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Summer Day Getaway: Ride the Skies with World Record-Breaking Glider Pilots

by on June 28, 2014 7:05 AM

Over the past forty years, Tom Knauff and his wife, Doris Grove, have helped turn Centre County into one of the premiere spots for gliding enthusiasts the world over.

At the Ridge Soaring Gliderport in Julian, Pennsylvania, hangers house gliders not only from all over the state, but from Germany and China. Knauff says the gliderport is so popular that some international customers keep a spare plane there year round. The ridge of mountains running between Julian and State College alters wind patterns to create ideal gliding conditions.

Knuaff says the urge to fly is a common dream felt by many people. Given the success of his business, it appears he is correct. The gliderport offers rides in the sleek, unmotorized planes at up to mile above the rolling, gentle green landscape. The price ranges from $120 to $250, depending on the height.

A motorized plane, or towplane, pulls the glider up to the desired altitude. After being released, an average flight lasts up to 45 minutes as the glider rides air currents back to the ground again.

“I think the single most common reaction is being amazed by the view,” he says. A large, clear dome allows for an unhindered view of the valley below, unfurled like a mountainous map thousands of feet beneath the plane. 

Knauff says he enjoys pointing out landmarks, especially to younger flyers, and watching them exploring their area from a new perspective to find where they live. 

“It’s really a kind of discovery, like drawing a map,” Tom Knauff says. “That map becomes a history for the child, and that memory will stick in their minds forever.” 

With a more than 60 world records broken at the Ridge Soaring Gliderport, Knauff and his wife boast a record of experience and expertise. When asked, Knauff struggles to remember the exact number of records broken at the gliderport over the years and laughs.

Knauff was the first person to ever fly 1,000 miles in a glider, while Grove was the first woman to fly 1,000 kilometers. Knauff says he feels “truly privileged” to bring the same sense of wonder that originally drew to him to the skies to others every day.

For more information about Ridge Soaring Gliderport you can visit Eglider.org or call 814-355-2483.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a general assignment reporter for StateCollege.com, a graduate of Penn State and a published poet. He's also a musician who plays bass in an indie rock band.
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