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Have you ever experienced a glider plane ride? You can experience a sailplane ride in the Finger Lakes region. It’s such a thrilling adventure to glide high up above the Finger Lakes region in a sailplane. It’s surprisingly peaceful up in the sky because glider planes don’t have a motor, so it’s completely silent.
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When I learned that I had the chance to ride in a sailplane on a trip to the Finger Lakes (a region in New York state), I had to actually Google search what a sailplane was. A sailplane (otherwise known as a glider plane) offers a completely silent flight.
The plane is dragged up into the air by a tow plane and released, allowing you to fly without an engine. I couldn’t even imagine the sensation of gliding up in the air, drifting in the breeze like a bird. I knew that I was in for an adventure of a lifetime.
Elmira is the Soaring Capital of America
Why is Elmira and the Finger Lakes such a great place to go for a sailplane ride? Elmira, New York is the “Soaring Capital of America“. Historically, Elmira and more specifically, Harris Hill, is a top destination for soaring and riding glider planes. With the updraft from its ridge, along with its hills and deep valleys, Harris Hill is an ideal environment for soaring.
The first 13 national soaring contests took place in Elmira from 1930-1946. The company, Schweizer Aircraft Corp, was located at the bottom of Harris Hill. They manufactured 50% of America’s sailplanes. Harris Hill is thought to be the birthplace of soaring in America. You can visit the National Soaring Museum here and plan to go for a Finger Lakes glider plane ride for yourself. I’m going to show you how to do both!
Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: A Great Adventure
On a Finger Lakes glider plane ride, you’ll experience the sensation of flight in a completely quiet environment. You’ll hover high in the air, gently circling around as gravity slowly brings you back to the earth.
It wasn’t until I approached the plane that I started to feel nervous. It was only then that I fully realized what I was getting myself into. What was I thinking? I’ve never been inside any helicopter, small plane, or anything close to this type of aircraft. I’ve only flown in commercial jets where it’s easy to forget that you’re even up in the sky.
In this plane made for two, I sat up in the front while the pilot sat in the back. The tow plane would bring our sailplane to an altitude of 4000 feet above sea level before releasing us. From there, we’d gracefully meander in the wind for about 15 or 20 minutes.
I’m sure that my legs were shaking a little bit as I approached the glider plane. However, once I was strapped inside my seat and I chatted to the pilot, my nerves eased up. I couldn’t wait to fly up above the spectacular Finger Lakes, experiencing the region from new heights.
Flying on a Finger Lakes Glider Plane
Flying up in the sky on this Finger Lakes glider plane ride was nothing short of exhilarating. Once we were ready to go, the tow plane edged forward, eventually pulling our glider plane along with it. Within moments, the glider ascended off the ground.
The world grew smaller and smaller as we flew higher and higher. I looked from side to side and marveled at the lush landscape of New York state that extended all the way to the horizon.
Once we were at the proper altitude, the tow plane released the cord and veered in an opposing direction, disappearing out of sight. Our plane was all alone in the sky.
Admiring Beautiful Views on a Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride
I couldn’t get over the silence. I’m very accustomed to plane rides being very noisy. On commercial flights, it only takes a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to realize just how loud airplanes truly are. I find that I nearly have to yell over the white noise to communicate with someone sitting right next to me.
On a sailplane ride, it was so quiet up there as we lacked any kind of motor. It was also an incredibly smooth ride. We glided around in giant loops. The sensation was as close as I’ve been to flying like a bird.
Don’t forget to bring your camera. Even though I had to battle the reflections of the glass all around me, it was a great opportunity to take pictures of the impressive scenery. From flat farmland to lush, green hills, the Finger Lakes is such a stunning beauty.
Finger Lakes Glider Plane: Beginning Our Descent
We slowly descended throughout the flight, working with the powers of physics and gravity. Finally, it was time to land. While I expected that we could be in for a bumpy landing, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Much like up in the air, we glided gently to the ground and slowly came to a stop. I only wish that the flight was longer, but all good things must come to an end.
After my flight, the skies became gray and the weather didn’t cooperate for any other flights that morning. I traveled to the Finger Lakes with my sister, Robyn. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to experience a sailplane ride that day.
Thankfully, the skies opened up the following day and there were bright, blue skies. As we staying in the nearby town of Corning, we zipped back over to Harris Hill and learned that she could take her glider plane ride after all! I’m so happy that she got to experience this, too.
Visiting the National Soaring Museum
Located right on site, you can also enjoy a visit to the National Soaring Museum before or after your sailplane flight. This aviation museum preserves the history of motorless flights. It’s home to many original and replica glider planes, and shows how far we’ve come with this technology. The National Soaring Museum is home to a vast collection of planes, from the late 1890s to the late 20th century.
Be sure to book a tour as I learned so much from our knowledgeable guide. He was truly passionate about the topic of aviation history. I enjoyed the thrill of experiencing a Finger Lakes glider plane ride first hand, while I also appreciated the trials and tribulations that got us to where we are today.
Plan Your Visit to Harris Hill
The National Soaring Museum and the sailplane rides at Harris Hill Soaring are offered at the same location, so it’s possible to do both one after the other. You can book a Finger Lakes glider plane ride from April to October on weekends, and daily from mid-June to Labor Day.
Each ride lasts approximately 15 to 20 minutes and you’ll fly 4000 feet above sea level. Harris Hill Soaring does not take reservations. It is first come, first serve, and always weather depending. Show up early, as close to 10:00am as possible when they open.
You won’t be able to ride if the weather isn’t ideal. When we visited, I was able to take my flight and within 30 minutes, the conditions weren’t great and my sister was unable to fly. We returned the next day and it all worked out for her. Be prepared to have flights postponed if the wind conditions aren’t ideal.
The plane has two seats: one for you and one for the pilot. If you’re visiting with your partner or family members, you’ll ride one at a time. When you’re up in the area, your pilot will point out various landmarks like Watkins Glen and the various Finger Lakes.
Where to Stay in the Finger Lakes
If you’re looking to take a sailplane ride in the Finger Lakes, I recommend staying overnight at the nearby town of Corning, New York. Corning has a really cute downtown main street with lots of great shops, restaurants, breweries, and so much more. Harris Hill is about a 20 minute drive from Corning.
Radisson Hotel Corning
When I visited the Finger Lakes, I stayed at the Radisson Hotel Corning. It’s situated in an ideal location right in town, so you can walk everywhere. The hotel itself is clean and comfortable, and I know you’ll love spending the night here. The Corning Museum of Glass is only a two minute drive, too (or you can walk there!).
Things I loved about the Radisson Hotel Corning? There’s an indoor pool, free Wi-Fi, a fitness center, and the rooms are gigantic. There’s a lot of space to work on your desk, and there’s a flatscreen TV for when you want to unwind at night.
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More Hotels and Accommodations in Corning
There are lots of fantastic properties in Corning for your vacation. Here are all of the hotels and accommodations displayed on one handy map. Select your dates and browse the hotels and prices to find the best place to stay.
More Things to Do in the Finger Lakes
I’ve visited the Finger Lakes on several occasions and there are so many awesome things to see and do there. If you love nature, food, breweries and wineries, and outdoor adventures, the Finger Lakes is the perfect destination for you. Take a road trip through this region of New York State with our handy guides.