Hawaii from a Spectacular Vantage Point

When you come to Hawaii, you expect – and surely will find – the sun, sand, sea, and surf of lore. You know coming in that the place is beautiful, even spectacular, and that the weather is just about perfect.

But you’d like to push the envelope, to take all those givens a step further with an experience only a fortunate few have undergone.

Take a ride in a glider. It’s a rush like no other, but a whole lot safer than, say, skyping, mountain climbing or even hiking.

You and perhaps one other passenger join an accredited glider pilot in a sleek, engineless aircraft that is towed skyward by another airplane and released. As the glider soars, under complete control, you behold the splendor below in a calm, quiet way. You see everything clearly, and somehow it’s even more spectacular than any photo or film could reproduce.

Gliders can stay aloft for hours, but your flight probably will last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour (Your call, usually based on cost).

You may wonder what keeps you up there. It’s really simple. The sun’s energy heats the ground and that heats the air above the ground. The warm air rises in columns known as thermals. Your pilot knows the visual indications of thermals — cumulus clouds, cloud streets, dust devils and haze domes – and has an instrument known as a variometer (a very sensitive vertical speed indicator) which shows visually (and often audibly) the presence of lift and sink. Having located a thermal, a glider pilot will circle within the area of rising air to gain height.

Another kind of lift occurs when the wind meets a mountain or cliff. The air is deflected upwards and gliders can climb in this rising air by flying along the feature.

The best glider rides in Hawaii probably take place over the North Shore of Oahu, where the conditions are ideal, and the scenery is amazing. Commercial glider companies take passengers on flights as often as twelve times a day.

Those who have undergone the experience often describe it as “birdlike.”

Most pilots do not lay any kind of spiel on you while you’re soaring, but they’re all well-versed in the landscape and will willingly engage you in conversation during your trip. Most passengers are content to gaze in peace and awe.

You can request a aerobatic flight, for which you are provided with a parachute. On an aerobatic flight, you’ll get loops, barrel rolls, clover leafs, hammerheads, and you’ll fly upside-down. It’s not great sightseeing, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

Gliders are remarkably safe. You don’t have to worry about a fire, or losing fuel, or the engine conking out because there is no engine, and you’ll always be within gliding distance of the airport.

Glider rides aren’t heavily promoted here, but you’ll see ads in some of the visitor publications. If you think you’d like to try the experience, ask us and we’ll help set it up for you!

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny