Saturday June 5, 2021

Abundant sunshine, Temperature 84

National Soaring Museum

When we were in New Mexico last year I really wanted to visit The US Southwest Soaring Museum. The online description and pictures of the museum intrigued me so much that I absolutely wanted to learn more about the sport of soaring. Alas, life got in the way, the museum was shuttered and we never got to visit it.

Imagine my delight then when I learned of Harris Hill in Elmira upon which was located The National Soaring Museum. A day of investigation was definitely called for. And what a day it turned out to be. I was thrilled with what I found.

The National Soaring Museum is located at the top of Harris Hill in Elmira. The museum proved to be a fascinating walk through the history of gliding, soaring and sailplanes since the inception of the sport.

This is the lobby just beyond the entrance door.

On display is the dedication plaque for the museum.

There is also a picture of Richard du Point standing beside his Minimoa sailplane. He won the National Soaring Contest in1934, 1935, and 1937.

This is the actual plane which is on display at the museum. At least 100 Minimoas were built between 1935 and 1939. The plane was constructed of plywood and featured a gull wing design which made it extremely stable in flight. In 1938 this aircraft was also used to set a national distance flight record of 212 miles, from Wichita Falls, Texas to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Less you say, like I first did, what’s 212 miles – remember this is in a plane with no engine!

The museum is also chock full of other gliders and sailplanes dating back to the 1890’s when some of the earliest models were created.

Although gliding and soaring go back to the 1800’s

it was Orville Wright who made the world’s first duration glider flight in 1911 at Kitty Hawk, NC at nine minutes and forty five seconds. It was a record that would stand for over ten years. This successful flight also literally sparked the sport of soaring in America.

Unfortunately, after the successful flight the plane was abandoned at Kitty Hawk. It was later recovered and an attempt to restore was begun, however, it was destroyed in a fire before the restoration was completed.

Above is a replica of this 1911 plane that is on display at the museum. Some things to note about the plane are: in an effort to improve its flight characteristics they mounted a large vane in the front and even hung a bag of sand in the front to change the center of gravity. Of special note, the fabric covering on the wings of the replica comes from the same Boston firm that made the fabric covering for the original plane.

Following the close of WW I the development of powered flight in Germany was limited by the Treaty of Versailles. However, interest in flying was at an all time high which led to the revival of soaring there. German enthusiasts made great strides in designing and flying sail planes.

In 1921 a German pilot flew for thirteen minutes above the Wasserkuppe which was German’s premier soaring site. Orville Wright’s record of nine minutes 45 seconds set in 1911 had finally been broken.

Then in 1928 a German pilot flying above Cape Cod set a new American soaring record of four hours and five minutes. Until now soaring in American lanquished.

But that was about to change. An article in the June 1929 National Geographic Magazine entitled On The Wings of the Wind detailed the German soaring movement. This article is usually cited as the spark that rekindled the American interest in soaring.

But how did soaring come to Elmira?

After moving to the US in 1924 Kemp became involved with the National Glider Association (NGA) and ultimately became its Vice President. In 1930 he was tasked by the NGA with finding a suitable location in upstate NY to hold a soaring contest. His search eventually led him to Elmira.

Elmira, with its majestic hills and prevailing winds, was naturally suited for sailplane flight and quickly attracted a number of soaring related activities. Soon, Elmira was selected as the Soaring Capital of America due to the topography of the area. Which leads to a brief discussion of how or why can a plane soar?

There is, first of all, what is known as thermal lift. The earth warmed by the sun produces convection currents that can be used as a source of lift. It was the discovery of thermal lift that made cross country soaring possible.

There is also what is known as ridge lift. Wind traveling horizontally across the earth’s surface is forced up and over some obstruction such as a long ridge or hill. Flights of several days duration have been made using this form of lift.

Both forms of lift are found in the Elmira area which makes it the premier area for soaring.

On July 2, 1930 Jack O’Meara, flying this glider stayed aloft for one hour and 38 minutes over a ridge south of town, to make the first sailplane flight in the Elmira area. The success of this flight led to the decision to make Elmira the official America soaring contest sight. The first National Soaring contest was held here in September of that year and the rest is history.

Well, there is much more to tell and much more to show but I’m going to call it a night as of now. Stay tuned because there is so much more to learn and so many more planes to show.

Our day on The Road of Retirement has come to a close. We’ve been spending more quality time with my sister, Cindy and her husband, Charlie. God bless my sister she is the ever gracious host and truly one of God’s beautiful people. It’s going to be a bitter sweet moment when we finally leave this area. I’m anxious to get back on the road but I’ll truly miss her and spending time with her. All I can say is, thank you Lord for these last two wonderful and special weeks.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog.  We always appreciate your company, your comments, and your suggestions. Remember, take time to stop and smell the roses and live each day that God gives you to the fullest.

These are the voyages of  Elvira and her two intrepid travelers.  Our continuing mission: to explore as many new states as possible, to seek out new acquaintances and make new friends, to boldly go where we have never been before.

See you on down the road!


  1. I never knew there was such a thing as soaring contests or museums! And I am quite impressed at the 212 miles of soaring. I wonder if designers studied birds or maybe insects when designing these planes. And I didn’t know about thermal lift and ridge lift. I’ve learned so much today, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet! It’s also curious to me that this museum had dollhouses! I look forward to your next post. Enjoy your Sunday!


  2. Very interesting soaring museum. Had never heard of it. Thanks for sharing. We’re never to old to learn. 😊


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