Soaring Torrey Pines

Documentary will trace trajectory of gliderport

It is a place of world records, legendary names and magnificent 300-foot cliffs off of which people launch themselves daily. And now the Torrey Pines Gliderport will be documented in film.

Under the auspices of the La Jolla Historical Society, aviation documentary filmmaker Bill Liscomb has been hard at work on a film project titled “Soaring Torrey Pines.”

“It shows a brief history of the gliderport and a thumbnail sketch of some of the activities that go on there today,” Liscomb said.

A 12-minute short version of the documentary is set to be released this spring, when it will be available for purchase on DVD at the society.

And then later this year, John Bolthouse, executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society, said he hopes a feature-length version of the documentary, shot in High Definition, will be released. The production of that more ambitious version is contingent on funding.

Motorless flight at Torrey Pines has a storied past. No less a figure than Charles Lindbergh flew along the coast from Mt. Soledad to Del Mar in a sailplane on Feb. 24, 1930. He was, of course, also the first person to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic.

In 1936, Woody Brown was the first to launch from the Torrey Pines cliffs and come back to land in the same place.

During World War II, the gliderport and its surroundings became US Army Camp Callan, an anti-aircraft artillery training facility. But since then, it has been a place mostly of recreation, even record-setting recreation for glider enthusiasts.

Many locals wonder at the humans floating on artificial wings above Torrey Pines but do not realize what a treasure the Torrey Pines Gliderport is to the glider community. It has been called the “Kitty Hawk of the West.” Along with being registered on other city, state and national historical lists, Torrey Pines is a National Landmark of Soaring.

It is also the last of its kind. Torrey Pines is the only coastal gliderport remaining for manned sailplanes along the West Coast.

Ask gliders why they return to Torrey over and over, and they might mention how it’s unique as a city park, or that the winds are smooth and the weather is pleasant enough to fly in year round.

Liscomb added, “The draw of it is that you can take off and land essentially in the same place.” Otherwise, gliders have to be driven up a mountain to launch, and then picked up somewhere down below. But “the logistics are nonexistent at Torrey.”

Leonardo da Vinci drew hang glider designs more than 500 years ago, and at the Torrey Pines Gliderport, one finds a placard quoting this father of manned flight: “Once you have experienced the freedom of flight you will forever more walk the Earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been and there you long to return.”

Turn your eyes skyward at Torrey Pines and you may see four different types of gliders: sailplanes, which look basically like airplanes without motors; hang gliders, which have a framed wing and a glider hanging prone; and paragliders, who sit in a harness under a wing with no frame. Radio-controlled model planes also soar above the Torrey sandstone.

Last summer, some of these gliding enthusiasts approached John Bolthouse and the La Jolla Historical Society about making a documentary of the Torrey Pines Gliderport. “They felt it would be appropriate if the film were made under the umbrella of a nonprofit like the Society,” Bolthouse said. And it’s a good fit, he insisted. The film is historical, and it’s about a La Jolla landmark.

A committee of enthusiasts and historians was then formed and the project was pursued, with Bill Liscomb, owner of LightWing Productions, producing the film — doing everything from acquiring the video and pictures, to writing the film and narrating it.

Liscomb is an award-winning director, having received a Gold award at Worldfest Houston International Film Festival for his documentary about hang gliding history, “Big Blue Sky.”

Liscomb started hang gliding at Torrey Pines in 1973, so “Soaring Torrey Pines” is a personal and professional project for him. “Hopefully, it will teach people the historical importance of the place, and also about the different types of gliders there.”