BIG FLATS - Eighty-six-year-old John “Corky” Gill was one of many celebrating Tuesday the grand opening of the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation's new Flight Center.
The all-new building, adjacent to the landmark 1930s Glider Hangar atop Harris Hill, will be a welcoming venue for the thousands of visitors who come to the “Soaring Capital of America” annually, many of whom purchase glider rides, said Monty Sullivan, president of the Soaring Corporation.
The site will also host HHSC members’ meetings and social events.
“So welcome all to our new Flight Center,” said Sullivan to a large crowd at the event. “As everyone knows today we are here to celebrate the opening of this building. I was a junior member here who started his career 45 years ago.”
Sullivan said many have started their flying careers at the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation.
“Where is Corky,” Sullivan asked.
“I’m right here,” Gill said. “I’ve been coming here my entire life. Ever since I was 13-years-old. This (Flight Center) opening means a lot to me. This has been my whole life. I’m up here every day.”
HHSC launched a Building Fund Campaign in 2016, and has raised more than $300,000 to date - 70 percent from member donations.
Sullivan said the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation received $50,000 from Empire State Development, and the balance consists of grants from several area foundations and gifts from community-minded individuals.
In addition to their generous financial donations, many HHSC members volunteered to raze the old Flight Center and to build the new one, Sullivan said. Virtually all of the interior and exterior carpentry was done by HHSC members.
Gill said the site has grown a lot since he first came to the location in 1946.
“Way back when I was first in the club they didn’t have gliders. There was hangers, but they used to borrow a glider from Schweizer Aircraft on the weekends. People would come up here to Harris Hill to fly with some of us kids and then take the glider back down to Schweizer Aircraft. That’s how we got going.”
Gill said eventually the club got on its feet in the 1970’s and hired three trainers to teach people about aviation.
“If you want to keep a club going you have to have members,” Gill said. “So with those trainers we started generating a lot of interest. Now we have 11 sailplanes and four co-planes. We are probably one of the biggest clubs in the United States.”
Gill said in recent years several former junior gliders have gone on from the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation to work for several international travel airlines and the U.S. Air Force.
“They all started here,” Gill said.