California Dreams: The 2005 SSA Convention

An excerpt from my article in the April 2005 issue of Soaring Magazine

by Alexis Glynn Latner

photo by Alexis Glynn Latner

Michael Graves, a physician and multiengine power pilot, was curious about what his new avocation of soaring has to offer. So he flew his Aerostar from Plainview, Texas, to the Soaring Society of America Convention in Ontario, California. On his first day there he said, “I’ve only had my glider add-on for four weeks, and this is candyland!” The exhibit hall contained two dozen gleaming sailplanes and motorgliders. Vendors offered books, shirts, instruments, parachutes and other gear. Still more booths were staffed by smiling representatives of soaring sites, museums, safety and service organizations, and groups such as the Vintage Sailplane Association and Collegiate and Youth Soaring. There was even real candy, including little packets of gummi gliders at the booth of the German sailplane manufacturer DG Flugzeugbau. From dream machines to quirky humor, from brand-new soaring pilots to old friends and heroes, plus three solid days of special events, this year’s SSA Convention had it all.

Magic Action – Wednesday, February 9, 2005
A glider trailer at a local hotel
photo by Alexis Glynn Latner

Exhibitors who flew into Ontario’s airport late Tuesday, seeing only the endless rumpled rug of lights that is the LA Basin at night, awoke the next morning in a postcard-pretty location with snowy mountains to the north. Under blue skies with cirrus clouds, red-tailed hawks rode car-dealership thermals across the street from the Convention Center.

photo by Alexis Glynn Latner

The Center’s huge exhibit hall started out echoingly empty. Then booths, gliders and other trappings of an SSA Convention started to appear. Forklifts whirred in with boxes of trade-show booth frames and curtains. In the cavernous quiet, you heard the cardboard scuff of brochures being unboxed; the slick rustle of plastic banners being unfurled; packing straps being snipped off a wooden crate; and voices, the pragmatic tones of “do it like this” or “that goes there,” and the delighted trills of friends seeing each other. You could even hear the glider trailers rolling across the concrete floor, bringing in dream machines: state-of-the-art sailplanes with long carbonglass wings, a shining flotilla of different motorgliders, and, not to be outdone by the latest greatest, an immaculate white and green Schweizer 1-26, N187JG.

By late afternoon, everything was set up and exhibitors relaxed at a gourmet reception. Golden sunset light streamed in through the open loading dock doors like the afterglow of a magic act. Everything in the exhibit hall had appeared out of thin air in a single day. The magical effortlessness was an illusion, though. Months of effort worked the magic. Vendors had to plan and ship wares ranging from glider jewelry to the real thing. SSA-affiliated groups had to enlist people to design, set up, and man their display booths. The SSA’s staff worked on Convention organization on top of everything else they do year-round. Meanwhile the Local Convention Organizing Committee labored for over a year. Jim Skydell, Region 12 Director and SSA Vice Chairman, undertook the monumental task of organizing the speaker program. For the first time, speakers were required to present fresh material, and the convention was advertised to the non-soaring public in periodicals aimed at activities known to have a high correlation with soaring, such as scuba diving, flying model and powered aircraft, and sailing.

Every year the whole show is mapped onto a new place, or in this case, one proven good in the past. The Convention was at Ontario in 2002. The Convention Center is modern and congenial to pilots. It has high hallway windows that let in natural light. An airy atrium’s entire north wall, including the Center’s main entrance, consists of clear glass framing the San Gabriel Mountains. For the 2005 SSA Convention a Bowlus BA-100 “Baby Albatross” was assembled in the atrium. Built in 1939 in San Fernando, California, made of elegantly shaped wood with a shiny metal tail boom, the antique glider evoked the heritage of soaring flight.

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