The miracle of flight is something some people use only for travel, others compete with it, but for Oro Valley resident Paul Moffett, he now uses the miracle of flight for joy as he glides above Marana.
Moffett, who is the safety officer for the Tucson Soaring Club, started flying in high school and became an instructor in college. While in the Navy, he used to fly A-6 Intruders. Now, he currently flies commercial planes. But, as retirement approaches, he found a way to still enjoy flying without all of the hassles that come with flying a plane with an engine.
“Having been an instructor in light aircrafts, coming out of my career, I knew I didn’t have a desire to fly a Cessna and putt around in a light single engine airplane,” Moffett said. “I just came out and tried this and realized that this is pure recreational flying. You go up, and do what the birds do and have a good time.”
The gliders range in all different sizes from seating two people or one. Some gliders have long, thick wings, while others have shorter, thinner wings.
All of the gliders require a tow plane, which takes off towing the glider plane. The tow plane usually takes gliders anywhere above 2,000 feet. From there, on a good day, gliders can spend five or more hours up in the air. It is simply up to the skill of the pilot and the conditions of the updrafts.
About 130 Tucson Soaring Club members routinely fly out from El Tiro Gliderport in Marana. Some fly as fast and as far as they can, some fly across the country, while others take casual flights with friends or first-time flyers.
Moffett, who has been flying with the club for about two years, enjoys keeping within a 30-mile radius of the airport. To him, that is the perfect flight.
“I have my boundaries,” he said. “I am still learning the cross-country thing. I am still expanding my horizons for cross-country flying.”
Moffett said he doesn’t want to get himself into a situation where he has to land, and possibly break, his glider in a field.
“If I can have a flight where I can push that boundary in all four corners, North, South, East and West, I am having a good day.”
The ability to stay up for longer flights comes from watching for dust devils, crops swirling, eagles, and even wisps of clouds forming. These are usually tell-tale signs of where in updraft is located.
Last month, Tucson resident Rebecca Prechtel took her first flight in a glider. As the time grew closer to her flight, she became excited along with having a few butterflies in her stomach. After she landed about 30 minutes later, she simply had a huge smile on her face.
“It was fantastic,” Prechtel said. “(The pilot) has more control than I expected him to. I thought you were at the mercy of the wind. I had no concept of how the plane would maneuver. I hadn’t given it a lot of thought, but when he showed me how to bring the nose up and stalling it was little more than I thought the glider could do.”
For those wanting to simply come out and have a ride like Prechtel did, it costs $125. For those interested in becoming a member, it costs $300 to join, and there is a $65 monthly fee. Once a member, there is no fee to rent a glider. One simply needs to pay for the tow plane, which is $12 per 1,000 feet. Flight instructors are also available.
“If you want to learn how to fly, this is a great way to do it and it’s a lot cheaper than learning to fly a powered airplane,” Moffett said.