Elmira, New York is regarded as the “Soaring Capital of America” because of soaring’s central and long-standing role in the social and economic history of the region, attracting individuals and associations from around the world for thousands of contests, lectures, symposia, and special events.
The prominence of soaring in the Chemung River Valley owes a great deal to the geography and topography of the area. With its majestic hills and deep valleys, the updraft from its ridge makes Harris Hill a naturally suited environment for glider flight. The first 13 National soaring contests were held here from 1930-1946, and the gliderport at which the contests were held is still active, with its runway directly in front of the National Soaring Museum.
Several other factors also contribute to the area being central to the history of soaring. Schweizer Aircraft Corp. (now a division of Sikorsky) which produced half of all American-built sailplanes, was located at the bottom of Harris Hill. Additionally, at the outbreak of WWII, Elmira was the first site chosen to develop a glider program and train pilots for the war effort. In 1969, the SSA (Soaring Society of America) designated Harris Hill as the site for the National Soaring Museum. The Museum also serves as the official repository of SSA archives in addition to hosting and administering the U.S. Soaring Hall of Fame. NSM is still contributing to the enduring preeminence of Elmira in soaring by hosting the International Vintage Sailplane Meet every four years, which draws thousands of participants and media coverage from all around the world.
As a result of such events and milestones, aviation enthusiasts, historians, sailplane pilots and museum scholars today recognize the National Soaring Museum as the primary historical institution for motorless flight in the United States. Harris Hill, birthplace of American soaring, provides visitors the unique opportunity to take in both the history and the adventure of gliding. There truly is no better way to take in the breathtaking beauty of New York’s Finger Lakes Wine Region than from the cockpit of a glider!