Soaring over Alberni

Instructor Eric Perreault, left, and student Michael Gye come in for a smooth landing at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport.  - AMYAH LABRECHE/special to the News
Instructor Eric Perreault, left, and student Michael Gye come in for a smooth landing at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport.
— image credit: AMYAH LABRECHE/special to the News

I always thought that a plane is a plane. I have flown in many Boeings, Airbuses, and the Concorde supersonic jet. I “hummingbirded” in a helicopter, I popped the clouds in Pipers, Cessnas and flew weird looking flying objects with crazy bush pilots. That was it, I thought, I just need to do military jets and the space shuttle to get it all.

Then I met Andrzej Roznowski.

Roznowski owns Vancouver Island Soaring Centre ( ) based here, in the Alberni Valley. We chatted about planes and he talked passionately about gliders. I wanted to know more and he proposed to bring me up there, soaring in the sky.

When I arrived at the Port Alberni airport earlier this summer, Roznowski proudly showed me the glider in which I would reach the birds’ world.

The glider is small and looks like a bobsleigh that had grown long and narrow wings— surely the reason the maximum passenger’s weight is 110 kg (242 pounds).

In 30 minutes, I learned a great deal about altitude, speed and glide ratio, about thermal waves, ridge lift, and wave lift. I grasped the vivid image that the air space where I would soon be is an ocean full of invisible waves and currents.

You don’t think too much about it when you are in a Boeing, but in a glider it is vital knowledge, as they soar like a kite on these waves.

While waiting for the little red and white Piper fixed wing plane that drags the glider off the land, I met Michael Gye, a consulting arborist from Sidney, B.C. A jolly 85, he was learning how to pilot a glider.

With the size of the smile on his face, I can tell that he shared the same passion for flying as Roznowski, Collin Pazdzior and Eric Perreault (all pilots and instructors).

After 15 minutes of soaring, Gye and Perreault landed perfectly. It was now my turn. The white glider waited patiently on the landing strip, already linked by the orange umbilical cord to the Piper that would soon gently drag us up to the sky.

I slid into the tummy of the plane, into the passenger seat. Roznowski showed me how to attach the safety belt then took the pilot’s place, sitting behind me.

The Plexiglas cockpit closed over my head. I was ready and thrilled.

I took a deep breath while the screechy radio conversation between my pilot, Andrzej, and Collin, the Piper’s pilot, broke the silence. Then the Piper started to roll slowly on the strip and then faster and then…we both lifted off.

What a feeling! We were carried higher and higher toward the clouds. A few more minutes and Roznowski unhooked the umbilical cord. We were free to soar.

I always felt excitement in flying but never experienced this intense sensation of freedom, of just floating in the air. No engine roaring, just the noise of the wind surrounding me.

Catching a wave—a thermal—the glider started to soar. It gave me tingles in my stomach like when on a rollercoaster.

Yes, the view is breathtaking, of course, but I am all in this new experience of being like a bird.

Too soon, it was time to go down toward the landing strip, time to go back to the heaviness of the land. It was way too short.

Soaring in a glider might not be an extreme sport but it is still full of unusual emotions and sensations.

So, if you have some extra shingles in your wallet, it is a good place to go and get tingles in your tummy.

Will I go again? You bet.

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