MINDEN -- A glider's machinery becomes an extension of your senses once you learn the basics of flying, said Bill Reuland, a glider pilot for more than 30 years.
"Your nervous system goes out to the wingtips," he said. "If you've ever dreamt that you spread your arms out and flew, that dream can come true on the glider."
Reuland said it is fairly easy and inexpensive for people to learn to fly and join contests like the regional soaring competition hosted this week by the Minden Soaring Club at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Twelve pilots will compete all week in two categories of planes. The first is the standard glider that does not have flaps or any other devices to aid in the flying, and the second is a 15-meter glider with nearly a 50-foot wing span and flaps.
Gliders weigh about 1,100 pounds and typically cost $20,000 to $65,000.
"It is the same range of buying a brand-new car, " Reuland said.
Monday's course was about 200 miles long. The pilots flew to Benton, Calif., which is north of Bishop, Calif., to Blair Junction, the intersection of Highways 395 and 6 then returned to the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
In preparation for the course, pilots check their gauges to make sure they are operational. They test their oxygen because it must be used at altitudes exceeding 12,500 feet in air vehicles that are not pressurized. Some pilots wear parachutes. Pilots must also mentally prepare for the competition, Reuland said.
"(Gliding) requires total concentration on speed, destination and where to land if you can't find the lift," Reuland said. "These people are good athletes. It is a mental sport, like yacht racing. It takes a lot of judgment."
Key Dismukes has been gliding for 25 years. He pilots a 15-meter plane with attached flaps that control the speed.
"This is a good ship," he said. "She is versatile because of the flaps. It is a challenge, and I am always looking to do something exciting."
Gliders are pulled into the air by larger, propeller-driven planes. Pilots look for cumulus clouds and dust storms created by thermals, or columns of rising air, that provide the energy for their flying.
Rides are timed by clocks in each glider. Craft are prohibited from flying above 18,000 feet. Reuland said pilots carry extra water in the wings as ballast because the thermals can be so powerful.
"People are amazed that we weigh them down, but it takes a tremendous amount of skill and technology to go fast around this course," Reuland said.
It took the pilots about three hours to complete Monday's task.
Rick Indebro of the San Francisco Bay area clocked 83.12 mph, the fastest time in Sunday's practice run.
Although a regional competition has not occurred at the Minden-Tahoe Airport in four years, competition director Rick Walters said it is one of the world's most desirable flying arenas.
"We typically have the best weather," he said. "It doesn't get any better than this. The scenery is great. I have flown in competitions in Mexico, and there is nothing there but oil wells."