Friday, January 21, 2000 Glider Pilots Soar and Float with Nature By Greg Sorber The Albuquerque Journal MORIARTY -- For Rick Kohler, co-owner of Sundance Aviation Inc., gliding is flying in harmony with nature, instead of flying despite it. "It's magical floating around on air currents," Kohler said. Glider pilot Mike Abernathy compares the aircraft to flying sculptures. Abernathy, who has had his license for several months, was practicing takeoffs and landings and getting tips from Kohler recently at Moriarty Municipal Airport. If the idea of soaring soundlessly through the blue skies appeals to you, Sundance Aviation can fix you up. It offers glider rides year-round. According to Sundance co-owner Joe Kelemen, it's the only commercial business in the area offering rides. Moriarty is a good place to soar, said instructor Jim Miller, because it is flat and conducive to strong thermals to boost the aircraft upward. "Most power pilots look for a smooth day; a glider pilot wants unstable air with lots of updrafts. We fly on a micro meteorological level," Kohler said. "In soaring there is a lot of turning," said instructor Jim Miller. "Pilots look for rising columns of air called thermals." Miller said gliders ride the thermals for altitude, then glide and look for another thermal. "When going cross-country, the faster you go between thermals the better you are," Miller said. "Trying to stay in the rising column of air is the secret," he said. Expert pilots have ridden thermals up to 18,000 feet and flights in excess of 300 miles from Moriarty. Kohler said Sundance Aviation is doing about 70 percent instruction and 30 percent introductory flights. It has five gliders: two fiberglass, high-performance two-seaters; two single-seat gliders and a two-seat trainer. The company offers three levels of glider rides: A scenic ride for $50 lasts 15 to 20 minutes in a training glider; a high-performance ride for $80 can last 30 minutes or longer depending on conditions. Then there is the thrill-seeker acrobatic ride for $95, in which pilot and passenger wear parachutes and do loops, wingovers, cloverleafs or barrel rolls. Still practicing for the high rides, Abernathy in a Grob Astir CS glider lifts off moments before tow plane pilot Andy Smircich takes off. In another couple of thousand feet, Abernathy releases the tow line and is free for another "magical" flight. Attached Photos: Glider pilot Jim Miller, an instructor with Sundance Aviation Inc., searches for thermals near Moriarty Municipal Airport. Miller said there is a lot of turning in soaring because a pilot is looking for rising columns of air called thermals. Tow plane pilot Andy Smircich pulls Mike Abernathy aloft from the Moriarty Municipal airport. On takeoff, a glider usually starts flying before the tow plane.