Sightseeing on the Wings of the Wind

A glider ride over Oahu gives visitors a thrill and a whole new perspective

By: Beverly Burmeier

NORTH SHORE, Oahu Free-falling from a parachute seemed a bit risky, so I took a safer alternative, but one with similar sensations. During a recent visit to Oahu, I satisfied a longtime desire to soar in a glider. Riding in a glider (not to be confused with hang gliding), you’re still floating in air, absorbing spectacular views while drifting casually toward earth. But instead of hanging limply from a parachute, you are enveloped by a protective cocoon.

“It’s the most exciting adventure many people have on the island,” says Bill Star, a.k.a. Mr. Bill, co-owner of The Original Glider Rides, which has offered the flights since 1970. Located on Oahu’s gorgeous North Shore, The Original Glider Rides takes off from Dillingham Airfield, about a 50-minute drive from Waikiki on the South Shore.

Riders may go individually or in pairs if their combined weight meets certain requirements. But if you’re flying with a companion (my daughter and I shared a ride), be sure it’s someone you don’t mind cozying up with in the compact back seat.

While twosomes ride in the rear, a single can opt for the front, which brings the opportunity to take control of the glider an idea that greatly tempted my husband. But fortunately, my husband was too busy looking around and taking pictures to be bothered with flying the glider too. Because a glider has no engine and cannot become airborne on its own, it must be towed into the skies by another plane. How high you go depends on the length of the ride and wind currents. Guest rides generally last about 20 minutes to an hour, cover a five- to six-mile radius, and ascend up to 2,500 feet.

After assuring that my daughter and I were properly snug, our pilot physically maneuvered the lightweight craft into position, tethered it to a small plane, and hopped in just before we started skimming the runway. Takeoff felt like being pulled by rope in a sled or wagon, except that suddenly the glider’s wheels were above the ground, and we were kept on course by a rope stretched between the two planes. Then, ever so quietly, when we reached the desired altitude the tether was dropped, and the host plane flew away. There we were floating in air awed by the spectacular beauty of Hawaii’s coastline.

Row after row of waves rolled to shore, broke silently against the sand, and retreated to the sea. Coral shined beneath the clear blue water. I caught glimpses of cattle and horse trails along rugged volcanic mountains, and the vegetation seemed greener from several thousand feet above ground. Blocks of sugar-cane fields from Waialua Plantation drifted beneath me. It was eerily quiet. Being motorless, the glider floated silently through the air, with only the sound of wind and our clicking cameras to break the reverie. With 30 to 40 miles of visibility, the view from our bubble top was breathtaking.

“We fly in a rural area, perfect for sightseeing,” says Mr. Bill, who knows the landscape thoroughly.

Whoosh. A rush of air spontaneously lifted us higher; then a downdraft plunged the craft. Although winds may buffet the plane with up-and-down movement, the ride is still quite smooth unless you have an adventurous pilot bent on giving you a thrilling ride. By maneuvering to catch wind drifts, it’s possible to achieve a roller-coaster effect (or not, if your stomach rebels). If you’re truly gutsy, take a spin in one of the company’s specialty machines, designed to perform a series of aerobatic maneuvers at 5,000 feet.

Eventually the glider began drifting downward. We saw the horizon approaching and wished the ride could last longer. With a slight bump, wheels touched the runway, and the glider wobbled leisurely to a stop. The adventure ended, but the thrill and excitement lingered.

“Absolutely fantastic,” said my daughter (who is in her twenties), and I agree.

Allow enough time, either before your ride or after, to enjoy the many beaches and pipeline waves of the North Shore. Waimea Bay is a popular destination for renting scooters or kayaks. Also factor in a few hours for sightseeing in Haleiwa, a quaint historic town and surfer mecca with abundant shopping and dining opportunities.


At The Original Glider Rides, gliders fly every day from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., weather permitting. Rates listed on the Web site are $100 for a single and $120 for a double ride, but the company often runs special promotions. A thrilling 10-minute aerobatic adventure is $125. “Real time” videos (made with cameras inside and outside the glider and a microphone for comments) are available for $35 with advance notice. All ages are welcome, but it might be hard for very young kids to see out the window and sit still while belted in. Agents may make advance reservations or work through local travel agents in Oahu. Commission is 20 percent.

808-677-3404; E-mail:;