Landing the Glider in Elmira
Unique Attractions,  Upstate New York

Take a Glider Ride in Elmira and Soar Over the Hills of New York

Picture this: You’re in a glider, just big enough to fit you and the pilot. The wings spread out incredibly far in both directions. All that’s above you is the plexiglass hood. There’s no engine. Instead, your glider is being towed off a cliff by a propeller plane. Are you ready? It’s time to take a glider ride in Elmira and soar among the clouds.

A special thank you to Chemung County Chamber of Commerce for hosting me on my trip to Elmira.

Did you know that Elmira is the Soaring Capital of America?

It’s true! The hills and valleys make for the perfect natural landscape for soaring. That’s why Elmira hosted several soaring competitions in the early 1900s. In fact, the first 13 national soaring competitions were held in Elmira from 1930 to 1946.

During World War II, Elmira was chosen as a training site for glider pilots to be used in the war. In a surprising twist, most of the gliders used, both then and now, are German-made.

Soaring played a large role in developing the local history of Elmira. In the 1980s, national competitions returned. Then in 1995, Elmira hosted the first International Vintage Sailplane Meet ever held in the United States. The Meet has been held there every few years since then, making Elmira an important site in the international world of soaring. This summer the Meet will be held in Elmira yet again.

Harris Hill Soaring Park

If you’re looking to take a glider ride in Elmira for yourself, you’re in for a treat! Harris Hill Park was built in Elmira in the 1930s through the Works Projects Administration. Now pilots run the park, which is home to both the glider hangar and the National Soaring Museum. Glider rides give you a truly unique and incredible experience. Up in the glider, you’ll be able to see for miles – enjoying the views of the hills, valleys, Chemung River, and Finger Lakes.

Keep in mind that people with fears of heights of small spaces may have difficulty enjoying a glider ride. But if you can overcome the fear, you’ll enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Looking for more things to do in Elmira? Check out these great nature trails before grabbing something to eat and drink at Elmira’s restaurants and breweries.

What you need to know before you take a glider ride in Elmira

Glider rides are offered April through October.

When the weather breaks in April, glider rides start on the weekends, from 10am until 6pm. During the summer months, June through August, glider rides are offered daily.

The weather conditions have to be perfect.

Unfortunately, even if you have plans to go up in a glider, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will. The weather has to be just right in order for soaring to be successful. So if it is going to be raining or extra windy, you may need to wait it out or reschedule for another day. It’s best to call the morning you want to go soaring to get an idea of weather and pilot availability.

Glider rides cost $110 per person.

I know, it’s not the most budget-friendly activity. But this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that is worth the splurge! It’s a truly incredible and unique experience. Trust me.

The gliders reach a height of about 4,000 feet above sea level.

While at such a height, you’ll get incredible views of the Chemung Valley and the surrounding area. That includes the Finger Lakes! It’s easy to see why the landscape inspired Mark Twain’s greatest works.

Soaring lasts for about 15-20 minutes.

Because the ride is very dependent on the atmospheric pressure and weather conditions, exact timing will vary. But don’t worry, your pilot will do their best to find air pockets to keep you lifted!

There is a weight limit for the glider.

Because the gliders do not have an engine, they have to balance the weight with the air pressure. That means not everyone can go soaring. There is a weight limit of 245 pounds per passenger.

There is no age limit.

That’s right! Riders of any age are welcome. Of course, very small children may be afraid without a parent or guardian with them. Plus they may not be tall enough to truly enjoy the view. So it’s best for them to wait until they are old enough to really appreciate it! It’s also important to note that there is not room for medical equipment. So guests who require such equipment may be unable to ride in the glider.

Cameras are allowed.

There’s no doubt you’ll want to document your unique experience. You can bring your camera and/or phone in the glider with you to take photos or video.

How do gliders fly?

That’s the biggest mystery, right? Well it’s all science! The gliders are very lightweight with a wide wingspan to help balance the plane. With no motor, a tow plane is required to get the glider into the air. Once a certain height is reached, the glider pilot unhooks the tow rope and starts gliding.

Gravity plays the biggest role in flying the glider. It’s only natural that the plane will descend on its own. But the pilot uses his skill and experience to find the right pockets of air that will help the glider find lift. How? By finding thermal columns (areas of hot, rising air) and areas of ridge lift.

While you’re in the glider, feel free to ask questions of the pilot to learn more about how it works. You can also watch the dials in front of you. The variometer will show you the rate of ascent or descent.

Shoutout to my pilot, Burke, who did a great job of explaining how the gliders work and treated me to a beautiful glider ride!

Visit the National Soaring Museum in Elmira

After you’ve gone on your glider ride, or perhaps while you’re waiting, be sure sure to visit the National Soaring Museum at Harris Hill. Inside the museum, you’ll find a large collection of gliders. The planes come from all around the world from as far back as the 1800s.

One of my favorite parts? The scale replicas showing the change in glider design over the years. There is also an area dedicated to gliders used by the military.

The most unexpected part of the museum is the collectibles area that is used to house and restore various treasures. There you can find a completely wooden motorcycle, and a very impressive Victorian dollhouse.

It’s been a tough year, treat yourself to a glider ride and go soaring in Elmira!

Tell me your thoughts!