Winging It in an Engineless Plane

"GMA Weekend" anchor Kate Snow breezes through the sky in a glider plane.

ByABC News via logo
November 21, 2009, 2:51 PM

JULIAN, Pa., Nov. 22, 2009— -- 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.

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.

"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.