|-West Texas Soaring gliders flying glider
There's nothing wrong with setting up camp in one of West Texas' great RV parks and taking in the natural beauty of this vast and desolate playground. There are miles and miles of isolated countryside to view, including Big Bend National Park, Fort Davis State Park and the McDonald Observatory, the remarkable Guadalupe and Chisos mountains - and more.
But unless you have seen them from high above the Earth while soaring in a wind powered glider, you've never seen them the way Burt and Kathie Compton have seen them. The difference is as big as the West Texas sky!
Glider pilots from around the USA will make a pilgrimage to West Texas beginning June 1 when master glider instructor Burt Compton hosts the sixth annual "Glider Rally" at Marfa Airport.
For the public, Compton will offer introductory rides in his FAA certified two-seat glider. He will also share his thirty-nine years of flying experience with visiting pilots from around the United States.
Privately owned racing gliders will participate in cross country flying tasks over the Big Bend area of Texas, coached by National Soaring Champion John Byrd. Towed aloft by a powered airplane, the gliders release their towrope and circle upwards in the invisible thermal updrafts found under cumulus clouds, sometimes gliding for distances of over 500 miles. Ten Texas State soaring records have been established at Marfa in the past five years.
Soaring in West Texas is steeped in tradition. In the 1960ís and 1970ís Marfa hosted several US National Soaring Contests and the 1970 World Soaring Competition. During those contests the public could watched dozens of the
sleek, motorless sailplanes (high-performance gliders) soaring over the mountains near Marfa, Fort Davis and Alpine, but getting a ride in a two-seat training glider was usually impossible.
"Eighty pilots gathered from around the world to race their single-seat gliders. The purpose of the contest was to determine the champion pilot, not for giving rides", says Compton, who first visited the Big Bend in 1967.
Year-round now Compton provides glider rides or flying lessons to anyone who would like to experience the powerful thermal updrafts that make
the Big Bend area legendary in the aviation world. The two-seat glider used for the soaring flights has a 54 foot wingspan, similar to the giant Pterosaur which also utilized Texas thermal updrafts 65 million years ago. Fossilized bones of the extinct birdlike creature have been discovered in the Big Bend, and soaring through air like these prehistoric creatures provides a sense of timelessness as the world seems to stand still below.
And if you're worried about having an experienced pilot for the ride, relax. Burt Compton, who lives in Marfa, grew up in an aviation family on a gliderport near Miami, Florida. His father is a former SSA Director and World Soaring Championship competitor. Burt soloed in gliders in 1968 and currently is an FAA "Gold Seal" Certificated Flight Instructor in gliders and airplanes, and also an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner for the Lubbock FAA FSDO, which includes Marfa, all of West Texas and Hobbs, New Mexico.
He was selected as "Flight Instructor of the Year" in 2001 by the Miami FAA FSDO, and is one of only 300 "Master" flight instructors nationwide as designated by the National Association of Flight Instructors.
Burt has flown 43 different types of gliders - so far - from training gliders to the high performance racing sailplanes, at more than 40 soaring sites around the world. In 2001, he was designated a Soaring Society of America (SSA) Master Cross Country Instructor. In 2004 he was appointed the Chief Master SSA Instructor.
The soaring aviator developed the Soaring Safety Foundation "Soaring Site Safety Surveys" and has visited 26 soaring sites (so far) to observe operations procedures, share his knowledge on risk management, and conduct lively Soaring Safety Seminars. He is often a guest presenter at the annual SSA / Air Sports Convention, and was invited to speak at the 2001 Swedish Soaring Federation Convention.
In 2001 Burt and Kathie Compton were married in their glider high above
the Marfa Plateau. They celebrate their wedding anniversary each year by taking to the skies.
To plan your soaring adventure, or to obtain a glider ride gift certificate, call Kathie or Burt Compton at 800-667-9464 or visit their web site at www.FLYGLIDERS.com (click on "Marfa Gliders"). The Marfa Airport (MRF) is on Highway 17, between Marfa and Fort Davis, in west Texas.