The 2016 SSA Convention

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Some impressions from the recent SSA convention in Greensville SC by Ed Walker.


A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to go to the SSA convention in Greenville South Carolina. It was a rather remarkable meeting, and Fred asked me to jot down some reflections for the club members who could not attend. It was a rather large event, and difficult to summarize, but I’ll give you some impressions that can augment the summaries you can find on RAS and the meeting schedule which is still at the SSA website.

The event was truly memorable. I counted no fewer than 18 gliders and motor gliders on display, and about 36 exhibitors in a very large convention center. There were three days of presentations in three parallel rooms, usually three sets in the morning and two or three in the afternoon. I tried to get to as many presentations as I could and was often torn between competing offerings. Some of the best presentations were on meteorology, competition, simulation, winch launching as well as a variety of technical presentations presented by OSTIV.

I was particularly intrigued by two presentations that had material that I never saw in books. Pete Alexander did a presentation on discovering energy lines by examining the sky from the cockpit, and it was one of the most useful and inspiring presentations I’ve seen in quite a while. For more than an hour he presented cockpit photography and described what he was thinking as he approached a variety of weather phenomena, afterwards detailing what actually happened. Another outstanding presentation was done by Garrett Willat, entitled Fly Faster, Fly Farther. You probably know about his outstanding career, and he gave a lot of very practical advice about flying tasks efficiently and successfully. What was interesting about both of these presentations was that they were set at a level that a student, intermediate or advanced pilot could benefit, and the post-presentation discussions were well worth the time.

I cannot possibly summarize everything that happened over the three days, but I do want to call your attention to a presentation done by the Houston gliding club about how their operation has prospered over the years. Although they have some unique circumstances, they really have thought out a lot of their operations, balancing the needs of students, cross-country pilots, and owners. They ended up buying their own field and leasing land to owners long-term for hangar construction in a very interesting and effective entrepreneurial private/public synthesis which powers their economic engine. They have organized all their club members into teams each led by a CFIG and some senior members who take turns each weekend running the operation and making sure that the student and intermediate pilots are moving up the ranks. They have very low turnover, satisfied owners and reasonably low rates for their members with good planes. Much of their operation has to do with the location, climate and characteristics of where they operate, but it was interesting to do a point by point comparison with Evergreen and see opportunities we may be missing.

We are not and should not become the Houston gliding club, but the purpose of these meetings is to help the larger community think outside the box by helping each other prosper from shared experience, and I found it refreshing to see how others deal with the challenges that we face every week. Another benefit of the meeting was that I got to meet a large number of people, many of whom I knew only as names on RAS, and got to chat them up about their experiences. I attended the 2-day Flight Instructor Recertification Course just before the convention and coincidentally sat next to Tony Condon and Adam Kite, the two Soaring Safety Foundation representatives who evaluated our club just a few years ago. One of the advantages of this meeting is the ability to go up to anyone and introduce yourself, receive a warm reception, and make some new friends.

Speaking of friends, I also ran into Chris Klix there, who was the only person I recognized from our area. You might ask him as well about how he enjoyed the meeting.

I don’t know where the next convention will be, but my guess is that it will be closer to the West Coast in 2018, and I strongly suggest making an effort to attend. It’s a great opportunity to expand your horizons as a pilot, learn a lot and make a lot of new friends with whom you’re likely to stay in touch.