Whitewater-area hang gliders have heads, hearts in the clouds
Hang Glide Wisconsin
Hang Glide Wisconsin is based at Gutzmer's Twin Oaks Airport, N463 County N, about a mile north of Whitewater.
People who want to hang glide have three options:
-- A discovery flight takes people 2,500 feet into the air with an instructor. It costs $129.
-- A mile-high discovery flight takes people 5,280 feet into the air. The flight is longer. It costs $189.
-- On weekends, people can have an introductory experience to hang gliding. They get a scooter tow lesson, allowing them to fly alone a few feet off the ground. They also get a discovery flight. The cost is $199.
If people want hang gliding lessons, they can pay $85 per lesson or buy a lesson package for $1,195.
The package includes 12 tandem flights, ground school, textbooks and a logbook. After finishing the lesson package, people are ready or nearly ready to fly solo.
Hang Glide Wisconsin doesn't sell hang gliders, but they range in price from $1,000 for a used model to $8,500 or more for new models.
For more information, call Joel Fenley, owner of Hang Glide Wisconsin, at (920) 350-2376 or go to www.flyhgwi.com.
Pilots prepare and fly their gliders at Gutzmer's Twin Oaks Airport in Whitewater on May 8.
WHITEWATER When Dale Maas started hang gliding, he ran and jumped off hills, soaring into the air.
The 68-year-old Whitewater resident has seen the sport advance since those summer days in 1974.
He now gets towed into the air behind airplanes, has a computer gadget with him in the air and flies state-of-the-art gliders high in the sky.
"It's real gratifying when you can kind of beat Mother Nature at gravity," Maas said. "It's just the freedom of flight."
He is now among the most experienced hang gliders who fly out of Gutzmer's Twin Oaks Airport, home of Hang Glide Wisconsin, about a mile north of Whitewater.
About 55 people regularly fly out of the airport, the hub of hang gliding in Wisconsin, northern Illinois and upper Iowa.
The hang gliding community is strong, but locals would like to see the sport grow. Hang Glide Wisconsin offers flight packages and lessons to the public.
When hang gliders fly, they suspend themselves in a harness below their glider. They grip their control bar, allowing them to steer.
During takeoff, they're towed in a dolly behind an airplane along a grassy runway. The plane lifts them off the dolly into the air, then releases them at 2,000 feet or higher.
Gliders find thermals and float higher and higher, farther and farther. Hang gliders can stay in the air for hours and soar hundreds of miles.
Raymond Sulin, Racine, has been hang gliding since 1978. He used to ride motorcycles, but he had several close calls on the road.
One day, he saw a hang glider in the sky. He followed him until he landed and asked him questions about the sport. He took a lesson and was hooked.
"I feel I'm safer in a hang glider than a motorcycle these days," Sulin said. "It's all about staying up in the air and how long I can stay in the air without an engine."
John Gamble, Waunakee, flies weekly at Hang Glide Wisconsin. He said hang gliding is the closest thing to flying like a bird.
"There are days you're out flying and you'll see a beautiful red tail hawk. You go over and soar with them," Gamble said. "They'll be 10 feet off your wings."
John Krueger, Antioch, Ill., travels to Whitewater as often as he can to hang glide.
"I just love the challenge of a vehicle that has no engine," he said. "We have a tendency to get our biggest altitude gains in the spring, but it also gets very cold up there."
Hang gliders come from all walks of life. They're pilots, engineers and artists. Others are retired.
Terry Kramer, Fort Atkinson, has been hang gliding since 1994. On a good day, he has soared as high as 8,000 feet. And gliders can cross the state if they have a driver willing to retrieve them.
"I think it's just the solace. It's relaxing," Kramer said. "It's the freedom."
Although the sport might seem extreme, hang gliders insist it's not dangerous.
They wear helmets. They pack parachutes. They fly with variometers, which tell them their rate of climb, altitude and wind speed.
Hang gliders claim their drive to the airport is more dangerous than flying.
"I had a skydiver come by me about 100 feet away," Maas said. "That was my closet call. He didn't see me, and I didn't see him."
Maas, who has recorded 1,100 hours of airtime, said he'd fly all summer as weather permits.
"After all these years, it's still pretty exciting," he said.