Glider enthusiasts descend on Albert Lea airport

Published 5:32 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

Gliders have been departing the Albert Lea airport this week as part of a glider regatta, which started Tuesday and runs through Monday.

“It’s just a bunch of people that get together and they play with their airplanes, like their boats,” said Jim Hanson, airport manager and fixed-base operator. “In this case, people come from all over here.”

Normally held in the spring, the event was switched with a contest the airport held in the spring.

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Bob Wander, who knew Hanson through gliding and who has written several books about the subject, was looking for a centrally-located place that was big, wide and unobstructed with paved runways as well as grass to land on — requirements the Albert Lea airport met.

“He says, ‘Can we use our airport?’” Hanson said. “Oh, absolutely.”

And the two have partnered for a regatta for 30 years.

There are three ways to launch a glider, an Aerotow, implementing a winch or using an autotow, which uses the power of an automobile on the runway tied to a glider’s release hook.

“We teach people how to do winch launches, which are very popular in Europe and the rest of the world,” he said.

Wander also writes books regarding motorless flight.

Wander’s career began when he was a classical musician.

But after he and his wife left Minnesota for West Virginia in the late 1970s, Wander visited the local airport, where he got a job scrubbing bugs off the fronts of aircraft.

In exchange for that, he earned minimum wage as well as three hours per week of flight time with an instructor for no charge.

Describing gliding as “useless,” he said gliding was beautiful for flying in a quiet aircraft.

“There is no engine noise, there is no smell of fuel or petroleum or jet fuel,” he said. “There’s just you, the quiet, the silence.”

Hanson agreed, and described gliding as “pure flight” the way birds flew.

Gliders could also be flown for hours on end in good weather, and Wander said his longest flight within a motorless aircraft out of Albert Lea was over six hours.

As for why he wanted to come to Albert Lea, there were several reasons.

“Albert Lea is a welcoming community and a welcoming airport,” Wander said. “Many airports do not want visitors. Many airports do not like airplanes that are not based at that airport.

According to Wander, that’s not the case here.

Making the airport more appealing, the facility had long, well-maintained runways, some paved and some grass.

As for this week, Wander said for both the new and the experienced pilots, the Albert Lea airport provided facilities unlike others.

“What they are telling me — whether they’re brand-new to gliding or whether they’ve been doing it for 40 years — is that it’s delightful to be here because all of us … are learning new things, or learning old things better than we knew them before,” he said.

And for those new to gliding, he has explained how engineless flight works.

“If an engine could fly, then a Ford F-150 pickup truck could fly cause it’s got a big engine,” he said.

Hanson said people liked being in Albert Lea and were having fun.

According to Wander, the longest flight in a motorless glider is roughly 1,400 miles.

Don Ingraham, owner and operator of Cross Country Soaring, was in a glider Thursday afternoon.

“My schedule has been full,” he said, adding he’d flown with roughly a dozen people since the event started.

Anyone interested in going for a glider ride should contact the airport at 507-373-0608, who will put them in contact with Cross Country Soaring, which operates the winch launches.

They can also contact Cross Country Soaring directly at 612-730-3905.