Nephi • To the uninitiated, the sight of what appears to be a small airplane being towed into the air about 200 feet behind another aircraft might seem strange.
But that will be the norm through Sunday at the first of what organizers hope will become the annual Nephi OLC/Cross Country Camp soaring event at the Nephi Airport.
Pilots of nearly 50 glider planes capable of flying hundreds of miles using only thermal drafts will enjoy friendly competition, try to set records and trade stories and ideas.
Organizer Bruno Vassel IV, of Draper, said the gliders flying at Nephi through Sunday boast 50- to 70-foot wingspans and can hold one or two people. A powered tow plane pulls them 2,000 feet into the air using a 200-foot rope. After the glider pilot releases the rope, the machines which sometimes have water in their wings to increase speed can hit 150 mph and soar up to 18,000 feet.
Vassel, for example, flew 502 miles in his glider Monday after he took off from Nephi.
Many pilots, such as Fred Lasor of Minden, Nev., are attending the event to experience the Great Basin's internationally famous gliding conditions.
Lasor flew his glider from Nephi to Mount Delano near Beaver and then over to Mount Moriah in Nevada before returning to Juab County earlier this week. He has been on what he calls a soaring safari since May 3, trying new soaring areas in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, California and, now, Utah.
He said gliders continually have to problem-solve searching for the next thermal lift to keep them in the air and being aware of remote airports and rural dirt roads where they might have to make a quick landing.
"This wears me out mentally more than any other activity," he said.
Lasor said Nephi is a good airport for gliders because nearby mountains offer good lifts, there are numerous places to land and there is little powered aircraft activity at the rural facility.
Utah's soaring history dates back to 1927 when, according to a history written by Utah gliding pioneer Frank Kelsey, a group of 18 U. of U. students founded the U-Glider Club.
Things have come a long ways since Kelsey constructed a glider as a 15-year-old West High School student.
For example, Bob Faris of Masonville, Colo., has one of two "self-launching" gliders being used this week in Nephi. A small motor with a prop in the back of the glider that resembles a small powered plane can pop out behind the pilot to reach the desired height.
Nephi Mayor Mark Jones, who took his first ride in a glider Wednesday, said the event is a great perk for the community because of the number of pilots and their families who are staying in town.
Some gliders can cost up to $350,000, but beginners can access the sport by purchasing an older model craft for as low as $6,000, Vassel said. They can also join a club such as the Utah Soaring Association for about $600 to acquire training and access to gliders.
Anyone who wants to go along for the ride can fly for between $100 to $125 at a soaring center. Rides are being offered for $125 in Nephi this week.
Soaring over Nephi
The Nephi OLC/Cross Country Camp soaring event in runs through Sunday at the Nephi Airport. An open house free to the public is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the airport. For more information, go to http://www.ssa.org/Contests?cid=2240.