June 20, 2012 — The longing to soar like an avis has been central to many humans since our distant ancestors first gazed skyward and saw winged fowl cavorting carelessly above. Perhaps the psalmist best expressed in Psalm 55:6 the draw towards the heavens when he composed the following: “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” The Soaring Society of America states the following on the nonprofit’s Web site: “To fly as the hawk and eagle has been mankind’s dream for centuries. Modern sailplanes make soaring flight possible, and with them humans can fly higher, faster, and farther than the greatest of birds, using only an invisible force of nature to stay aloft.” Notably, the sport is available to those in the Tampa Bay region. One organization, the Tampa Bay Soaring Society (TBSS), in Zephyrhills, Fla., has been helping such dreams come to fruition since the 1980s.
There is nothing that feeds the soul like gliding almost silently through brilliantly blue skies. During the time aloft, one can witness the beauty of towering lift-producing cumulus clouds and see below the many lakes of Florida dotting the landscape. Grandeur beyond description is the norm. It is therefore not a need for speed but rather an affinity with the essence of flying that attracts proponents.
Circa 1983-1984, several enthusiasts founded TBSS at Pilot Country Airport in Brooksville, Fla. The club’s first sailplane was a leased Blanik, which was a product from a factory in an area of Czechoslovakia that is now the Czech Republic. In April 1988, the growing TBSS moved to Topp of Tampa Airport, in Tampa, Fla. Here the group remained until October 1988. During that time the club leased two Blaniks. Another unowned asset was a SGS 1-34 from Schweizer in Elmira, New York. Additionally, an IAR Brasov Twin Lark, a design crafted in Romania, served the fliers.
A need to find another tow pilot and plane arose. An aviator and aircraft from Winter Haven, Fla., undertook towing duties. Eventually, TBSS bought their own aircraft, a Cessna 150, from an owner in Venice, Fla. Soon thereafter, in April 1999, TBSS returned to Topp of Tampa. Another relocation came about in September 1990. Accepting a tendered offer, TBSS relocated to South Lakeland Airport, in Lakeland, Fla. In August 1997, the last move took place. Zephyrhills Municipal Airport became TBSS’s home.
The first sailplane purchased by TBSS was a Blanik. Currently, TBSS’s complement of airplanes consists of a Piper Pawnee towplane and eight sailplanes. Six of the latter feature tandem seating and dual instrument panels. These are the Schweizer 2-32, a German-built Grob 103, three Blanik LET L-13s and a Blanik LET L-23. The Schweizer 1-26 and Romanian Lark IS-29D2 have only one seat and panel.
TBSS, at 40233 Sunpath Avenue, is on the periphery of Zephyrhills Municipal Airport in Zephyrhills, Fla. Depending on weather conditions, soaring activities usually take place on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays beginning around 11:00 a.m. Introductory flights and memberships are available. More information is available at www.tbss.us.
The author (John Stemple) provided all the photos. He thanks the Tampa Bay Soaring Society for the club’s cooperation.