Edmonton club re-opening offers public the chance to glide into the danger zone

·3 min read
The Edmonton Soaring Club is welcoming back the public after being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)
The Edmonton Soaring Club is welcoming back the public after being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)

Edmontonians can soon try their hand at falling with style again, once a local gliding club re-opens next month.

The Edmonton Soaring Club, incorporated in 1957, offers people the chance to pilot a glider and keep the craft airborne for as long as possible. The club was closed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is re-opening July 3.

The club had offered introductory flights to the public for years, but it's hoping to grow the sport and its membership.

"Every day is different," said Jason Acker, the club's chief flying instructor, referring to the effects of changing weather conditions.

"You really are challenged to stay up in the air, then try to get as far away from the field — and back — as you can."

The gliders do not have engines. To get in the air, they're hooked up to a cable that is attached to a bush plane. Once both aircraft reach a certain altitude, the glider is released, Acker explained.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC
Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

From there, the glider pilot must find areas in the sky that generate lift — like flying under developing clouds, or riding currents near the mountains — so the craft can stay in the air.

Gliders travel differently depending on the make and whether they have an engine, he said. The ones the club used can reach about 150 km/h.

Acker started learning to fly gliders as a teenager through Canada's Cadet program. At 19, he stayed on with program as an instructor for years before eventually transitioning to civilian gliding.

Other members also became pilots through the air cadet program.

Amanda Vella started flying in 1998 while living in Nova Scotia and immediately fell in love. She was determined to do whatever she could to become a pilot from that time.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC
Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

"It's quiet," Vella said. "It's just a different perspective to be up there and soaring around."

A national soaring competition was recently held at the airfield near Chipman, Alta., where the Edmonton Soaring Club is based, about 60 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

Vella says there were no female participants — and the club wants to change that.

When Vella started flying, there were few female pilots and often times she was the only one in the room. She hopes to help create a more welcoming space for others who may be interested.

"We want to see more females in the sport, [for them] to feel very safe and comfortable coming out and flying airplanes, and enjoying it just as much as the men do," she said.

Many club members have other jobs and soar as their hobby, Acker said.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC
Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

Then there's Patrick Pelletier, who started as a glider pilot and now routinely flies right into the danger zone as a Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot.

"I really like flying airplanes, and I have a sense of duty to my country," said Pelletier, whose call name is Peanut.

"That's always been my goal since I [was] a child."

There are many differences between a glider and a fighter plane — namely speed, he said. But both require concentration.

Gliders are also "probably the most enjoyable form of flying," he added.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC
Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

"It's probably the closest thing to being a bird."

Despite his vocation, Pelletier just wants to be like other club members — taking it easy on the weekend, soaring over Alberta.

The Edmonton Soaring Club is offering introductory flights for $125, taxes included.

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