Marshall Soaring Club was highlighted in an article in the Marshall Chronicle by Reporter Michonne L. Omo
(Michelle took some really great photos. Click on any picture to open a new window with a larger image.)
It's a whole different view from 4100 feet
Michonne L. Omo
The Marshall Chronicle
July 21, 2003
Last week I got to fly.
Not in a jumbo jet or even a small prop plane. Not to get to one place quickly, not to travel at all.
I flew just for the heck of it, and, well, to take some amazing pictures along the way.
Members of the Marshall Soaring Club took me up in a glider plane for what will probably go down as one of my top 10 favorite things I ever did. It might not have been extreme or fashionable, but it was one of those experiences that just makes you close your eyes and take a deep, satisfied breath. One of those things that makes you happy that you got to do something that cool. Something that makes you stop in amazement at the complexity and quirks of life.
I arrived at the grass runway of Brooks Field later in the afternoon than I expected. It was a lazier Saturday morning than I had planned, and perhaps that was for the best. It kept me from really examining what I was about to do.
You see, you're reading the words of a girl who cut off the circulation of her companion's hand during take-off on a perfectly harmless jumbo jet at the age of 18. My only previous ride on an aircraft was a trip to Florida when I was 4-years-old. I remember nothing of that experience but the fact that my mother read me a book.
What on earth was I doing going up in a glider? Maybe I had gotten beyond the fear of flying. I had, after all, made it across an ocean on an airplane with no worries. But then I got there, and started thinking about it. Oh dear lord, what was I doing?
I watched as the club members prepared a bright yellow plane for take-off. The matching yellow tow plane taxied out in front and the two were joined by a 200-foot tow rope. Within minutes, the small prop plane was racing down the mowed grass and slowly began to climb toward the fluffy cumulus clouds overhead.
I had learned from my feature on the club last week that the presence of these clouds was a good sign-it meant there was thermal air current activity and that meant the plane could catch an updraft and remain in the air longer.
So now it was my turn. I was introduced to my pilot, Duane Mather, and escorted to the sleek, white two-person glider that would take me into the skies over Marshall. Members of the club helped me into the comfortable plush seat and made sure I was properly buckled in. Duane explained each of the dials in front of me and told me what to look for on each. Then he moved the controllers and demonstrated how he would be flying the craft.
They closed the cockpit over my head and latched it, giving my last-minute instructions on how to guide fresh air in through the small opening. Then I got nervous. As excited as I was, and had been all week, something in me sent a deep feeling of dread all through my body. It was the sheer fear of doing something new and totally unexplored by me before that began to consume me.
"It'll be a little bumpy along the runway", said Duane. "Here we go."
The tow plane began its journey down the runway, pulling Duane and me along each bump and dip along the way. I turned on my camera, trying to distract myself from the fact that I would soon be airborne. It was a fruitless effort, I was unable to hold the camera still enough for the automatic focus to do its work. It was no use, I just had to sit there and endure it.
I felt a pull and a dip and I realized that we were no longer touching the ground. The small plane pulled us further and further skyward, toward our chosen altitude of 3000 feet. I took a deep breath, trying to calm both my nerves and my stomach as the plane dipped and rose with the air currents.
Finally, I peaked over to my side and nearly stopped breathing. It was unbelievable.
From the confines of a jet, one gets a view like this for mere minutes. I got the view of a lifetime for more than 30 minutes. I became so enamored with my view, I forgot any fear I had. But just as I began to relax, I was snapped back into my fear. "We're going to release here," Duane said.
I had forgotten we were connected to another plane. I had forgotten other people existed. Duane pulled a small knob and released the tow rope from the plane, breaking us away from our power source. I watched our ride turn away and return to the airport to tow another glider into the clouds.
"It got quiet!" I said. With nothing but the rushing air outside the cockpit to make noise, we were alone with the clouds and the view below.
I'd like to be able to tell you it was like looking at a model train set or a doll house. It wasn't, it was more surreal than that. It was very much like a patchwork quilt in places. For the first few minutes, I had to force myself to concentrate on landmarks in order to understand what I was seeing. Then, it all became clear.
That little grouping of white and red squares was Marshall's downtown, that curving line was the railroad tracks, that long white pathway was I-94. It was all there, just as I knew it, but removed, distant and strangely beautiful.
I looked down at the clover leaf junction of I-69 and I-94. The exchange I dreaded to drive looked like a piece of art from this height. The Kalamazoo River looked as if it had been painted in. I could see the depth of Stuart Lake, each sand bar and drop-off.
I looked off to the west and saw a white cluster of buildings. It was my home, Battle Creek, so close from this height, so accessible.
Duane steered the plane in gentle spirals, catching a thermal here and there, and managing to get us to a height of 4,100 at our highest.
"How long have you been flying?" I asked him, not sure if I was asking out curiosity or for reassurance. "It's been eight seasons," he said.
I could see now what the draw was. I could understand the addiction.
I smiled. Constantly. And in between being completely ecstatic, I managed to take some pictures, which to my great joy, managed to express some of the amazing sites I saw: the fairgrounds, Marshall High School, green fields bordered by puffs of trees, the whole town in just one glance.
But they could never match the feeling of being in that glider. The feeling I got when I reminded myself there was nothing between me and the ground but a thin barrier and air currents, and it didn't faze me a bit. The feeling I got when I saw those tiny little dots drive along the thin, winding roads that stretched out even farther than I could see. The feeling I got when I got to fly.
One hundred years ago, two brothers took the first flight by humans in history. And while I always respected the Wright Brothers for their contribution to our lives, I never truly understood what drove them.
But now I do.