La Jolla native chronicles Gliderport’s rich history in new book
If you go
■ What: ‘The Torrey Pines Gliderport’ book sale and signing with Gary Fogel
■ When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday, May 18
■ Where: Torrey Pines Gliderport, 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive
■ Online: agcsc.org
By Pat Sherman
Native La Jollan Gary Fogel has captured his passion for flight — and the place he became enamored with it — in a new book filled with photographs and facts about the Torrey Pines Gliderport, on the coast just north of La Jolla.
Released this month by Arcadia Publishing (as part of its “Images of America” historical series), Fogel’s book follows San Diego’s history as the “Air Capital of the West,” beginning with glider flights in the 1880s by John J. Montgomery, which San Diego’s Montgomery Field airport is named for. (Fogel co-authored a book about the aviation pioneer in 2012 with Montgomery’s great grandnephew, Craig Harwood, titled, “Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.”)
Montgomery, the first pilot in country to fly a glider (near San Diego’s Otay Mesa border), never flew at Torrey Pines, though his exploits put San Diego on the map with aviation enthusiasts from around the country, Fogel explained.
“They recognized that this was an important place (for gliding experiments) because of the geography and the wonderful climate and the daily sea breezes,” Fogel said.
Gliding and hang gliding in the early 1900s typically involved a person running off the top of a hill and gliding to the bottom, “experiencing flight maybe five feet off the ground, being very happy that nothing terrible happened and you made a successful landing,” Fogel said.
Conversely, “soaring” evolved as people came to better understand aerodynamics and wind currents well enough to remain aloft for extended periods of time.
By the 1930s, Torrey Pines’ strong coastal breezes had made it an epicenter for the competitive air sport of soaring, in which pilots seek to remain airborne while flying unpowered aircraft known as gliders or sailplanes, relying only on rising air currents in the atmosphere.
“If you know where to find those kinds of currents, you can take your motor-less plane and launch yourself into that upward air and maintain your altitude or even gain altitude above your point of takeoff,” explained Fogel, a 1986 La Jolla High School graduate who as a boy began flying radio-controlled sailplanes at Torrey Pines with his father, Dr. Larry Fogel.
The CEO of a computer science company who now resides in Carmel Valley, Fogel also teaches an introductory aerospace engineering course at San Diego State University and serves as a historian for the local chapter of the Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California (a group of manned glider enthusiasts).
Although Fogel also pilots manned gliders, his primarily love remains the model unmanned craft he learned to operate with his father, weekends at Torrey Pines.
“In the 1950s here in San Diego there were a lot of airplane companies — Ryan Aeronautical Company and Consolidated Aircraft. Some of the clubs also had amateur (ham) radio operators. They had the audacity to think that maybe if we stuck a radio into a model airplane we’d be able to control it from the ground and try to keep it aloft for as long as possible,” said Fogel, who in 1995 set a national radio-controlled sailplane distance record, flying a model glider from Torrey Pines south to Scripps Pier while walking along the beach.
In the early 1990s, Fogel and his father helped preserve the gliderport by securing local, state and national historic designations for the site.
His first book, 2000’s “Wind and Wings: The History of Soaring in San Diego,” was a detailed text on the history of local aviation, geared more toward soaring enthusiasts. While doing research for it, Fogel interviewed many pioneering glider pilots that have since passed away, as well as photographers who captured their triumphs and mishaps in the 1950s and ’60s.
One of those he befriended, Los Angeles-based sailplane photographer George Uveges, allowed Fogel access to his photo archive for his new book.
“I figured it was time there was a book for the public to understand why this is a very important place for America’s history,” Fogel said. “It’s a very inspiring location and a very big tourist attraction for San Diego, and yet a lot of people don’t realize that Charles Lindbergh was the first person to use the lift there in a sailplane.
They don’t understand that many of soaring’s greatest sailplane pilots learned to fly at that location and it’s inspired everything from new ways of designing surfboards to new ways of making aerodynamic cars and saving aircraft with a parachute (recovery system).”
Known for his role in the construction of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and as a designer of the iconic Airstream travel trailer, aviation pioneer Hawley Bowlus gave gliding lessons to Charles and Anne Lindbergh at Torrey Pines, Mt. Soledad and Point Loma.
“In 1929 and 1930, when Hawley Bowlus would make these kind of flights (in San Diego), it was national news that he was able to stay up for an hour or two hours or five hours without a motor,” Fogel said. “It was an incredible accomplishment, kind of like us going to the moon.”
Charles Lindbergh set a regional distance record for sailplanes at the time, launching from the lift at Torrey Pines Gliderport and landing on the beach at Del Mar.
“That’s one of the coolest things ever that Charles Lindbergh was the first one who opened up that place for us to enjoy,” Fogel said. “For others who don’t know that story, it’s just another place — and those are the kinds of things I hope this book can help convey.”
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