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Soaring with eagles


By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Sara Inzerillo, 17, second from right, explains what soaring in an glider is like. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

FREEHOLD – Ever wonder what it would be like to soar with eagles? Glider pilots don’t have to wonder… they already know.

Gliders may look like airplanes, but they don’t have an engine and, indeed, no electronics at all.

Yet they soar in the sky, sometimes side by side with eagles.

“It feels wonderful – you feel like a bird,” said glider pilot Linda DeMarco. “Sometimes eagles fly next to us so we are literally soaring with eagles.”

The glider organization Nutmeg Soaring purchased the Freehold Airport several years ago and in July held its annual open house to share their hobby with the community and give people an up-close look at what gliders are all about.

DeMarco, who owns her own airplane, has been gliding for decades.

“I have been gliding since the 1990s,” she said. “My husband, who was a Belgian paratrooper, always wanted to fly, so we got involved with gliding in Connecticut.”

Nutmeg Soaring is based in Connecticut but uses the Freehold Airport to store and fly their gliders.

How do you fly without an engine?

A “tow plane” – a traditional airplane with an engine – is connected to the glider and brings it up into the sky. When conditions are just right, the tow plane releases the glider and off it goes, on its own. The glider pilot uses the wind to soar and with the right conditions, can stay up in the air for hours.

“You become a micro meteorologist because you have to see the thermals, which are heat waves rising, and you need to feel the wind and see where it’s blowing the glider,” DeMarco said. “You always have to look down and make sure you have a place to land in case you get too far away from the airport and can’t make it back.”

Glider pilots become expert at understanding and using wind to stay afloat.

“You just glide through the air and use the weather as your motor,” DeMarco said. “You learn how to feel what is going on under you. If there is a rising thermal of warm air, you will feel it in the seat of your pants and you turn into it and take it as far up as you can.”

For some glider pilots, it is their first introduction to flying and some eventually transition to more traditional power planes after learning the basics, DeMarco said.

Sara Inzerillo is 17 years old and already has several years of glider piloting under her belt.

“I started learning when I was about 14 years old and I soloed when I was 14, too, when you go up in the glider alone,” Inzerillo said.

There was a learning curve, but she said there is nothing else like it.

“It’s really, really fun. It took me a while to get used to it and get good at it, but it’s really fun,” Inzerillo said. “It’s silent – unlike a plane, where you hear the engine, in a glider you are up there and it is super silent. You can hear the wind and the mountains are right by you.”

“You look for thermals to stay up – that’s the only way to gain altitude, through finding lift,” she added.

Visitors to the Freehold Airport check out a glider, which flies without an engine. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Sharon Hillman, of West Coxsackie, said she has been good friends with the Inzerillo family and has known about Sarah’s hobby for years. But would she go up in a glider?

“No, I wouldn’t,” Hillman said. “It even makes me nervous when Sarah goes up – but she is good at it.”

In addition to gliders, the Freehold Airport’s annual open house also had on display power airplanes from many years ago, such as a Fairchild 24W9, manufactured in 1940, which was capable of transporting high-explosive bombs.

Brian Benedict and Brian Flynn, both with the United States Air Force Auxiliary’s Civil Air Patrol, were also on hand to share information with the public about what their organization does.

“We’ve got three missions,” Flynn said. “There’s emergency services, where we do mostly disaster relief. For instance, if there’s a hurricane, we would do photo reconnaissance missions for FEMA. Then we have cadet programs, which is similar to Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, and we also do aerospace education, both internally and externally. We educate people about aerospace and how important it is to the economy and to the future.”

Flynn and Benedict had a turbo-charged Cessna plane with a “glass cockpit” on display at the airport.

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