Some people come into aviation quite deliberately, following the signs to the airport and laying down some good cash for an introductory ride. But many more of us than you think are what I like to call “accidental” aviators. In my case I was lucky enough to have a dad that decided for me that learning to fly would be a good thing (it was).
For Laurie Harden she was looking for something altogether different to do with her life when she found herself working the flightline for a glider operation at the airport in Minden, Nevada. She’d moved from an urban to rural environment, found her personal life challenging. Even physically there were some challenges. The soaring took her away from all of that, and brought her into another world, quite literally.
“It took me a lot longer to solo a glider than most people, or so I’m told,” she scofs, smiling. She did solo, eventually, and so much more. When the glider operation she worked for pulled out of the airport, she took some settlement money she’d come into and a big gamble–she opened her own business on the airport, SoaringNV. It was a big step up from being a line girl, but Harden had a customer service ethic honed by years in the service business. She saw the potential for an FBO that catered to the pilots and want-to-be pilots who descended on Minden to take advantage of its world-class year-round soaring conditions.
Today, a couple years later, Laurie Harden’s soaring school and FBO is thriving. A half-dozen flight instructors and tow pilots keep busy seven days a week flying tourists on sightseeing glider rides over nearby Lake Tahoe, or on aerobatic rides in a Blanik that can carry three souls (two plus pilot) at a time. The sleek high-performance ASK-21 and Discus gliders are pulled aloft by four Piper Pawnees. There are single-seat gliders available for rental to qualified pilots, as well.
Harden tells us that winter can be a slow time, but when those pilots who are watching the weather see wave conditions setting up over the Sierras, they turn up. And summer? Flights above 18,000 ft. are common, and cross-countries hundreds of miles long are within the realm of possibilities for pilots with the proper training and skill. That’s when groups of glider pilots show up en masse for competitions and meets at the airfield and business gets cooking.
Does Harden fly her own gliders? Not as often as she’d like—but that’s okay, she says. Nothing makes her happier than seeing the equipment and employees airborne and doing what they are meant to do: fly.
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