KMC members take gliding lessons

Story and photos by Senior Airman Elizabeth Baker
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Emma Simons, Ramstein Middle School student, flies a circle around Lachen-Speyerdorf Air Field, Germany, Sept. 16. Airmen and other Kaiserlautern Military Community members joined a trip through the 86th Force Support Squadron Outdoor Recreation and learned to fly gliders with the assistance of experienced glider pilots.

Gliders are engineless aircraft that can stay aloft for hours by riding thermal updrafts, or heat swells, created by trees and structures on the ground. Eight members of the Kaiserslautern Military Community attended a day trip through the 86th Force Support Squadron Outdoor Recreation program to try their hand at piloting gliders, build their personal community and better themselves through learning.

David Simons, U.S. Army Europe Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff engineer, found Flugsportverein Kaisers-lautern (or Kaiserslautern Soaring Club), and established a relationship with them. Simons, who has a passion to improve his community, arranged for ODR and the Single Airman Initiative to partially fund gliding lessons for Airmen and the KMC.

“The big goal to me is enriching this community with aviation,” Simons said.

Each participant received three flights with an experienced glider pilot and a log book to record their hours towards a light aircraft pilot license or a sail plane license. For single Airmen or spouses of deployed Airmen, the price was reduced by 50 percent thanks to the Single Airman Initiative.

The effort it took to provide this opportunity was worth it to Simons because he believes the Aviation community is highly beneficial for Airmen, dependents and KMC members of all ages. He wants to offer an opportunity to build skills and provide experiences participants would normally have to go to school for.

Simons believes gliding gives young Airmen life skills.

“When I’m in a glider, every decision I make has a real consequence,” Simons said. “Waiting too long, not putting my air brakes on, not paying attention to what’s going on around me — all these things have an effect on the final outcome, which is landing safely. There’s no undo button. I have to figure out how to fix my mistakes. It teaches responsibility for actions, discipline and problem solving.”

Simons said he can see how aviation has built life skills for his 13-year-old daughter, Emma, who is an avid flier and displays greater confidence from it.

Flying lesson participants had the opportunity to control the aircraft and feel how it responded to their actions.

“Some younger personnel are, dare I say, more into gaming systems than they are into getting out there and experiencing life,” Simons said. “They don’t have that experience or ability to go out and have to make decisions. Aviation broadens their exposure and removes some of that short-sightedness, and that makes a better Airman. Imagine if you can give these 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds the confidence to be able to think outside the box on different situations and realize the consequences.”

Simons said he thinks the confidence aviation builds in Airmen gives them a sense of self.

Another benefit Simons believes aviation brings to Airmen is community.

“The aviation world is a community,” Simons said. “I have a goal of creating a community of aviators outside of on-the-job military. If you have a community, or something to look forward to, you’re more likely to pick up the phone and reach out if you’re not doing so well. A friend is more likely to call them up and check in.”

Senior Airman Thanh Pham, 86th Communications Squadron cyber vulnerability management technician, was one of the class participants.

“All the friends that I made here went back to the states, but I decided to extend at Ramstein for two years.” Pham said. “A lot of people who extend lose their support system. It’s good to have something like gliding to look forward to every weekend. It’s good to have familiar faces.”

Pham signed up for membership at Flugsportverein Kaiserslautern to continue gliding in a community.

“It’s hard to find things to do on short weekends, so I just stay at home and maybe go drinking and spend 100 euro in one night,” Pham said. “Here I spend way less and have way more fun. Going out drinking doesn’t really do anything for people; it’s just bad for their health. When you’re flying, you’re making friends and having fun.”

When asked what he would say to Airmen who only sit in their room off duty, Pham said people only live once.

“Never again will we get to live in Germany and fly a glider,” Pham said. “We should just take every opportunity that we have because no one wants to be 60 years old on their death bed wishing they had.”

So far, Simons has conducted three trips to Lachen-Speyerdorf through ODR. He intends to continue getting KMC members involved with aviation by offering monthly opportunities through ODR from March to November 2018. For more information, contact ODR at 06371-47-5705 or 480-5705.

Senior Airman Thanh Pham, 86th Communications Squadron cyber vulnerability management technician, descends for landing in a glider Sept. 16 at Lachen-Speyerdorf Air Field, Germany.


Members of the Kaiserslautern Military Community receive a briefing in preparation to pilot gliders Sept. 16 at Lachen-Speyerdorf Air Field, Germany. KMC members had the opportunity to meet new people, integrate with the German community and learn to glide thanks to the 86th Force Support Squadron Outdoor Recreation program and the Single Airman Initiative, in coordination with Flugsportverein Kaiserslautern.