Hemet-Ryan Airport’s long legacy of gliders and gliders recalled – press enterprise

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Glider enthusiasts celebrated Hemet-Ryan Airport’s long history of wind-powered flying at the Sailplane Enterprises meeting last month.

The first recorded “glider” at the airport took place in July 1949 when a glider used updrafts to gain altitude and stay aloft. A commercial enterprise for gliders began at Hemet-Ryan in April 1969 and continued until 2009.

Last month, around 30 guests arrived at Hangar 1 Café at the airport to celebrate, remember and reconnect with friends from Sailplane Enterprises. Brian Christie was the host and organizer.

  • Dan Pierson, left, shares slides he gives Brian Christie, standing, to help document the many decades of gliders at Hemet-Ryan Airport. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, collaborating photographer)

  • Chuck Gifford, left, recalls Dan Pierson, right, at the Sailplane Enterprises meeting hosted by Brian Christie, middle. The event took place at Hangar 1 Café in Bambi at Hemet-Ryan Airport on September 1. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, participating photographer)

  • The founding members of the Academic Soaring Club attended the Sailplane Enterprises meeting to share stories from their days flying from Hemet-Ryan Airport. From left to right, George Lessard, Bill Williams and Bill Goral. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, collaborating photographer)

  • Leo Roach flew over Warner Springs in 2009. The 92-year-old Hemet resident worked for Sailplane Enterprises for many years as a tow pilot. (Photo courtesy of Brian Christie)

“I started working at Sailplane Enterprises as an ‘airline boy’ at the age of 14 and got my private pilot license in both glider and single engine aircraft, as a pilot of towing and as a glider pilot before moving on to a career in the fire service. Said Christie, who worked for Cal Fire for 30 years.

Linemen were line personnel who did all the manual labor of the operation, washing gliders and performing pre-flight inspections. They also helped clients, students and flight instructors prepare the gliders for flight.

Christie came up with the idea for a reunion while interviewing former clients of Sailplane Enterprises for a historical retrospective he is preparing for the Hemet Heritage Foundation. It focuses primarily on the years when the business was owned and operated by Don and Lois Slotten.

“Many people who started at Sailplane Enterprises as a teenager have gone on to have meaningful careers in aviation, including pilots and aerospace engineers,” said Christie.

Dan Pierson is the first African-American glider pilot in the world to win the highest gliding honor of the time: the “Gold Badge” of the Soaring Society of America.

At the event, he reviewed old photographs and slides that he donates to the Christie Preservation Project.

“Some of them are unique and I’m glad they’re in the hands of someone who will archive them to provide historical reference for future generations,” said Pierson of Palmdale.

After all the guests entered the cafe, Christie put a microphone around the room and people told stories of flights and former instructors and pilots who made the sport so fun. Some shared their experiences building their own planes.

Neva Golsen Halbert and her husband spent many hours in the air and recalled the family atmosphere that made Sailplane Enterprises so great.

“It didn’t matter who you were – if you wanted to steal, they would find a way to do it,” she recalls.

Eric Gosch, co-CEO of Gosch Auto Group in Hemet, was a teenager when he started flying gliders. He left for college but started flying again when he returned to the San Jacinto Valley after nine years.

“The ones at Sailplane Enterprises were just great people who were great examples of life,” he said.

The company ceased operations in 2009 after the Riverside County Economic Development Agency took over the ownership and operation of Hemet-Ryan Airport. Earlier this year, the county authorized the Cypress Soaring Club to lease a small piece of land on the former Sailplane Enterprises site for members to fly and give instructions on weekends.

“This event is about the people and the good times,” said Chuck Gifford, of Lake Forest, who attended the reunion with his wife, Barbara, and is a member of the Cypress Soaring Club.

He remembers buying his first glider from Sailplane Enterprises.

“I’ve been doing this for over 50 years,” said Gifford, 79. “If you’re a boater it’s like a sailboat – you’re not trying to go anywhere, you’re just trying to beat the elements.”


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