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Into the great wide open

The Front Royal-Warren County Airport is seen from the cockpit of a glider. Photo courtesy of Skyline Soaring Club

A glider comes in for a landing at the Front Royal-Warren County Airport. Photo courtesy of Skyline Soaring Club

A glider prepares to take flight behind a tow plane at the Front Royal-Warren County Airport. Photo courtesy of Skyline Soaring Club

The Shenandoah River is seen from the cockpit of a glider over Front Royal. Photo courtesy of Skyline Soaring Club

A glider soars over Massanutten Mountain during a flight as part of the Skyline Soaring Club. The club operates from the Front Royal-Warren County Airport in Front Royal. Photo courtesy of Skyline Soaring Club

A glider is pulled behind a tow plane on a runway at the Front Royal-Warren County Airport. Photo courtesy of Skyline Soaring Club

Skyline Soaring Club offers members a unique look at the valley

By Brad Fauber

Shane Neitzey sat with a group of about 80 people as he listened to owners of the Warrenton Soaring Center explain during a special invitational meeting with its clientele that the company was terminating its business.

The owners explained that were hoping to find someone willing to buy out the company, but after receiving no interest on the matter, opened up the possibility of a client purchasing some of the WSC's equipment and opening their own club.

Again, no initial interest was shown, but as one of the presenters at the meeting asked again whether or not anyone would be willing to start a club, Neitzey finally spoke up.

"I raised my hand and said, 'I'll start a club,'" Neitzey recalled of that 1991 meeting during a phone interview on Thursday.

Just like that, the Skyline Soaring Club was born.

Neitzey, with the help of fellow WSC members James Postma and Bob Leyendecker, soon began seeking members for their new club, asking for $1,000 loans from those interested in order to raise money to purchase the necessary aircraft. The Skyline club -- which still remains a non-profit organization -- eventually was able to purchase a tow plane and a glider, and made the move from Warrenton Airfield to the Front Royal-Warren County Airport in 1992.

But the SSC's initial move to Front Royal was a short one, due to a combination of lack of hangar space and a group of skydivers that were also using the airfield.

"All the sudden a parachute operation popped up ... a rag-tag group and they wanted to shove everyone out of their way," Neitzey said. "They put a lot of pressure on us and we started looking for another place to move."

The Skyline Soaring Club then found itself in New Market, where Neitzey said they were "quite happy" for five or six years before they were told they must vacate the airfield.

The club then returned to Front Royal in 1998 under the premise that they could lease some of the hangars located there, and the SSC has been taking motor-less flights there nearly every weekend since.

Membership has grown greatly over the years, and the SSC currently has close to 100 members, including 15 flight instructors and 15 tow pilots, according current club president John Noss. Those members generally meet every weekend for 10 months out of the year, spending their Saturdays soaring throughout the Shenandoah Valley, if the weather cooperates.

"What we like to see is a nice blue sky with white fluffy clouds," Noss said.

Noss said the club owns several gliders and tow planes that are available for rent to members wishing to fly, and some members even have their own gliders that they use.

Last Saturday, the Skyline Soaring Club conducted 16 flights, including Noss' 6 ½-hour trip and another flight of 7 hours. Noss said the club typically conducts about 20 flights a weekend, sometimes 30 if the flights are short.

"Most people stay within five miles of the field. If you have a glider capable of doing it ... some people will fly out a couple hundred miles," Noss said.

The Skyline Soaring Club also offers instruction for prospective pilots, which is provided free of charge to members. Individuals wishing to receive instruction from the SSC can join the club via a 30-day introductory membership and decide later whether they want to permanently join the club.

An introductory membership can also be obtained through the Soaring Society of America's "Fly a Sailplane Today" program, which is a $99 package that includes all of the necessary paperwork and educational material required for prospective pilots.

Neitzey said the SSC currently has about 20 students, and anywhere between four and six of those students will get their license. The minimum age to fly a glider solo is 14 years old, said Noss, and the age of the club's students ranges anywhere from 14 to 70 years old.

The Skyline Soaring Club also works closely with the Skyline Soaring Educational Foundation, which is a non-profit foundation that raises money to promote aviation and soaring to young people through academic scholarships and various other methods.

Neitzey, who has been flying since the 1970s, strongly encourages anyone who is interested to take up aviation, which is essentially a lifelong hobby.

"For me, flying is very challenging both mentally and physically, and it's a sport that you can spend the rest of your life tuning and getting better," Neitzey said. "It's unlimited."

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com


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