseat and did a double take. There was no way both of us would fit back there! This particular glider plane had one seat in the front for the pilot and one seat in the back, which the pilot claimed would fit both of us. So like sardines, we squeeze our big booties into the backseat of that plane. Oh boy, it’s a good thing we like each other because there was no moving once we were crammed in there!

We take some deep breaths and here we go! In order for the glider plane to take off, another plane tows ue by rope and lifts us into the air 2,000 feet. The initial feeling was exhilarating! It was much quieter than expected and we literally felt like we were floating in the clouds.

It was a gorgeous afternoon in Arizona, and we got to see miles around us: the lakes, the desert landscape, and the beautiful mountains we like to call our own. Lucky for us, there were also several hot air balloons up in the air at the same time. That was gorgeous to see those in the sky as we were calm like birds up in the air.

And then it happened: the flips. We think since we are youngin’s the pilot thought we could handle a Blue Angel’s performance. He literally, no joke, started doing complete flips, twists, and turns in the air. It was fun the first two times, but after that the queeziness began to set in. We got hot, we got nauseous, and we both looked at eachother with the same look in our eyes- what have we got ourselves into? Who even knew gliders were fully acrobatic?

What we thought would be a pleasant and relaxing ride as we glided across the sky turned into an air show that made us want to get out of that sailplane as fast as we could.

What a crazy ride. All-in-all we are happy we experienced the glider ride. It was something we had wanted to try for awhile and the beginning of the ride really was quite pleasant! It’s just the end of the ride that left us feeling nauseous for a few hours afterwards.

Despite the flips and the turns, going on a glider plane ride was fun and I am glad we got to experience that together. Next time, one thing is for sure: we request no flips. Whatsoever.

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