Created: 08/22/2014 7:05 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- Albert Lea played host to a regatta this week, but it wasn’t held on the water, but rather, in the sky.
About a dozen glider pilots launched their unique aircraft into the air this week as enthusiasts gathered at the Albert Lea Municipal Airport to fly, share stories and information, and learn from one another.
Those who fly the aircraft said it’s an experience like no other.
"It's an amazing feeling when you can take an 1,800 lbs. airplane like this and shut the engine off and go up,” said Greg Klein, a glider pilot and aviation maintenance instructor at Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota. “It's amazing, you can't describe the feeling. It's really neat."
Most gliders use a tow system, either being dragged by a tow plane or using a winch system similar to how planes take off on aircraft carriers.
But the self-propelling glider piloted by Klein on Friday is unique in more ways than one.
"It's a Schweizer SGM 2-33 and there are only nine of them left in the world. They only built 12 originally and they were all for the Air Force Academy,” Klein said of the glider that still bears the academy’s emblem.
For years, the Albert Lea Municipal Airport has held glider competitions and gatherings, attracting glider enthusiasts from all over the world.
They say the area is coveted because weather conditions create updrafts that are ideal for flying gliders.
"You see hawks here in Albert Lea, vultures, circle in that type of lift all the time if you look skyward,” said Bob Wander, a glider pilot and flight school instructor. “That's exactly what we do, and in that type of lift it is possible, on a good day, to fly from Albert Lea 400-600 miles in any direction."
While modern gliders are made out of fiberglass and employ high tech instruments and design, they represent the merger of both modern advancements and the origins of man's first flight.
"The Wrights brothers, that's the first thing they flew was a glider, and then they moved on to a very low horse power engine,” Klein said. “Their goal in life was to have sustained flight, so they had to start out with gliders."