Members flock from all parts of the world to fly
By Tammy Sue Struble
The reasons why glider pilots are members of the Tampa Bay Soaring Society differ. The reason they come to Zephyrhills is the same — it’s the perfect place.
Perfect for the same reason as parachuters at Skydive City next door in Zephyrhills, who find the weather offers consistently good conditions to float through the East Pasco County skies.
Glider pilots come from all parts of the world and state to use the facilities at the south end of the Zephyrhills airport. Located at 40233 Sunpath Ave. in Zephyrhills, the Tampa Bay Soaring Society (TBSS) club is open every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until soaring weather disappears before dark.
Another reason to come to town — the quality of the airport facility itself.
Field Operations Manager and TBSS board member Don Thomasson explained, “People from all over the world are members, from Germany, France, Brazil, Canada and England,” to name a few.
Of the 50-some active members at the Zephyrhills club, they come from all over Florida and many other states. Harlan Hadlett, club president, is from St. Pete Beach. Others are from spots like Land O’ Lakes, Brandon, Haines City, Lithia, New Port Richey, Cocoa Beach, Sarasota, Palm Beach and Zephyrhills.
Some snowbirds, like Milt Moos, are glider club members in other states. Moos is from the Columbus, Ohio area where he is a glider club member as well. He suspends his Zephyrhills TBSS membership while he is away.
Hadlett said there were around 100 total members, but not all are active, “Jacksonville or Miami probably are the next closest glider/soaring clubs available. The Seminole Lakes/Clermont location is commercial.”
The Zephyrhills group is private, yet open to the public. Glider rides are available at about $100.
The TBSS club started in 1985 and has moved to several different locations, landing at Zephyrhills airport in 1997. Consensus of the members seems to be that the location is excellent. The weather conditions, glider air space availability and the central location put smiles on enthusiasts’ faces.
And yes, it does take a pilot’s license to fly a glider aircraft. Interestingly enough, you can get your pilot’s license before your driver’s license. You can solo in a glider at age 14. Tampa Bay Soaring Society does have flight instructors in their ranks if you’re thinking you’d like to get lessons.
If you stop out at the TBSS club in Zephyrhills, the members are happy to talk with you, show you around and share their soaring stories. Often members will go to clubs in other states to fly. The TBSS members had some interesting stories and photos of odd places gliders have had to land — like cow pastures.
Members refer to the aircraft with several names: sailplanes, metal ships, fiberglass ships, gliders and aircraft. At Zephyrhills, a tow plane takes the sailplane up to the desired altitude where the tow cable is then released from inside the glider. Flight time depends on altitude, wind currents and desire — gliders can sail for hours. There is no engine noise; however, the wind over the wings does create noise.
“When landing,” Don Thomasson made it clear, “you get one chance. You have to do it right. Pick an angle, look over the nose of the aircraft and pick a point on the ground.” Since there is no traffic control tower at the Zephyrhills airport, the rule is “see and be seen.” And, certainly, watch out for skydivers and parachutes.
Klaus Vietor of Lithia has been a member since about 1994. Before that, he served 21 years in the Army as a pilot flying helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Then, he moved on to commercial airlines working for American Airlines for 17 years before retiring.
Ray Temchus of Tarpon Springs has been a member for seven years.
“It’s the only place like this in the area,” explained Temchus. Originally from New Jersey, Temchus had a private pilot license and a glider. In 1975, he was in a serious car accident that put him in the hospital for one and a half years — six months in intensive care. He was alive, but wheelchair bound.
When he got out of the hospital, “I sold my glider and stared up to the skies for six months.” Then, one day, he decided he would not feel sorry for himself or let his disability stop him. Boom! Ray dug back into his love of soaring in the clouds. He has since earned his commercial and instructor’s licenses. On his TBSS membership name tag are the letters CFIG, representing Certified Flight Instructor for Glider, an accomplishment in a craft equipped with hand controls. Temchus didn’t stop there.
He became affiliated with the organization Freedom’s Wings, with the Florida branch. They provide flying free or reduced price rides for people with disabilities. Temchus gets out of his wheelchair, into his glider and gives rides.
“This is the only game in town for someone with a disability. The first ride is free, then you can join the membership — fees are negotiable.” Ray continued, “It’s a hobby, a sport. This area is great for it.” Temchus, himself, enjoys cruising around for four hours or more.
To learn more, log onto www.tbss.us or call (813) 779-9165 or stop out at their clubhouse on Sunpath Avenue. To find out more about Freedom’s Wings, the website is www.freedomswings.org/link.html or call the TBSS office number above.
Beth musgrove says
Looks like fun…..I’m into it now….