History of Miami Gliders and South Florida Soaring
Many people are surprised to learn that Miami has been an excellent soaring site since the 1930's. The thermal updrafts needed for long soaring flights are plentiful over the agricultural areas and the Everglades year round. Indeed, the shallow water of Everglades National Park retains heat overnight, assuring thermal activity almost every day.
The Sea Breeze Front is a weather phenomenon that produces a distinctive "cloud street" marking rising air that glider pilots utilize to fly for hours south of Miami and far out over the Everglades. Miami's Sea Breeze Front attracts pilots from around the world to experience this unique form of soaring.
In 1930 the Miami Soaring Club was established as a chapter of the National Glider Association, a forerunner of our current Soaring Society of America. 1935 saw an interesting glider flight from Miami to Key West to Havana. Two Franklin gliders in double tow behind a bi-plane delivered two bag of mail, marking the first airmail delivery by glider on an intercontinental flight. Pilots Jack O'Meara and Richard DuPont were towed by Edward Kiem in this publicity stunt to promote a glider flight school in Miami.
1945 marked the end of WWII and the former Army Air Bases at Chapman Field (now Deering Estate) and Homestead Air Base were utilized by Miami pilots Fritz Compton, Fritz Sebek, Gene Miller, Fred Brittain, and Marty Bennett. Using brand new war surplus LK-10A (TG4) two-seat gliders, this group utilized Miami's year round soaring weather. In the early 1950's soaring was done from Brown's Airport east of US 1 in Kendall.
In 1954 Fritz Compton built a grass airport just west of US 1 near what is now known as The Falls shopping center. The Compton family hosted the local soaring group known as the South Florida Soaring Association. Glider pilots from around the world would gather in the winter to soar at the Compton "Flying C Ranch". Notable pilots included German legend Peter Riedel, French pilot Rene Comte, American soaring pioneer Captain Ralph Barnaby, sailplane designer Dick Schreder, aviation photographer and writer Hans Groenhoff, and SSA President William Coverdale.
Members of the South Florid Soaring Association during the 1950's included John Randall, Fritz Sebek, Marty Bennett, Roz Mathis, Bob Mills, Gene Miller, Steve Wedge, George Cavianni, and the Comptons. Further up the Florida coast Lou Rehr, Dave Robinson, and John Byrd were soaring at the Lantana Airport. Often the two groups would meet at North Perry Airport to fly, and each spring all the glider pilots in Florida would rendesvouz at Sebring Airport.
Other soaring activity around Florida included The North Florida Soaring Society at Jacksonville, Pat and Harriet's Lennox Soaring School at Mulberry, "Pop" Khrone and his students at Sanford, the original Seminole Gliderport east of Orlando, and a club at Naples Airport.
In the early 1960's the South Florida Soaring Association, flying at Compton's Flying C Ranch, decided that they needed a gliderport further inland closer to the better thermal conditions near the Everglades, and to better utilize the sea breeze front. A committee was formed to arrange for zoning with Dade County and purchase a site near Homestead. A site was chosen on Krome Avenue, however instead of the club purchasing the land as intended, a small group of the club members preempted the club plans and bought the property themselves. The club was grateful for the generosity of the syndicate that made the investment and agreed to pay rent to them which simplified club business. Many years after the initial purchase the property was offered to the club but land values in the area had greatly increased and the club could not make a timely decision to purchase The land was sold to another group of private individuals, and the club missed an opportunity to purchase the gliderport land.
Circa 1963 the site was named the Miami Gliderport and the club reorganized as Thermal Research Associates. The gliderport which had a 6,000 sq ft hangar and a Super Cub towplane. Jim Parrott, a congenial high school teacher operated the Miami Soaring School at the gliderport with a Schweitzer 2-22 and a 1-26. Jim was well loved and introduced hundreds of Miamians to the sport of soaring. In the meantime club members John Randall and Fritz Sebek were flying their new KA-6 sailplanes. George Arrents had the only Schweitzer 2-25 ever built, and Fritz Compton was building a Schreder HP-11 and waiting for his new Open Cirrus to arrive from Germany. Other club members included Paul "Pablo" Crowell who had a new German fiberglass Libelle H-301 (which he later sold to John Byrd); Lou Salvatore had a Fournier RF4D motorglider and was partners with Harry Sinn in a Schweitzer 1-26. Harry Sinn was professor of meteorology at the University of Miami and conducted "thermal research" which included tossing toilet paper out of his 1-26 into the thermal to determine direction of rotation of thermals. Harry shared his observations of thermals and led lively post-flight debriefings of the day's weather. Fritz Compton and Pablo Crowell would take their sailplanes to National contests, with Burt Compton serving as crew for both. Happily, Fritz and Pablo flew well and almost always finished every contest task. A Schleicher ASK-13 two-seat sailplane was acquired by the club and flown often by Hal and Scott Bingham. Later, club gliders included a Blanik L-13, a IAR Lark and a Twin Astir. The primary club instructor was Fred Brittain, succeeded by Scott Bingham. Walt and Kay Cawby, and Chicho Estrada and his nephew Alfonso Jurado competed in many National contests.
In the early 1970's, Mary Gaffaney, World Champion aerobatic pilot and owner of Kendall Flying School established a commercial glider operation on land she purchased next to Everglades National Park. She subsequently leased her Kendall Gliderport to other glider school operators who had difficulty growing the business at such a remote location. However, dozens of new glider pilots were trained at Mary's Kendall Gliderport. In spite of the snakes and mosquitoes Kendall Gliderport enjoyed the best soaring conditions in South Florida, as the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico seabreeze fronts occasionally boosted cloud bases to over 8,000 ft. On a few occasions air mass wave was encountered. Bob Youngblood and Benny Flowers were among those to ride the wave above the cumulus cloud layer to over 10,000 ft. Bill Harris, who had been flying sailplanes since the 1940's, was a fixture at Kendall Gliderport and mentor to many new glider pilots. Later, Brian Thorpe operated Sunspot Soaring at Kendall Gliderport, while Ray "Rocky" LaRocque operated Eastwind Glider School at Richard's Field.
Around 1980 Thermal Research Associates reorganized as the Miami Glider Club. In the 1990's Mary Gaffaney's Kendall Gliderport was absorbed by the expansion of Everglades National Park and decommissioned as an airport, and Burt Compton established Miami Gliders Flight School at Richard's Field Airport. In 2003 Burt Compton sold the Miami Gliders name and some assets to Tom Mackie and Carlos Zuniga. Miami Gliders operated at Homestead Gen. Airport until March 14, 2005.
The current glider operation at Homestead General Airport is ran by Unusual Attitudes Inc. The company is owned by Steve Diehl and operated by Angel Delguy since ealry 2005.