On a sunny November day deep in the back roads of Warm Springs, Ga., a young man is flying with the birds. As his plane touches down on the runway, a small group cheers. Southern Eagles Soaring has just had a member accomplish their first solo flight in their new facility.
Southern Eagles Soaring (SES) is a private soaring club in Warm Springs that hosts glider rides. While SES has been around for approximately 22 years, Roosevelt Memorial Airport in Warm Springs has been their new home since May 2014, and is open to the public for sight-seeing rides and lessons.
SES members generally fly gliders or tow planes. Gliders are engineless planes with a wide wingspan. They are launched into the air by an attached tow plane, then left to fly solo through the clouds. The experience is exhilarating; it’s just you and your wits left to fly a metal shell with wings.
The club extols the values of learning how to fly gliders, claiming that it contributed to “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger’s heroic landing on the Hudson River. Members add that anyone can fly gliders, regardless of age or physical ability.
Mark Blace, treasurer of SES, believes that flying gliders is an unmatched experience. “The skills you learn flying a glider teach you a whole different approach to flying than power aircraft,” Blace said. “It’s sort of like sailboats versus power boats, where the mindset is to interact with the environment. That’s what soaring’s all about – you have to be totally attuned to the environment.”
For those who are interested in learning to soar, Southern Eagles Soaring also offers lessons for novice and intermediate pilots who attempting to gain certification. Wally Berry, one of the leaders of SES, says that the club enjoys teaching new pilots. “Instruction is really the purpose and lifeblood of the club,” Berry said. “Teaching people to fly is what we’re all about.”
Each member of the club has a unique story on how they first learned how to fly. Berry recalls that he first experienced gliding at North Carolina State University. “When I was in college, they had a glider club on campus and they advertised in the student newspaper that you could fly for $3 an hour,” Berry said. “That was the biggest scam I have ever encountered in my entire life, but I got hooked. All my life I’ve wanted to fly gliders.”
Another SES member, Steve Kempf, says he caught the gliding bug a little differently. Kempf and his 17-year-old son met Berry at an Auburn, AL airshow, and started taking lessons at SES. Although his son has gone off to college, Kempf is still active in the club and flies gliders regularly. Kempf credits his determination to fly to his father.
“I’ve always wanted to fly, ever since I was a little kid. My father was a bomber pilot in World War II. When I got into high school, there was this guy who had a glider and would give lessons. My buddy and I went out and decided that we would get a lesson. I forget how much it cost, but to us it was a lot of money. I remember going out there with him and taking the flight and thinking ‘this is the neatest thing’, but unfortunately I couldn’t afford to do it, and that’s it until I was about 65.”
Southern Eagles Soaring has big plans for the future. Berry and Blace hope to add a side road to the runway, to put in RV hookups, to create signage, and to decorate the clubhouse. The club has a family atmosphere, and they hope to encourage families to visit and hold weekend trips.
The future is bright, and the skies ahead are clear for Southern Eagles Soaring. The members’ hard work and passion is evident in the club’s progress and growth. Flying weightlessly through the air is usually a dream, but it has become a reality for the members of SES.