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photo of pilot preparing sailplane on the groundRon Clark walks prepares his sailplane for a flight from the Twisp Airport. Photo by Sheela McLean

Up and At It
Sailplanes in the Methow

photoRon Clark and his Rolladen-Schneider sailplane. Photo by Sheela McLean

When the weather is fine and the logistics stack up right, sailplanes rise from the Twisp Municipal Airport behind a roaring tow plane and then glide silently off over the Methow Valley and its mountains. Often, the sail planes are piloted by Ron Clark and Brad Hill, two men who live on the west side but are crazy about riding the air out of Twisp.

“There’s a little madness involved,” Clark admitted with a grin as he checked over his aircraft during a recent Methow Grist interview. He was preparing his plane for a tow from local pilot Mike Port in Port’s Piper Supercub.

Clark’s glider weighs 635 pounds, and has a 50-foot wingspan. It’s an LS-3 Rolladen-Schneider built in 1978 in Germany. The man who built it first (Mr. Schneider) had a window blind (Rolladen) business, according to Clark. Hill, who lives in Sultan, built his own sailplane.

Once he’s in the air, Clark is likely to ride the thermals for four or five hours, sometimes six or seven. “It’s a bit of a drive,” to get to Twisp he explains, and once he’s up he stays a while: he truly enjoys being in the air.

Sometimes he sails as high as 13,000 feet. And he can cover a lot of country, gliding to Lake Roosevelt and back or to Mount Stuart to the west or the Canadian border to the north. One sail took him 600 kilometers—about 373 miles, riding the wind.

photoRon Clark often spends 4-5 hours aloft in this small cockpit. Photo by Sheela McLean

When Clark lands at the Twisp airport, he uses a pattern altitude of 1600 feet—he tries to come around the airport at about that elevation before he lines up on the runway and glides to touchdown at around 60 miles per hour.

Clark has been flying since he was 16 years old, and has been piloting sailplanes for 18 years. He spent 20 years maintaining helicopters for the Army, including in the mountains of Afghanistan. He was in the National Guard when they traveled through Twisp one year, and later saw the Twisp Airport on a Washington Department of Transportation map. It looked like a good airport to sail from and he’s proved up on that perception.

Clark said he loves the camaraderie with other pilots and people in Twisp and “the variety of scenery, the mountain lakes, forests, granite rocks and basins—the geography to look at…” He also said flying over the Methow Valley “is more challenging because conditions can change in a very short time.”

He and Hill are part of the ‘Sawtooth Soaring Pilots Association,’ which totals seven or eight members. Clark is also in the Westside Evergreen Soaring Club and the national Soaring Society of America.

photo of sailplanes in flight over mountainsAs he was turning, sailplane pilot Brad Hill caught a photograph of his friend Ron Clark in his own aircraft above the Methow.

The Twisp visits “just keep getting better,” he said. He and other pilots, and their families and friends are discovering places like the Antlers, Blue Star Coffee and Hank’s grocery. “We buy a lot of stuff when we come over here,” he said.

Clark made a strong point about the generosity and good fellowship among pilots and airport people at the Twisp airport. For example, local man Ross Darling lets Ron Clark park the sailplane at his place during the winter. And Mike Port gives Clark a tow, and etc. etc. etc.

This is Clark’s fifth season season so far. “As long as I’m flying, I’ll be coming here,” he concluded.

sailplane in flightIt’s a big view from the tail of Clark’s sailplane. Photo by Ron Clark


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