Oregon by air is a marvel!
Our getaways have taken you to wonderful places that take the breath away: from a helicopter crossing the Cascades Mountains to a hot air balloon ride over wine country or even a special delivery “trout drop” above a mountain pond.
Rather than imagine the many faces of Oregon from 4,000 feet up, why not try a unique airplane ride that offers peace, quiet and a thrilling experience.
It’s an aircraft minus a motor called a “sailplane” and scores of the craft take off each week from the Willamette Valley Soaring Club to soar over Washington County.
Pilots agreed that Oregon’s landscape provides spectacular and stunning points of view.
“It’s really peaceful and quiet up there,” said flight instructor Bruce Pearson.
Pearson is also the Flight Manager for the WVSC and added that the motor-less, highflying recreation is an addiction.
“It is a passion! Once you try it, you can’t live without it and it’s something anyone can do.”
The Willamette Valley Soaring Club has operated for more than fifty years near North Plains. It is the largest club in the country with over 200 members and a dozen planes in the club’s fleet.
WVSC offers anyone a chance to ride aboard a “perfectly good airplane that doesn’t have a motor:”
“Well, that just makes it safer,” chuckled Pearson. “Our planes don’t have engines so we’re always prepared to land at any given time. It’s the safest flying there is.”
Sailplanes were once made exclusively of wood, but aluminum and fiberglass and carbon fiber technology have made modern sailplanes incredibly light. When matched with the latest electronics, the planes can stay aloft for hours and cover hundreds of miles.
“It is all about flying efficiently and cutting through the air without disturbing it anymore than you have to,” said Pearson. “These days we fly higher, farther and stay up longer than ever before.”
15-year-old Holly Dotson got hooked on soaring after just one ride last July. Ever since, she has logged 36 flights and she plans to become a licensed pilot this June.
“It’s a thrilling, once in a lifetime experience that I just had to do more of it,” said the young flier. “Some of my friends think I’m crazy, but others think it’s cool and ask, ‘When will you take me up?”
“Birds have been doing it for millions of years,” added Pearson with a laugh. “We do the same thing but with one handicap: we don’t flap our wings.”
Dotson is the student and Pearson is her instructor and the two meet two or three times each week to review her bookwork and prep for the next flight.
“Anyone can start learning to fly a sailplane,” said Pearson. “You can qualify to solo when 14 and it is rare that someone cannot learn how to do this.”
Holly’s parents, Sean and Shannon Dotson, agreed that their daughter’s path was set after she took her first flight:
"It’s a minimum of two hours a day of studying the books,” noted Shannon. ”So she’s given up a lot and really sacrificed time with her friends, soccer and things like that because she’s constantly studying – but she loves it.”
“She’s grown in confidence too,” added Sean. “She needs to take command of a plane and needs that confidence and ability to be in control at all times.”
As the tow plane rises to 4,000 feet, Holly said that the best flying time is after the towline’s released and she’s on her own, soaring with nature’s wind and updrafts called “thermals.”
She added that the experience is “quiet and breath-taking,” but she remains alert at all times: “You have to watch everything - other planes and birds – and you have to find the thermals just like a bird does. That’s where the hot air rises from the ground to give the plane more lift. Thermals allow you to stay up longer and travel further; sometimes hundreds of miles in a day. It’s so much fun and anyone can go – come on out and try!”
WVSC participates in the Soaring Society of America's Fly A Sailplane Today program.
Additional Oregon glider ride opportunities include Cascade Soaring and Northwest Sky Sports.