HJ/EDHerald Journal, Feb. 27, 2006

Glider club looking at coming to Winsted airport

By Dave Cox
Staff Writer

A group of people that has shared the sky with eagles is looking at the Winsted Airport as a potential new base for its glider operation.

Four members of the Red Wing Soaring Association (RWSA) met with members of the Winsted Airport Board Feb. 2 to discuss what steps the club would need to take in order to be granted permission to operate out of the Winsted Airport.

The RWSA was founded in Red Wing in 1963, and has been operating out of Benson’s Airport in White Bear Lake since 1971.

The club is looking for a new airport because of development around Benson’s Airport.

“There are not a lot of emergency landing areas anymore, Paul Esser said.

There are many factors that would make Winsted an attractive location for the club.

“We view operating from Winsted as very advantageous for gliding because of its clearance from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Class B airspace, the length of its runway, and the safety zones around the airport, all of which greatly improve our safety margins for emergency landing requirements,” Esser said.

The RWSA is made up of approximately 35 member pilots. These include students, weekend recreational pilots, instructors, cross-country and competition pilots, Esser stated.

During the regular operation months (April through October), the club typically would have fewer than six members present at the airport on any given weekend day. The club operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in fair weather conditions, Esser commented.

Points of discussion:

Among the points discussed at the meeting, Esser stated that:

• the club can work with grass or paved runways.

• the club would operate two or three gliders, mostly on weekends, but would like additional training opportunity during the week.

• ground operations would involve the use of the taxiway, aircraft rigging area, and the use of the club’s two golf car tow vehicles.

• the club expects a maximum of 10 - 15 launches on weekend days.

• glider pilots are trained to clear the active runway before coming to a complete stop.

• on a calm day, most flights last 10 to 15 minutes. On a good day, a capable glider pilot can be up for three or more hours.

• the club would ask the airport board for recommendations as to traffic pattern preferences.

• training and pleasure flights with gliders are two or three miles upwind, depending on traffic. The club would not operate directly over the airport, preferring to remain clear until ready to enter the pattern.

• regular use of radio procedures is standard practice.

• the club would need a T-hangar and tie down space for two or three gliders.

• the club is interested in building or buying a 60 feet by 60 feet hangar for future needs.

• the club would purchase its fuel from the Winsted airport.

“We believe that, if we are allowed to operate there, the club would become a vibrant part of the airport community by spurring interest, training, and spending, in aviation circles,” Esser said.

He added that the club could add to the financial well-being of the airport and the Winsted community.

The next step

If Winsted agrees to allow the club to operate here, and if the RWSA approves the move, Esser said that it will be necessary to schedule meetings between the RWSA board and the Winsted Airport Commission to establish operating procedures.

“We desire and expect to be good neighbors, not only at the airport, but in the city of Winsted as well,” Esser said.

Representatives from the club will attend the Tuesday, March 21 city council meeting to make a presentation to the council.

Esser stressed that any decision to move the club would have to be agreed to by both the club and the city.

One possible scenario would include the club operating at the airport on a trial basis for a few weekends in the spring to give people an opportunity to meet representatives from the club, and see what the operation is all about.

If Winsted and the club agree to some arrangement, it would likely take some time to implement.

“We believe that glider operations would start gradually at Winsted because the club expects to lose members, given such a big shift in location,” Esser said.

The club would need to rebuild its membership with new glider pilot candidates coming from the west metro area, according to Esser.

About the RWSA

The club’s mission includes encouraging interest in the science of powerless flight; owning, and maintaining sailplanes and other aircraft and equipment used in connection with soaring, and advancing the education of members.

The club membership is made up of about 85 percent glider pilots, five percent tow pilots, and 10 percent students, Esser said.

The club is actively recruiting new members, because it wishes to grow, according to Esser.

The club owns three sailplanes and one 180 horsepower Super Cub tow plane.

All members of the club share ownership of the club’s assets.

The club offers demonstration rides that last from 20 to 30 minutes, and cost $75.

FAA training is essential for all glider pilots.

“With a glider, you only get one try at landing, and you get very good at making due with what you are dealt,” Esser commented.

The sport of soaring

Soaring is the sport of non-motorized flight.

Motorized aircraft are used to launch gliders, which then use the energy of the sun to generate power.

Gliding refers to returning gently back to the ground.

Sailplanes take advantage of atmospheric or meteorological conditions to generate lift.

Sailplanes can travel great distances by “porpoising” or moving from thermal to thermal.

A thermal is a column of rising air that is created when the sun heats air near the ground, and that air rises to cloud level.

Glider pilots seek instability and use the core of a thermal to gain lift, while pilots of motorized aircraft may choose to avoid “bumpy air.”

Sailplanes maintain their speed by always traveling at a slightly downward angle.

Glider pilots are licensed by the FAA, and can earn a private rating, commercial rating (which allows them to offer rides to paying passengers), or instructor rating.

Glider pilots must be at least 16 years old, and must pass written and practical tests, as well as logging a minimum number of flights in gliders.

Minnesota provides an abundance of good gliding conditions, with thermals rising from 5,000 to 8,000 feet on a good day.

There have been flights in Minnesota of over 400 miles, and reaching heights of 16,000 feet.

Some sailplanes have a glide ratio of 30 miles for every mile of height.

The Wright brothers were testing gliders as early as 1902.

The Soaring Society of America was formed in 1932.

Soaring is a team sport, and a minimum of two or three people are needed to initiate a flight.

Early gliders were made of wood frames with fabric covers. Since that time, gliders have been made of metal, fiberglass, and carbon fiber.

Enthusiasts say that soaring is great fun, but risk management is a key to all glider operations.

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