Have you ever gone outside on a warm summer’s day, seen hawks soaring on the wind, and dreamed of joining them as they soar higher and higher over our green Berkshires? Many people have, but how many have actually done it? The Mohawk Soaring Club offers everyone a chance to do that, and it was a chance I just couldn’t pass up.
On a July day last year, I pulled off of Route 2 between Williamstown and North Adams and into Harriman-and-West Airport. I looked across the field and saw several gliders and a small tent. I walked up to the tent and met club president and pilot Jon Goodman, pilot Jeff Stringer, and tow pilot Carl Villanueva.
I sat down under the tent with the three of them and began to get some information on the history and current status of the club. Jon told me that the club was started in 1952 by some soaring enthusiasts in Schenectady, New York. For quite a number of years, though, it has been based here in North Adams. The club currently has five gliders: four older Schweizers built in Horseheads, New York near Corning, and one high–performance aerobatic Grob 103, built in Germany. This sleek two–seater was to be the one for my flight.
And so, I followed the club’s motto, “The sky is calling. Answer the call.” I stepped down into the intimate cockpit and settled into the front seat. Pilot Jeff Stringer climbed into the rear seat and the tow cable was attached to the nose of our plane. Carl got into the Piper Pawnee tow plane, a former crop duster, and pulled us out onto the runway. With a whoosh we started down the runway and lifted off first. The Pawnee then took to the air and rose slowly out over Williams College. We were up!
We climbed higher and banked south along Route 7 with views out to the wind power farm near Jiminy Peak. The ride was a bit bumpy in the tow-plane’s prop wash, but Jeff smoothly corrected for everything. We continued to climb and banked east toward Mt. Greylock. Soon, we were higher than the 3,491-foot summit and Jeff released the tow cable with a Thunk!, banked to the right, and we were soaring. The rush of the wind was all we heard, and as we turned, the views stretched north over Williamstown and into Vermont. We banked to the south again and on this slightly hazy day the long ridge of the Taconics stretched away with the soft line of the Catskills far in the distance. It was incredibly peaceful.
We turned east again toward Mt. Greylock. Jeff asked, “Do you want to take the controls now?” “Sure!” I eagerly but nervously replied. He explained all about the control stick, the two rudder pedals, and the instrument panel with the altimeter, a variometer (rate of climb indicator), an airspeed indicator, and a compass. “Keep your airspeed over 40 mph, as that’s our stall speed,” he said.
With both feet on the rudder pedals, my right hand on the stick, and the airstream rushing by, I became a pilot. I pressed down on the right rudder pedal and moved the stick to the right. The plane banked sharply right over lovely tree–carpeted Berkshire ridges, and we soared back west toward Route 7.” I straightened the plane out by moving the stick back to the left and then centering it. Jeff took the controls, and the sunshine and expansive views inspired him. “How about some hymns?” he said. So, while soaring on this brilliant day, we sang a few—and it was glorious.
I took the controls again a couple of times and wobbled through a few more turns. By then, though, we had started to sink a bit as we had lost the lift from the wind that we had over the ridges. We decided to head for the airport as Jeff nicely but gladly took the controls. We swooped over a nearby reservoir, banked and lined up with the runway, and touched down smoothly.
This was a half-hour ride and a dream come true. It is a truly special way to appreciate our Berkshires.
The Mohawk Soaring Club offers rides and pilot training and certifications from April through November. The club can be reached through its website at mohawksoaring.org, or by phone with club president Jon Goodman at 413-586–9650. The sky is calling us, so let’s answer the call!