Published August 2002

Glider school takes off
at Arlington Airport

By John Wolcott
SCBJ Editor

Northwest Soaring, based in Cle Elum, where there is abundant Eastern Washington air space for glider flying, now has an office in Arlington, where there is an abundance of population — including general aviation pilots.

Learning to fly with Northwest Soaring

Northwest Soaring of Cle Elum provides orientation flights at the Arlington Airport and instruction courses at its Cle Elum headquarters that include pre-flight, towing maneuvers, planning, takeoff and landing, theory of flight, weather, regulations and emergency procedures. Average beginners need 25 to 35 flights before soloing, totaling about seven to nine hours of flight time, depending on background, skill and initiative. Costs for soloing range from $1,200 to $1,900. The minimum age to solo is 14.

The FAA requires a minimum of seven hours of solo flight time before taking a written test and a check-ride flight test. Minimum age for the private glider license is 16.

Transitioning to gliders earns “power pilots” an add-on rating to their license. Usually, about 12 to 15 flights will be sufficient for soloing, about three to four hours of flight instruction; at least 10 solo flights must be completed before taking the FAA’s Private Glider License flight test. Costs for earning a transition rating in gliders range from $1,200 to $1,900.

Rates and flights

Sailplane rental, three-seater: $49/hour

Sailplane rental, two-seater: $39/hour Instruction: $39/hour

Aero tows: $12 for the first 1,000 feet and $10 for each additional thousand feet

Family recreation packages: soaring, horseback riding and golf in the summer, soaring with skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, variable rates.

Contact information

Address: 504 E. 2nd Street, Cle Elum, WA 98222

Phone: local, 206-729-5358; main office, 509-674-0294

Web site:

Since the glider school opened last year in Snohomish County, interest in flying gliders has growing at the Arlington airport, even among “power” pilots who are accustomed to flying planes that glide like rocks when the engine noise quits.

“Soaring experience makes better power pilots, too,” said Michael Henderson, owner of Northwest Soaring. “Many power flight instructors send us their licensed students to learn advanced weather (understanding) and power-off (flying) techniques. And it always helps to have a soaring add-on to your pilot’s license.”

Learning to fly gliders is also a great introduction to flying in general, he said. Henderson offers introductory sailplane flying experiences in Arlington for the general public and licensed pilots, as well as flying lessons, although most of the pilot training is conducted at the Cle Elum airfield, where there is less air traffic than at Arlington. The Cle Elum site also offers a choice of either tow-plane launches or using motorized winches that propel the gliders to soaring altitudes.

This year, he will also be providing pilot instruction in motorgliders, broad-winged soaring planes with engines that propel themselves to gliding heights.

“It’s amazing, but even with the engine weight in front, motorgliders have the same soaring performance as gliders without motors,” Henderson said.

Northwest Soaring's training aircraft include two different motorless gliders — a Schweizer SGS2-32 three-seat sailplane and a Schweizer SGS2-33 training glider, a high-wing trainer that has a superior climb rate.

There are already glider clubs at the Arlington airfield, with members who soar nearly every weekend when weather conditions are right. Now, Northwest Soaring offers flight lessons for those who want to learn to fly or just polish their skills.

Northwest Soaring’s founders have been flying gliders since the early 1970s. Before starting the business, they visited dozens of soaring schools throughout the United States, Australia and Europe. In past years, Northwest Soaring’s owners spent many years helping to establish other glider businesses in the eastern United States.

At Cle Elum, the company has the only motorized, winch-launched glider flying available in the Northwest. Tens of thousands of ground-launched glider flights have been done in European countries since the 1930s. Henderson sees one of the chief advantages is that gliders can land and be launched again up to four times an hour so “students still remember clearly the details of their last landing and can execute what they learned on the next approach in just a few minutes, not hours later,” he said.

Also, the Cle Elum airfield, at 2,000 feet elevation, is surrounded by wave-generating ridges in every direction that provide “wave windows,” boxes of airspace rising to 18,000 feet.

The wave windows are off limits to other air traffic, but they are real attractions for glider pilots trained in high-altitude soaring, a course that Henderson also offers.

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