Destinations Magazine

Flying High at the National Soaring Museum on Harris Hill in Elmira, NY

By Kenin Bassart @Constantramble

For aviation enthusiasts the words Harris Hill and soaring have long been synonymous. That’s because the small city of Elmira, NY  is home to the one of the country’s largest manufacturers of gliders. On top of that, Harris Hill has also been the site of countless national and international soaring competitions. Being lovers of all things aviation, we decided to see what soaring was all about with a visit to the National Soaring Museum and Harris Hill Soaring in Elmira, NY.

National Soaring Museum and Harris Hill Soaring

The Finger Lakes region of Upstate, NY has a long and rich aviation history beginning with Glenn Curtiss back in 1908 and continuing with Wolfgang Klemperer who brought the first soaring competition to the area in 1930. When the Schweizer brothers were looking for a new location for their glider manufacturing company, Elmira NY was a natural choice for them and in 1939 they opened Schweizer Aircraft and permanently brought soaring to the Finger Lakes. Over the ensuing decades Harris Hill has been the sight of countless soaring competitions and Schweizer Aircraft became one of the nations most prolific glider manufactures. This rich history meant that Harris Hill was the ideal location for both the National Soaring Museum and the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation.

Harris Hill Soaring

Harris Hill Soaring runs as a non-profit center that is dedicated to the advancement of soaring through education, training, and demonstration. During our visit to the center we learned how the gliders are launched using land vehicles and then once they take to the air they use simple aerodynamics to gain altitude and fly. The best part though is that they offer the opportunity to take a ride on a glider from April through October. Unfortunately they can’t offer rides the rest of the year, as the weather isn’t appropriate for soaring.

Harris Hill Soaring 2 Low-res

Harris Hill Soaring 13 Low-res

While we were there, the winds didn’t cooperate so we weren’t able to soar but we did get a chance to watch one of the pilots in flight as he was testing the winds to determine if it was safe for us to go up. It was really cool to see something manmade that could harness the power of just the wind to maintain flight.

Harris Hill Soaring 3 Low-res


Thankfully for us, the National Soaring Museum is also located on Harris Hill and is open year-round to give visitors an up-close look at soaring.


National Soaring Musuem


The National Soaring Museum was conceived and opened in the 1960′s largely thanks to a few active members of the soaring community and Paul A. Schweizer. It’s primary mission is to preserve the legacy of soaring while educating visitors on the history of taking flight around the world. Being someone completely new to soaring, the first thing that hit me was just how large the gliders are up close. 


Harris Hill Soaring 17 Low-res

Harris Hill Soaring 37 Low-res


The museum featured some full size examples of historically significant gliders, as well as replicas and models of others.


Harris Hill Soaring 27 Low-res

Harris Hill Soaring 23 Low-res


Leave it to me of course, to also find an old restored truck that was once used to tow and launch gliders in the early days.


Harris Hill Soaring 21 Low-res

Overall our experience visiting the National Soaring Museum and Harris Hill Soaring was really educational and fun. In a short couple of hours we learned quite a bit about soaring which was something that was a complete mystery to us. Now we only have one thing left to do: head back out to Harris Hill and take a flight!

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