DANVILLE – Hobbies can take many forms based on interest, skill and level of adventure.
For one group of aviation lovers, the Illini Glider Club takes to the skies about every weekend at the Vermilion Regional Airport and any other chances the members get.
The club is a non-profit organization established in 1948. It has about 37 members. Most are from the Champaign-Urbana area, but members also come here from as far as St. Louis, Mo., and Cincinnati, Ohio.
“We’re tying Danville into this center of aviation activity,” said club president Reza Farivar who lives in Champaign-Urbana and is a University of Illinois adjunct faculty member.
The gliders are not hang gliders, but they are like airplanes with longer wings and no engine, Farivar said.
“The gliders are really lovely things. They are very different than what most people think,” he said.
According to the club’s website, “soaring is different from other forms of aviation in that the sailplanes lack an engine. At first glance, this may seem like a serious limitation but a skilled sailplane pilot can fly for many hours and cover hundreds of miles by using subtle clues in their surroundings to locate updrafts. In other words, soaring is an ideal form of recreational sport aviation.”
Farivar said it’s also less expensive.
The central Illinois group has an office on the north end of the Cloud 9 Banquet and Conference Center at the airport off Bowman Avenue. The club started meeting at the airport late last year.
“It’s a very old organization,” Farivar said about the club.
He said it originally started in Champaign with University of Illinois members. Then it moved to Monticello.
It was based in Monticello for decades before heirs of the Monticello airport owner decided not to continue use of the land as an airport. The airport closed last year, Farivar said.
“I joined the club about three years ago, right at the time of transition,” Farivar said. “We started the process of looking at alternative locations to host our club.”
He said it was a long process and took a lot of work. The Vermilion Regional Airport was “quite friendly to hosting us,” he added.
The club moved to Danville late last year and earlier this year started operations again there.
“We have four gliders,” Farivar said.
Two are single-seat and two are two-seat gliders. They also have a fifth aircraft – a tow plane.
“We basically tie a rope to the end of the tow plane and front of the glider, and it pulls it up 2,000 to 3,000 feet,” Farivar said.
There is a lever in the glider to be released and the rope releases and “we are on our own,” he said.
The gliders stay up and climb in thermals. Thermals are currents of air rising from a locally hot patch of ground.
Farivar said the sun warms up the ground and the ground warms up the air around it. Just like a cooking pot with steam going up, the surrounding air goes up and creates pockets of air.
“We stay in them and try and go up with them,” he said about the soaring gliders.
Farivar said with a glider’s long wings, it has a very high lift.
“We are coming down to the ground one way or the other, but at a very, very slow speed,” he said.
“The typical vertical speed that we are coming down to the ground is 150 feet per minute,” he added, saying that that’s about the speed of walking. It can take about 20 minutes or so to come back down.
He said its Mother Nature’s energy that the glider uses.
Those driving by the Vermilion Regional Airport can sometimes see the gliders turning and turning for hours.
“That’s how we do it,” Farivar said.
They try to have flying days on the weekends and sometimes during the week too. One week in July they flew every day.
Farivar got involved with the club after seeing it at an airport. He’s also a power pilot and flies small engine planes.
“I stayed because it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
He said aviation is expensive, but the prices the club charges are really affordable.
He said other planes go from one place to the other.
“This is similar to a sport,” Farivar said, adding that at one time the gliders were looked at for the Olympics. “It’s pretty much like sailing.”
“It’s a battle with you and Mother Nature …,” he said.
Recently the club has had groups from Champaign and Fort Wayne, Ind., visit the airport for rides.
Rides are priced at $80 and last 20 to 40 minutes depending on the day’s weather.
Farivar said they also are looking for new members to join the club. A student membership for those younger than 22 years old is $267 a year. A student membership for college and graduate students is $300. A full adult membership is $525 a year.
There are no monthly, aircraft rental or instruction fees. There are tow and material and examination fees.
“Everybody here is volunteering their time,” Farivar said.
The club’s official flying season is 36 weeks long, from March to December. However, it typically keeps the tow plane and one glider operating throughout the winters. This allows pilots, especially students, the opportunity to maintain their skill throughout the off season.
The club’s office at the airport includes a virtual reality-based flight simulator that is available to club members for free.
Glider flying is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration like any other aviation. Instructors are FAA certified.
The club starts training new members in the two-seater gliders until they are ready for solo flights.
“It’s very well regulated. Safety is the No. 1 concern,” Farivar said.
He also added gliding is much more of a social activity.
On a recent Friday afternoon, a ground crew sat and talked under a canopy while watching a glider after it launched.
Jonathan Stranberg of Monticello said he likes anything involving aviation and flying. His kids are older now, allowing him more time to be part of the club which he enjoys.
Lowell Lamb of Tuscola also enjoys being involved with the club.
He said flying gliders is the first time he’s flown anything.
“It is a little challenging, some of it,” Lamb said, but said he gets a feeling of accomplishment when “you start to understand and put things together” when flying. He says he also feels safe.