Be sure to also watch our video “Ridin’ the Thermals at the National Soaring Museum” that shares my husband’s first glider flight and an interview with one of the museum’s staff on our Brainiac Getaways site.
In recent years, I’ve found that my husband is difficult to buy gifts for, so last year, we began a great tradition of taking him on adventures for his birthday, starting with Glenn H. Curtiss Soaring Museum in Hammondsport. This year, we decided to visit the National Soaring Museum on Harris Hill in Elmira, where we also treated him to his first sailplane ride (video on this to come soon!).
Elmira, NY is known as the Soaring Capital of the World and this unique museum is one of only two in the U.S. to focus on motorless flight. The community hosted the very first national soaring competition in 1930, making great use of six hills around Elmira to launch the competition. Because the region was so conducive to soaring, three brothers – Ernie, Paul and Bill Schweizer – founded the premier sailplane manufacturing company in Elmira in the ’30’s and the corporation crafted about half of all American sailplanes made during those years . The company discontinued manufacturing operations in 1987, but it continues to train pilots.
Today, the museum displays an astonishing collection of actual, replica and model sailplanes, including a life-size replica of the Wright Brother’s 1911 Glider. Many planes hang aloft like a child’s dream mobile, and the gliders are also scattered across the floor of the museum for closer inspection and to get a better sense of their size. A diorama with hundreds of beautifully-crafted model sailplanes outlines the history of soaring in both the U.S. and abroad, from the early days through recent years.
In the middle of the exhibition area sits the huge cabin of an actual WACO CG4A military glider you can enter. During WW II, Elmira became home to a program to train glider pilots for the war effort. This glider had a wing span of 83’7″, was 48′ long and could stealthily carry a jeep, 13 men with equipment or a 75 mm gun into action. This plane was instrumental in operation Ladbroke, deployed in Sicily on July 9-10, 1943.
You’ll also have the opportunity sit in the replica of a glider cockpit, to operate a plane’s dive break and to try their hand at virtual soaring in the flight simulator room.
Once outside, be sure to visit the hangar and watch the gliders being guided aloft. If you decide to take a sailplane ride, accompanied by a trained pilot, be sure to arrive early to book it (there are a limited number of flights and they are very popular!), and be prepared to wait over an hour. We booked my husband’s flight, visited the museum for 45 minutes, then returned to see the rest of the museum after his flight.
Guests who enjoy collecting mementos from their trip can find clothing, books, pins, jewelry, posters, toys and other souvenirs in the Windrider Gift Shop. There are drinks and snacks available, but no restaurant onsite, so consider bringing a picnic and dining on the veranda of the “flight deck” to enjoy watching the sailplanes take flight. There’s always a ground crew on duty and if you get a chance, it’s fascinating to talk to these folks who range in age from 13 (they’re part of the junior aviation program where youth as young as 14 can learn to solo) to 70+.
The National Soaring Museum is located at 51 Soaring Hill Drive in Elmira, NY. The museum is open 10 AM to 5 PM, 7 days a week March through December; closed Saturday and Sunday in January and February. Admission is: Adult $7.50, Senior (60+) $6, Youth (7-18) $4.50, 6 and under Free and they also have a Family rate of $20 that includes 2 adults and 2 youth. If you wish to take a flight. The per person rates for a sailplane ride are $90 for a Schweizer 2-33 sailplane or $95 for a Schleicher ASK-21 high-performance sailplane and are available on a first come-first served basis, weather permitting, for a ride of approximately 20 minutes. For a fun look at what it’s like to ride in a sailplane, see our Brainiac Getaways video post Ridin’ the Thermals at the National Soaring Museum in Elmira, NY.
Visiting this museum? Don’t miss these other posts about attractions in Elmira, NY:
- A New York Yankee at Mark Twain’s Study in Elmira, NY
- The Six Months of Christmas at Elmira’s Christmas House
Copyright 2012 © Carol White Llewellyn. All rights reserved.