There’s a hangar off Old Route 66 filled with dozens of gliders—and a classroom filled with women learning how to fly them.
The Southwest Soaring Museum hosted the first Women’s Cross Country Soaring Camp in Moriarty this week. The five-day event, led by instructors CarolAnn Garratt and Marianne Guerin, was geared toward novice pilots as well as experienced flyers.
The camp includes instructional flying time, as well as classes covering topics like “thermalling,” or using a warm column of rising air to gain altitude; cross-country performance capabilities of gliders; and analyses of the previous day’s flights.
Noticeably absent from the camp were men, who account for almost all pilots in the United States. According to the Pilot Institute, women make up only 6.84% of pilots in the country.
“Of the glider pilots, that percentage is even lower,” said instructor Garratt. “It gets addictive. I’m addicted. And I want to share this with other women.”
Garratt has over 6,000 logged hours of powered flight already under her belt. She also flew a single engine airplane around the world in eight and half days in 2008, setting a world record at the time. That was neither the first nor the last time Garratt circumnavigated the globe.
With a handful of female glider pilots already living in the area, the camp brought together women of all ages from around the country interested in unpowered flight—and Moriarty’s world-class soaring conditions.
Gliders generally have no engines, so they are towed into the air by conventional powered planes using a long rope attached to the nose of the glider. Once the glider reaches the desired altitude, the glider pilot can use a quick-release mechanism to drop the tow.
Once released, the unpowered flight begins. Cross-country glider pilots like Garratt and Guerin can travel distances of hundreds of miles before having to land.
Mary Hawkins, a camp attendee from Albuquerque, started flying gliders 13 years ago. The camp was helpful, she said, because “the things they’re telling you in class, you can apply in a practical way when you go out to do your flying.”
The museum is near the Moriarty Municipal Airport, where the camp attendees conducted their flight lessons.
Becky Kinder, a 3-year novice, recently got her private pilot’s certificate, which allows her to navigate small aircraft by herself. “I was so intimidated thinking about being up in [a glider],” she said, “and then as I learned more about the forces of flight, it was like, ‘Oh, this makes sense,’ and actually I feel more secure in a glider than I would in any powered plane.”
Gliders can seat up to three, but most planes generally have space for two, said Kinder. “Two-person is a lot of fun, but it’s really nice to be up there by yourself. You just hear the wind,” she said. “I like powered flight, but gliders are magic.”
This is not to say that glider pilots don’t encounter frightening moments, but of course “[s]cary to someone that has very few hours compared to scary for someone that has a lot of hours is completely different,” said Colleen Koenig, a pilot, flight instructor, and Edgewood resident—who arrived at the camp on her motorcycle. She’s been a licensed pilot since 1989.
Koenig recounted an incident where she was being towed for takeoff and her glider began rising dangerously while still on the runway.
She kept her cool and corrected, she said, resulting in another successful flight, but she had no idea what had happened to cause the issue. One of her instructors on the ground called in to notify her that she’d flown through a thermal pocket of air, she said, and that she’d handled it perfectly.
“I was just so proud of myself that my instincts brought me back,” she said. “We’re very careful with our training. We’re very meticulous with our training.”
A common thread amongst these pilots is their compulsion to glide. According to Garratt, who has 50 years’ experience flying planes with engines, “I moved to Moriarty for this.”
After her husband gave her a ride in a glider, Kinder said she returned to the ground and exclaimed, “I’ve got to learn to do this!”
Koenig said that after spending some time at an airport with a former boyfriend who flew a gyrocopter, a glider pilot noticed her hanging around and asked her if she’d like to go for a ride. “I was instantly hooked. I don’t know why, it just clicked,” she said.
It’s that passion that spurred Garratt and Guerin to create the Women’s Cross Country Soaring Camp. With sponsorship from the Albuquerque Soaring Association, the City of Moriarty, Sundance Aviation, the Southwest Soaring Museum, and the Women Soaring Pilots Association, it’s clear that female glider pilots have established themselves among the pilots of the world, and that they’re creating opportunities for more to join them.
The Southwest Soaring Museum is on Route 66 in Moriarty. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or call 505-832-9222 for an appointment.