Last Updated on July 22, 2023
(This article originally appeared in 2009 on the former Examiner.com website.)
Ever since my brother was forced to land a plane when our pilot got drunk, I’ve wanted to learn to fly — not just because it was cool, but because you never know when the knowledge might save your life.
I’ve been putting off lessons, mainly because they’re expensive, and also because I infrequently — although not never — find myself in such Indiana Jones-like situations. Getting my pilot’s license remains near the top of my to-do list, right beneath my dive master certification and just above moving to a tropical isle and throwing out the last of my sweaters for good.
This weekend I took one step closer to crossing off another to-do on my list when I took a ride in my very first glider plane. Upon arrival at Sky Sailing, which is right down the road from Warner Springs Ranch, where I’d spent the night, I was informed that learning to fly a glider is the best way to get your license, and also one of the easiest, as it teaches you the basics (all the non-motorized stuff) right from the get-go.
While I waited to speak with the proprietor, I stared up at the ceiling, which consisted of a propellor-blade ceiling fan and garlands of cut-up t-shirts, each representing a pilot’s first solo in a glider. Simple inspiration. My mind was made up.
Moments later, I was sitting in the cockpit of a vehicle that was so light I helped drag it onto the tarmac. The pilot, Ryan, gave me a quick rundown of the gadgets and widgets in front of me — altimeter, speedometer, etc. — and the steering controls, the most important of which were the “stick” and rudders, controlled by hands and feet, respectively. Ryan connected the yellow rope to the tow plane, jumped in behind me, and moments later we were airborne, soaring over the ranch where I’d stayed the night before, the blue waters of the hot springs sparkling against the red earth below.
At some point, Ryan scared the bejeebus out of me by saying that I should take the stick. He could correct for any mistake, he assured, twitching the rudders beneath my feet, but I’d be piloting for a little while. I took the stick nonchalantly, as if I were about to kick butt at Mario Kart, before it dawned on me: I was at 3,000 feet. Without a motor. And I was the pilot. I nearly tossed my ranch-made omelet.
But a few moments later, I was zipping through clouds as if they were carpool lanes on the 5 Freeway. Ryan would point out an opening and tell me to follow the contours, and I’d follow obediently as if seeking the exit to an aerial labyrinth. With the valley and Lake Henshaw below us, we glided between two of San Diego County’s tallest peaks, Hot Springs Mountain (the tallest) and Palomar Mountain (home of the world-famous telescope). I prodded Ryan for info about aerial spottings of native wildlife and other such trivialities, while my mind whirred with disbelief that I was steering an aircraft. After so many years — and so many aviation mishaps — I was having the time of my life.
What I wasn’t prepared for was Ryan telling me that I would soon be landing the plane. That wasn’t something I’d bargained for. In fact, there’s still a part of me that would rather have video recorded the landing, rather than twitching with sweaty palms as I circled the tarmac and followed one of the tow planes to the ground. But I made it. To solid ground. No one was running over to cut my shirt tails off and tack them to the ceiling, but I was at least another step closer to that moment.
If you’re going to be anywhere in the neighborhood of Warner Springs, you must make Sky Sailing a stopover. Heck, make it the centerpiece of a daytrip, if you must.