Soaring High and Free

MIDLOTHIAN, TX — Flying high and solo is as close to true freedom as a pilot can get. Omri Kalinsky, a member of Texas Soaring Association, has the opportunity to experience that freedom whenever he wants to get in one of his two glider planes. “Going to fly is what I get up for in the morning,” he said. “It’s very relaxing and helps me clear my head from the mundane and annoying.”

215midOmri is a computer programmer, but as an expert in gliders, he spends the majority of his free time at TSA. Born in Israel, his family relocated to America when he was 8 years old. He moved from Frisco, to Midlothian a year ago to be closer to the airport.

Flying has always captured Omri’s interest. “As a kid I was into flying, and when I turned 23, I learned how to fly single engine airplanes,” he remarked. It became boring to him after a couple of years, and the expense of flying became burdensome since it prevented him from being in the air as much as he wanted. “With a powered airplane, most of what you do is fly in a straight line. It’s more of trying to get somewhere as opposed to the joy of flying,” he said.

When he tried gliding, Omri became instantly hooked. “When I moved to Texas in 2005, I needed to do something to occupy my time. So, I went online and found local places to soar and started taking lessons,” he explained. Learning how to fly a glider was relatively easy for Omri. “What I already knew from power flying applied to glider flying. There is one big difference — flight controls on a glider are far more sensitive than on an airplane. You need more rudder, which you control with your feet. A rudder is a moveable surface at the back of a glider. In an airplane you kinda use it here and there, but in a glider you use it all the time.”

The basic aerodynamics and design of a glider and airplane are the same in that they both have wings, a fuselage, control surfaces and landing gear. “The wings on a glider are a lot longer, and the tail is typically a little longer,” Omri explained. “The aerodynamic effects are the same, but they are somewhat exaggerated because of the difference in proportion of a glider, which is why you need more rudder.”

Another notable difference between the two is that airplanes have an engine, and a glider does not. “Typically you can’t get up in the air by yourself with a glider because of no engine,” Omri clarified. “We do aero-towing, which is taking a standard powered airplane, particularly one with a large engine, putting a 200-foot rope at the tail end and attaching it to the nose of your glider. The airplane pilot then takes off and pulls the glider up to a certain height, and then you release. That’s how you get airborne. There are other ways to get airborne, but that is the most common.”

Since a glider has no engine, rising air currents are what keeps it going once it is in the air. A glider will always descend. While in the air, the pilot has to find an air current that is rising faster than he is descending in order to stay up. But that rising air is not always there. “The joy and challenge of it all is to find the rising air and use it to your advantage to stay up longer or go farther or faster,” Omri elaborated.

Before a flight, Omri checks the forecast about air currents. “They are reasonably accurate but can be dead wrong,” he stated. “I use aviator- or glider-specific weather forecasts and can get information on the Internet. If there is no rising air, then you know that if you go up, you’ll come back down in 15 minutes. On a good day, you can stay up for maybe four or five hours.” He has a moving map GPS for gliders and communicates through radio. He also flies under visual flight rules, which are obviously to not fly into clouds, fog, snow or heavy rain.

Most people unfamiliar with gliders would assume the wind is the most important thing. But it’s not the wind, it’s mostly the sun. “The sun beating down on the earth causes thermals,” Omri remarked. “The sun warms up the air near the ground and, basically by the principal of buoyancy, the warmer air becomes less dense and then rises. And that’s what we’re riding — those bubbles of warm buoyant air called thermals. That is why the summertime is a lot better for us than wintertime.”

Omri gets to share his knowledge about gliding in conjunction with TSA. The organization is a 501(c)(3), and they have an educational charter that enables them to give glider rides to local Boy Scout groups. “Some Boy Scout groups earn their aviation merit badges through us,” he shared. “TSA has a youth program through our club. We help them learn how to fly, and they help out with chores on the ground at the airport.”

TSA has a private airport here in Midlothian which is convenient, because not all glider clubs have their own private airport. “To my knowledge, we are the second largest glider club in the country, and most people seem to think we are the nicest one in terms of what we have. We have nice facilities, club gliders that can be rented and hangers.” As the membership chairman, Omri notes they have 175 members, and the club has been around since shortly after WWII.

Omri has participated in the racing events that TSA offers and has won three of their Labor Day races. The annual Labor Day Race is divided into several classes depending upon the performance of the rider. Omri is the proud owner of the Flying Pig Award, which is presented in the shape of a pink flying pig. “I won in the Sports Class division, which is for low-performance gliders. At the time I was flying an older glider. The higher performance gliders received a Rocket Ship Award. We also compete in regional, national and world contests.”

As a sport, soaring is fun and requires wisdom and skill from the pilot. “There’s nothing inherently dangerous at all about it,” Omri declared. “If you know what you’re doing and stay conservative, you can be safe. It’s about making good decisions.”

Photos of gliders in flight by Bruce Mahoney.