Pam Dudding Contributing writer
For some, dreams of flying remain only that – dreams. In Craig County, there is now an opportunity of a lifetime for young adults to apply for a scholarship all while learning how to “soar amongst the clouds.”
Many locals know that once the warm weather approaches, their skies will be filled with gliders and small engine planes on the weekends.
The New Castle International Gliderport (NCIG) in Craig has been functioning for 56 years. The club has been in existence for 58 years.
Jim Cole, the Blue Ridge Soaring Society (BRSS) President, disclosed some information about the NCIG.
“We only serve gliders and single-engine airplanes, although twin-engine airplanes have landed there,” he said. “The Gliderport is private, but it is not closed to the public. For obvious reasons, we do not promote a lot of power traffic because we are a glider operation, but single-engine aircraft is not unwelcome. We do have glider pilots bring their gliders and fly with us, and we promote glider pilots flying too.”
The exciting news is that they also have scholarship programs for people between the ages of 14 and 25. This is funded through the Cloud Fund, which is a supporting non-profit organization to the Blue Ridge Soaring Society.
Kevin Kochersberger, Managing Director of the Cloud Fund, said, “We offer scholarships to youth for flight training at BRSS. Typically, it is a $500 initial grant with a follow-on $500 grant if the student shows satisfactory progress – a total of $1,000 in support. We like to make these matching grants so the student will contribute to their education along the way, keeping them engaged in the training process.”
Additionally, they can offer three-flight intro-training scholarships, if the student is well qualified, but still evaluating “whether or not soaring is a good idea” for them.
Kochersberger added, “We do have a face-to-face interview with the student to make sure they are a suitable candidate for this program.”
The BRSS encourages students who are interested in learning more information to visit the Gliderport on the weekend and introduce themselves to the flying members. “An instructor is usually on the field and can initiate the process for setting introductory flights,” Kochersberger said.
On the immediate agenda is Region Four South, an annual contest sanctioned by the Soaring Society of America (SSA).
This competition is Monday, September 16 through Saturday, Sept 21, with a practice day on Sept 15. “This is strictly a flying competition,” Cole said.
The competition is based on the best speed around a designed course.
He explained, “The Competition Director will call a task for the day which will consist of a number of turn points that the pilot must fly to. A turning point is typically a place on the map, and some of the turn points for New Castle are Maggie, Oriskany, Eagle Rock, Mountain Lake, Covington, Blacksburg Airport and many others. The glider is outfitted with a navigation instrument, and as well as providing location and soaring information, it is also a GPS logging device. At the end of the day, the data is analyzed, and each pilot is given a score based upon their speed around the task course. The tasks can range in distance from a minimum of 50 miles to many hundreds of miles all depending on how good the weather is.”
Most of the competitors for the Region Four South are from the East Coast, but they have had people from Canada and even Alaska hosting between 25 to 40 every year.
Cole noted that, “In order to be an ‘official’ contest, we have to have flown at least two days. We have had contests where we only flew two days, and some where we flew every day. It is strictly dependent on the weather.”
He added, “All gliders are not created equal, and for that reason, there are different classes. In some classes, the score is ‘handicapped’ based upon the glider performance so that gliders with different performance can compete together.”
The SSA is known to have sanctioned contests like this one all over the United States. “Every summer there are regional contests, a national contest and there is also a world contest that takes place in a different country every year,” Cole said.
There is an invitation for the flying enthusiast to bring a chair if they like, to enjoy the contest and observe from the side of the runway. The only caution that is given is for all vehicles to park in a specific area, so they do not interfere with the glider operations. They do have food available on the Gliderport and dinners are planned every evening.
For anyone interested in the event, they may contact Jim Cole at [email protected] or to enter the contest, go to the SSA website.