Winging It in an Engineless Plane

Photo: WGMA Weekend Adventure

The first time I ever saw a glider plane was actually about 10 years ago. My parents bought my brother a flight at a tiny airstrip near their home in the middle of Pennsylvania. The whole family gathered for the big event.

I can still remember the warm sun on that autumn day, the big smile on my brother's face when he landed and his descriptions of floating along through the air.

So that's how I found myself reading a textbook about glider planes as my husband drove me and my kids to that same airstrip last week. I'll be honest. I was cramming.

VIDEO: Take to the Skies in a Glider Plane
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My co-anchors and I have all taken turns at having a "weekend adventure" -- something we'd probably never try otherwise. These are the kind of stories that make us realize we do, in fact, have pretty cool jobs.

I chose to take a flying lesson in a glider plane with two of the very best. Yes, that's right. Two of the very best glider pilots in the world operate just outside of State College, Pa. Remember the glider scene in the movie "The Thomas Crown Affair"? Tom Knauff and Doris Grove shot those scenes right here.

High in The Sky: Glider Planes Soar Like Birds

"Most everybody has a desire to be able to fly," Knauff told me when I first arrived.

Boy did I.

I spend a lot of time in noisy jet planes. But this would be different. Being in a glider, or a soar plane (they're essentially the same thing), is the closest any human can come to soaring like a bird.

"What we are able to see and do is unique, and beautiful," Knauff said. "I think the beauty of this thing, what we do is understated."

The glider planes look futuristic and sleek. But for pilots, they're really like returning to an earlier era of flight. The Wright Brothers flew a glider -- with controls that aren't so different from what they use today. They are simple machines. Gliders are lightweight with no motor, just a smooth fiberglass tube with long narrow wings. Like the birds, air flow, currents and "lift" keep a glider afloat. In my textbook I learned about ailerons, the rudder and the elevator -- the main controls that make a glider turn or change speed.

Glider Flight Like 'Floating on Air'

"The difficult part is all your previous life experiences don't really prepare you," Knauff told me. Even knowing how to drive a car is not helpful, he said.

Luckily I was able to pass a written test. (The cramming worked.) And I was off to see my ride.

Knauff's wife, Doris Grove, showed me around the plane.

She is quite a woman. She had six children during a first marriage, and decided in the 1970s that after her sixth went off to school, she wanted to do something for herself.

"I took her out to the bus for first grade, and when the bus was starting to go, I said, 'Bye Rosalie,' and I ran in to the Yellow Pages (to see) where I could go learn to fly," Grove said.

Flying was still a boy's club then, and one instructor after the next turned her away. She remembers one guy in particular. She politely asked if she could have a lesson.

"He hit the counter with a bang and did a turn and said I am not going to teach another damn woman to fly!"

Do you think that stopped Doris? No way. Eventually she found an instructor willing to -- as she says -- "teach a girl."

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