Mike Maskell dreamed of flying from the time he was six-years-old.
As a child, he watched the Disney movie The Boy Who Flew with Condors. It’s the true-life adventure of a California teenager who, like Maskell, dreamed of flying and lived his dream by learning to fly a glider plane.
"I guess I was that boy," said Maskell, who is now living his dream by flying glider planes each weekend at the Winnipeg Gliding Club, located near the town of Starbuck.
Maskell has been flying gliders since 1979.
"I was 18-years-old when I got my pilot’s license and it’s been pretty much non-stop ever since," he said.
Three years later, Maskell obtained his instructor rating, and has been teaching others to fly ever since.
"It’s nice to be able to give something back to the sport by instructing others," he said.
Unlike Maskell, I never dreamed of flying. It’s not that I was opposed to it, it just never really occurred to me. That said, I’m a little bit of an adventure junkie and always up for trying something new. When the opportunity for me to experience gliding first-hand came up I was all in.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit scared driving out to the gliderport. I didn’t really know what to expect. After all, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been up in an airplane.
I wasn’t sure what the planes would look like, how high we would go, or about the mechanics of how a glider works.
After pulling up to the gliderport to meet Maskell, I quickly discovered his passion for the sport. But it wasn’t just him. Each and every pilot I met that day was eager to tell me about their love for gliding and how much I was going to enjoy my flight.
"For most people who fly, they tend to fly with a passion and it’s not just a passing interest," Maskell told me, a fact that was quite evident with each and every pilot I met.
I think I bombarded Maskell with a million questions. As a journalist, I was eager to learn more about a sport I knew nothing about, and was naturally curious about the little plane I’d be going up in.
I learned most gliders weigh less than 600 pounds (not including passengers), but have an abundance of safety and security measures built in.
I learned (somewhat naively) that gliders aren’t run by a motor, but gain height by circling in rising air masses called thermals.
I also earned that during a flight, it’s common to spend 20 to 30% of your time circling in several different thermals and gaining height along the way — that’s the sport of it all, according to Maskell.
He said it’s not uncommon for a glider plane with a skilled pilot to fly more than 300 kilometres during a flight and be in the air for more than five hours, depending on the thermals.
"But, you can come down when you want to?" I asked, nervously.
Maskell assured me the plane was fully controllable, just like any other aircraft.
Then, Maskell took me on a tour of the gliding club, which has been in operation for 53 years, including the last 30 at the gliderport in Starbuck. It is ranked No. 7 in Canada for total distance and miles flown. I watched a few gliders take off and finally it was my turn.
Maskell explained to me that we’d be towed to 3,000 feet by a motorized tow plane and then released. After that, we’d go in search of updrafts and thermals.
So there I was, being strapped into this tiny plane. Six minutes later I was glancing down at tiny farmhouses which looked like Lego pieces.
I’ve been sailing before, and honestly, being up in the plane felt very similar. I was surprised at how smooth it was and that there wasn’t any turbulence.
When the glider started going around in circles, Maskell explained to me that we had, luckily, found a thermal and were gaining some height.
The glider was going up at about 300 feet each minute, which Maskell said was an averaged size thermal.
I was too busy staring out the window, being fascinated by the whole ordeal to really pay attention to the mechanics of it. When we landed, Maskell explained we had reached 4,700 feet above sea level and travelled as fast as 45 km/h. That was nothing compared to a flight Maskell had told me about earlier. He said on one of his best flying days he reached 12,000 feet and was flying into thermals that had him going up 800 to 1,000 feet per minute.
Once we landed, and after my legs no longer felt like Jell-O, I had a chance to process what I’d just experienced. My first thought? I want to do it again.
If time and money allows, Winnipeg Gliding Club may have found its newest member.
For more information on the gliding club go to wgc.mb.ca.