Soaring into the clouds — without an engine

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

A glider pilot shows Brooke Lewis, 6, one of the aircraft at the open house. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

FREEHOLD — Imagine soaring thousands of feet above the ground… without an engine.

That’s what enthusiasts of the sport of gliding do all the time — they attach a sleek, aerodynamic glider to a small airplane, strap themselves in, get pulled by the plane thousands of feet into the air, and then the plane’s pilot disconnects them and lets them go.

Using physics and jet streams, the glider can stay up in the air, sans engine, for hours.

Nutmeg Soaring Association, which essentially now owns the Freehold Airport, held an open house July 3 to let local residents know about the sport of gliding, also known as soaring, and gave a few lucky souls the chance to try it out.

“We have been here for 20 years,” Nutmeg Soaring Association President Peter Meny said. “This open house is a way for the community to get to know us and what we do, and to tell them about soaring, the sport that we love.”

Soaring presents a challenge — staying up in the air, gliding over mountain ranges, with no engine, takes a great deal of know-how, after all.

“I like the challenge — it’s a never-ending learning experience,” Meny said. “You get to the point where you are proficient and feel comfortable, but the learning doesn’t end at that point. We have people in our club who have so much experience and they are generous to share it with us. It’s a challenging sport because you are in an airplane that doesn’t have an engine — there are lots of factors that you have to keep in mind to be sure you are flying safely.”

Greene County airspace offers plenty of great views while the pilots enjoy their sport.

“There’s the beauty of it — being here in Freehold and in the Catskills, we fly over the mountains routinely,” Meny said. “You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot.”

A pilot gets ready to take off during the open house demonstrations at the Freehold Airport. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Poughkeepsie resident J.T. Lawton was the winner of a raffle for a free glider trip, but passed the trip on to his brother-in-law, John Zamierowski of Norton Hill, who was happy to take him up on it.

“It was roller coaster-like, going up and being pulled by the plane,” Zamierowski said. “I think it was a really nice experience because I know a lot of the mountain ranges here — my wife and I go hiking in the mountains and I could see all the ranges and trails we have been hiking on. It was a really nice local experience to give a different texture to what we know here.”

Zamierowski’s glider trip took him over Windham and Lake Blackhead, and from thousands of feet up he could see the large map of Ireland at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre in East Durham, he said. It was an exciting experience, Zamierowski said.

Others kept their feet firmly on terra firma, but were able to check out the gliders and small planes that were on display. Ruth Fishman, of Cornwallville, brought her granddaughter Brooke Lewis, 6, to check out the airplanes.

“We are only two minutes away so I decided to bring Brooke to see it,” Fishman said. “She loves planes.”

Brooke picked out her favorite.

“I like the yellow plane best,” she said. “I also saw a glider go up.”

A restored Stinson 10A, built in 1941, that was used to teach Army pilots to fly during World War II, according to a plaque posted next to the craft. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Eric Gleason and his son, Jacob Gleason-Sweeney, 8, are no strangers to flight — they flew to Freehold Airport in Gleason’s Cessna 172 and put it on display.

“We saw the advertisement for the open house and I knew about the club here, so I thought it would be a good day to come out and fly and have a hot dog,” Gleason said.

Jacob, of course, has plans to become a pilot one day himself, just like his dad.

Helping to maintain safety during the open house were a number of cadets with the Civil Air Patrol, a group founded in 1941 just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor that encourages young people — kids as young as 12 — to get involved with flying and search-and-rescue efforts.

Cadet 1st Lt. Matthew Pruiksma joined the Civil Air Patrol when he was 13 and is now guiding younger cadets to learn the craft.

“I do enjoy search and rescue a lot — I worked up the ranks and I’m now working on one of the more advanced levels of training,” Pruiksma said. “At this point I’m at the rank where I’m pretty happy with where I’m at so now I am helping the younger generation of cadets.”

Clem Hoovler — a pilot who opened the airport in the early 1960s before selling it a couple of years ago — was also on hand. While he no longer owns the airport, Hoovler still flies, and has been doing so since he was a kid.

“I have flown all my life. I started when I was 10 years old. I was enthralled with aviation and flying,” Hoovler said. “I bought my first airplane when I was 13 — my girlfriend, who became my wife later on, we bought the airplane for $400. I didn’t have any money and she had $50. I borrowed the $50 for a down payment, then I went home and tried to convince my father and my uncle that I needed $300.”

Hoovler was able to convince his father to take out the loan and paid it off by the end of that summer while working at a strawberry farm.

“I paid it off but I never did pay off my girlfriend — I married her instead,” he quipped.

Together, they founded the Freehold Airport around 1962, Hoovler said.

Brooke Lewis, 6, checks out a Cessna at the Freehold Airport open house. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media
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