By Scott Prater
2nd Lt. Daniel Skaggs sat in a cockpit staring down a small runway.
Soaring at more than 11,000 feet, he could also easily make out the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the city of Colorado Springs and the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy. But seeing that runway provided an extra bit of comfort and security. He knew that if anything went wrong, the expert glider pilot in the seat behind him could land the vehicle in less than two minutes.
“That was just one of the neat things about soaring,” Skaggs said, following the Single Airman Initiative sponsored glider trip April 19. “Maybe it was the small canopied cockpit, the massive wingspan underneath me, the whispers of the wind or the lack of an engine, but I felt connected to the vehicle. It was nothing like I’ve ever experienced.”
Skaggs was the first of four Team Schriever Airmen to soar that day. After learning everything they needed to know about gliders, flight procedures and safety precautions during their morning ground training, the Schriever Airmen took off, one at a time.
Skaggs estimates their soaring trip lasted roughly 45 minutes, not counting the 10 minutes it took for the glider to be towed up to altitude.
“It was a little scary prior to take off,” Skaggs said. “The glider is connected to the tow airplane by a 200-foot long rope and liftoff was incredibly smooth. We were even off the ground before the tow plane. The smooth transition calmed my nerves, and by the time we were up to altitude, I was excited to go soaring.”
Joining Skaggs on the trip were 1st Lt. Erica Sparkman, Senior Airman Janina Watson and Airman 1st Class Wesley White.
Seth Cannello, Schriever sports and fitness manager, organized the trip as part of the SAI, an Air Force Services program that started last year to provide activities and experiences for single Airmen throughout the Air Force.
Since last summer, Schriever Airmen have gone on river rafting, skydiving, zip lining, hiking and hunting trips. They’ve also rode hot-air balloons, took helicopter rides and fly fished in some of Colorado’s most scenic places.
During this latest soaring trip, Skaggs said the glider pilot customized the experience for each rider.
“Once we were free, the pilot asked me if I wanted to stay up for as long as possible or if I wanted to try some maneuvers,” he said. “I wanted to try the maneuvers. We made some long, slow turns at first, but after a few minutes we started banking hard. Then we dived and shot back up. I estimated we were pulling 4 Gs at times.”
Skaggs ended the flight by taking the controls. He said he piloted the craft for upwards of 15 minutes.
“I’m definitely going to do this again, either through future SAI trips or on my own,” Skaggs said.
Cannello has been planning as many different types of activities as he can for the SAI program, but he didn’t know about the soaring activity until the Black Forest-area glider business owner contacted him.
Given the overwhelming positive response, he has planned three more soaring trips for later this year.
“A lot of Airmen have asked if we could attend a concert or a sporting event, but SAI program leaders have stipulated that the activities they sponsor must allow Airmen to actively participate in an activity, as opposed to them just being a spectator,” Cannello said. “So, that’s why we’re doing things like snowmobiling, go-karting and soaring.”
Coming up during the next few months, single Airmen will get more chances to soar in a glider and raft on one of Colorado’s famous rivers among other activities. Cannello has also planned more indoor go-carting trips and recently added a Segway tour through the Garden of the Gods.
Some of the trips are already full, but he said many people can still register for trips and are likely to get in because some Airmen who sign up end up dropping out before the trip. That’s how Skaggs managed to get in on this latest trip.
“I think perhaps the best advantage of this program is that it allows people to do fun activities they normally wouldn’t be able to afford on their own,” he said.
Food and lodging are ordinarily not covered on these trips, but thanks to the 50th Space Wing Chaplain’s office, Schriever Airmen will now receive a free meal for select events starting in May and lasting through September.
For more information on upcoming SAI activities or to sign up for an activity, contact Cannello on the Air Force Global Email Network or call 567-6658.