Stewards of History
Harris Hill is the Soaring Capital of America and Harris Hill Soaring Corporation plays an important role in the history of soaring in America. Our mission is to provide demonstrations of soaring to the public, education through flight instruction and community events, and to foster competition by hosting and participating in competitive soaring.
Soaring started in Elmira in the 1930’s when Dr. Wolfgang Klemperer looked over the area as a possible site for a national soaring contest at the request of the National Glider Association (NGA). Klemperer said that the area reminded him of the terrain of the leading soaring center in Germany, the Wasserkuppe. Based on his report, the first National Soaring Contest was held in Elmira in September of 1930.
The NGA eventually gave way to the Soaring Society of America which ran the 3rd and 4th Nationals at the Rhodes farm, just west of the present gliderport. A larger facility was needed to allow winch, auto, and aero tow launching, and Chemung County purchased a parcel of land east of the Rhodes farm, which became Harris Hill. The field was unofficially named in memory of Lt. Hank Harris, a member of the MIT glider club who had been killed a few weeks earlier in a glider accident.
Steady improvements to Harris Hill were made from 1934 onwards with an administration building, hangar, and five cabins completed in 1938 making it the first permanent site in the country for National soaring contests.
The hangar and cabins are still on Harris Hill with the hangar in particular, being used daily as part of the Harris Hill main glider hangar.
World War II saw the start of a military glider program at first operated at Harris Hill, then move to Mobile, Alabama to allow winter operations. After the war, national soaring contests were held at Harris Hill every other year until 1959.
By the mid 1960’s, the Elmira Area Soaring Corporation (EASC) was giving demonstration glider rides to the public, which allowed EASC to be less dependent on contest income and in 1967 the EASC board decided to change its name to Harris Hill Soaring Corporation, reflecting the broader communities outside of Elmira. More improvements were made to the gliderport including leveling the field and paving a glider and tow plane runway in 1968.
In 1969, the National Soaring Museum archives and soaring library were moved to Harris Hill and HHSC operated the National Soaring Museum for three years until it became a separate organization. Although the NSM and HHSC are separate organizations, we continue to collaborate and work together on programs that are beneficial to both. HHSC members serve also on the board of the NSM and the NSM serves on the board of HHSC.
HHSC conducted a fund drive to build the present Flight Center, which was completed in 1987, the 50th anniversary of HHSC. Harris Hill celebrated by hosting the 1987 Sport Class National soaring contest. Thirty years later, HHSC is planning to refurbish the flight center.
The ensuing years find HHSC at its 75th anniversary (2012) and the stewards of history at the Soaring Capital of America. Our membership has grown. Our facilities have improved, and our fleet has increased. One thing that has not changed is our passion for the sport of soaring and we are honored to be the embodiment of history at this historic soaring site.
Harris Hill Soaring Corporation is a non-profit organization located at Harris Hill gliderport whose mission is to advance soaring through demonstration, education, and competition.
HHSC is one of the oldest and largest glider clubs in the country offering rides to the public, Our 100+ members range from weekend soaring buffs to national and world soaring competitors and many of our members hold professional aviation jobs including air transport pilots
Within HHSC, we host a unique juniors organization of approximately 30 teen members who gain the unique and unprecedented opportunity to learn how to fly -many before they earn their drivers licenses. Junior flying is heavily subsidized by club member dues, keeping the cost of learning to fly extremely low. Our junior program is one of the premier programs in the country and is a vital part of HHSC’s commitment to the community. Many of our juniors go on to careers in aviation and have competed worldwide in soaring contests. If you are a teen (age 14 or older) and wish to join the HHSC juniors, find out more at this page, or contact us.
If you have ever gazed aloft and wished that you could fly, we can assure you that it is everything you can imagine and more. Take the first step here and contact us, or better yet, come out to Harris Hill and ask about it.
Harris Hill was originally commissioned to provide a location to host national soaring competitions and we continue to do so today. Competitive soaring is literally in the blood of many of our members and we have several of the soaring community’s leading competition pilots in our ranks.
HHSC also hosts the longest running soaring contest in the U.S. – the Snowbird contest. Held each Thanksgiving weekend, the Snowbird is our season capping finale before settling in to await warmer weather next spring.