They’re up, up and away: Albert Lea airport hosting National Glider Competition

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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If it appears more aircraft have been departing Albert Lea Municipal Airport this week than normal, your eyes are not playing tricks on you.

That’s because this week the airport has been serving as host to part of the National Glider Competition.

“Pilots will be looking to cover a task, an unknown task, assigned by the competition committee,” said Jim Hanson, manager of the airport.

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The 20 competitors were divided by classes — sport, 15-meter wingspan, 18-meter wingspan and unlimited superglider. The goal is to be the first one to complete a lap around a pre-selected course, with most of the courses being around 100 miles and can include a trip to St. James or to Forest City, among other places.

Each competitor goes out every day that it’s flyable, with participants coming from a plethora of places, including Idaho, Colorado, Illinois and Indiana.

“It’s just for fun,” he said. “It’s kind of like having a race car.

“You say, ‘It’s fun to have a race car if you like to race, if you like to compete, if you like to go fast.’”

That said, because there were no engines, the only thing keeping gliders aloft were the pilots’ wits. Gliders were towed by airplanes to get in the air.

The competition, which started last Friday with a practice day, will continue through Friday. By Hanson’s estimation, Albert Lea has been offering its airport for over 30 years.

“We invite them,” he said. “I’m a glider pilot, I’m a glider instructor, and I know a lot of these national competitors.”

The airport also has tow-planes, and according to Hanson was perfectly situated because the area was large, flat and had multiple runways.

“We make them feel welcomed here, and [the participants] like being in a small town,” he said. “Flying a glider is not something you would do in a metropolitan area.”

Because many of this week’s competitors were airline pilots, he believed competitors did this for the flying experience and testing their own wits where they didn’t have to worry about managing engines.

Three winners from each of the classes will move on to the national competition later this summer. The national competition will also have 20 competitors.