If Hawaii is beautiful from ground level, its aerial view is something ethereal.
When you read about what to do on Oahu’s North Shore in magazines, the stories rarely leave out a recommendation to see the island via chopper. We didn’t go up in any helicopter, oh no. We one-upped that helicopter and opted for an even cooler mode of transportation: a glider plane. (It’s cheaper, too, as single rides start at $79, whereas a tandem flight for two begins at $128. Most helicopter tours cost $200+ per rider.)
After booking at Honolulu Soaring, we were told to call one hour before on the day of our scheduled flight to check the weather forecast and make sure we were still going up. As my sister had been in Honolulu the year before and had two foiled attempts at skydiving due to heavy winds, this made me nervous. Luckily, we woke up the morning of our trip to blue skies and mild conditions. It was determined: We would be flying.
We drove the 45 minutes from Turtle Bay to Dillingham Airfield, as my nerves mounted. The odd thing is I’m not afraid of heights and the thought of being launched into orbit by a plane without a motor didn’t faze me. What I am is extremely claustrophobic. In the days leading up to our flight, I was stoked. The fact that I might be crammed into a tiny cockpit with little room to move completely escaped me until two days prior. Then the reality of what I was about to do hit me head on like a ton of bricks. Truth be told: I thought I might show up at the air field and chicken out when I saw the allotted space for the 20-minute flight. But I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and that I was just going to have to swallow my fear (and a Xanax) and (wo)man up. So I did.
(It helped that I matched the plane. Not planned, I promise. That would be too neurotic even for me.)
We checked in at the desk and waited for our pilot to come tell us we were good to go. When I saw the intimate space SVV and I would be sharing I thought, “no way. NO. WAY.” While I appreciated the fact that they clearly thought we were thinner than we are, I didn’t see how there was any way the two of us would fit in what was essentially a bus seat for one. And yet, we adopted Tim Gunn’s mantra and made it work.
Not without some cramped-ness, of course. I had to drape my left arm over SVV’s shoulder so all our limbs fit (PDA, ewwwww!), and despite the fact that we had three cameras on us, we were told to leave our actual bag and other belongings on the ground as there was simply no room or storage. And then, just seconds after boarding and belting ourselves in, it was time to go up.
We were pulled upward by an Army bush plane, as we floated higher and higher into the clouds. A couple minutes later, we’d reached cruising altitude and without warning there was a huge POP! as the rope was released and went flying off ahead of us, and we were left to our own devices.
What followed was possibly the most fun quarter hour of my life.
Despite the incredibly tight quarters, I never felt the onset of anxiety in the slightest. While I have both spatial and psychological claustrophobia, it’s true that the dome-like window helped tremendously: I wasn’t consumed by that trapped sensation I feel in taxis or buses, occasionally planes and sometimes even cars.
The company suggests your first trip last between 10 and 20 minutes—though you can cruise around for as long as an hour—which I suppose is to ward off any potential panic attacks. In my opinion, 20 minutes was the perfect amount of time, as we zoomed around in several loops and got to really soak in the diversity of Hawaii that surrounded us.
And as someone also stricken by motion sickness more often than not—I’m a basket case, I know; as my friend Ajit said last week, “you are the weirdest travel writer I’ve ever known”—my stomach never got a bit queasy.
That could also be due to the fact that my eyes were in visual overload and, thus, my brain was distracted: There was a postcard view from every angle, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape.
Before we knew it, we slowly started to lose altitude and the pilot began to descend upon the airfield. The landing was really smooth; he parked the vessel and popped the hatch, and we were out of the glider, just as quickly as we had gotten in and taken off. All in all, the entire process lasted around 45 minutes from the time we arrived at Dillingham until we drove back out the chain-linked fence.
There really are no words to adequately convey what it was like to be a bird for a short period of time. It was an amazing experience, one I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Oahu, and something I really hope I have the chance to do again someday.
Would you ever go up in a glider plane? Or would fear get the best of you, as it almost did me?
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