Gary Casper loves to soar among the birds and the clouds.
On any given day, the 62-year-old Clifton Park resident heads to the hills and hang glides – usually with his core group out of the Susquehanna Flight Park in Cooperstown. And depending on wind conditions, he can be in the air for more than an hour.
“You’re soaring 4,000 feet in the air, and it’s weird that this feels so normal,” said Casper. “You don’t feel like you’re going to fall.”
Casper’s love for hang gliding started while he was in high school. He heard about the sport and decided to try it, so he built his first hang glider in 1973 out of what he described as “big plastic tubes from the hardware store and a big sheet of plastic.”
“Not safe, but there were things that could have been done (to make hang gliders safer) that we didn’t know about back then,” said Casper.
Casper pursued his passion for free flight until 1979, when he took a break for a career in science and to raise his family.
“I gave it up for a long time. I only got back into it four years ago,” said Casper. “It’s a hard thing to give up, but there are several people who did the same thing I did.”
While he was on his extended break from hang gliding, Casper began to tinker with some other creations. He began creating gadgets he could patent, although many of his ideas never came to fruition.
“I’m a scientist; I’m a geologist, so I guess (inventing) fits right in there,” said Casper. “I like problem solving.”
Then in 1999, Casper came up with an idea for a kitchen tool to help people move unbaked pizzas from the counter to a pizza stone or other baking apparatus. He took a wide, wooden paddle and attached a piece of pastry cloth with a handle to slide the pizza on and off. He named the device the Super Peel, got it patented in 2000 and created a company, EXO Super Peel, to sell it.
“It just evolved as an idea until one day, you get that epiphany,” said Casper.
Though it’s not in every American household, the Super Peel has earned the respect of the culinary community. The TV show “America’s Test Kitchen” rated it among its top pizza gadgets, and Cook’s Illustrated has listed it among its most highly-rated kitchen items for the past 10 years.
As his business took off, Casper began longing to get back in the air. He bought a state-of-the-art glider in 2011 and took up the sport again.
“The hardest thing to do is to return the muscle memory,” said Casper. “So, it was nice that I could strap on the glider again and get back in the air without much trouble.”
He also began teaching other people how to glide through the air at the Susquehanna Flight Park.
“Typically when someone comes around for the first time, the first three or four times they’ll be lucky to get a foot off the ground,” said Casper. “They go off a 40-foot hill outside Cooperstown once they get the technique down. After that, then there’s a 600-foot mountain behind that hill.”
Casper travels with his Susquehanna Flight Park friends around the Northeast on hang gliding excursions. One of their most recent trips was to the Berkshires during Labor Day weekend, where they took off from the summit of Mount Greylock.
“We had over 30 people over (that) weekend. That’s a wonderful place,” said Casper.
And if you’re wondering who would want to take off from a perfectly good mountain in a glider, Casper said the majority of the group on the Mount Greylock trip ranged in age from “50 to 70-plus.”
If you’re interested in learning how to glide through the air where Casper works, visit Susquehanna Flight Park at www.cooperstownhanggliding.com.