but our founder irv sobel soloed in a glider with exactly 24 minutes (he was ready at 14 but his instructor wanted 3 landings 1st) he progressed through private, commercial, and instructor in just 2 months time (not sure how many hours logged)
he was a commercial pilot with american airlines who holds a current 747 speed record and had extensive military experience as well including being the 2nd t fly the worlds fastest (at the time) plane.
so thats far from typical
in general (meanning there are exceptions) your age can affect how quickly you learn and reach solo/ppl
if you start at 12 or 16 you learn alot faster then starting at 60
but that does not translate directly into being a better pilot, while i knew a girl who stared at 9 and at 18 was flying in world championships, she had flown WITH world champs from 14 on
but in general those who start later in life may progress more slowly they often end up being better pilots in the long run
on average, a student can expect if given the opportunity to get in a reasonable number of training flights to solo in 1 season and get their check out flight near the end of the second season
thats fairly typical of most experiences
have you flown with us? are you wanting to?
are you disabled? whats the nature of the disability whats your age weight tc
we will have a new disabled instructor on nov 20th, (who holds 2 state records) so will be able to do more lessons this next season. we may leave 1 plane available for winter flying too.
my 1 scary 2nd solo mistake was in a glider (all I fly.) my head was in the clouds as well.. literally I had been playing with 4 golden eagles (rare to see 4 together) flying fast, well above best l/d and having fun.. and ofcourse losing altitude.
so coming home to vansant i was a little low, opted for a straight in final, crossing the farmers field (should have landed short there) and the road i made the mistake of slowing down to conserve altitude (which i had very little left) ofcourse just then a strong cross wind gust catches me and i'm no longer over the runway, but the parking lot!
thank god i stayed calm and relaxed and reacted just right...
nose down hard bank and stare att the wingtip.. which was about 4 feet off the ground. everyone watching was certain it would ht and I would cartwheel into the ground. but I did not take my eyes off that wingtip I knew exactly how much space i had.. (3-5 feet) wrestled it back over the field.. for an otherwise great landing.
never fly below pattern speed in the pattern, especially on a straight in short and low pattern when the tendency is to want to extend the glide.
If you aren't 100% certain of your glide slope and coming in with spoilers closed... best to land short in a field across the street then try to coax an extra few feet out of the glide slope.
I was never scared.. although I should have been.. terrified! but now looking back I know it is a mistake I will never make again.
freedoms wings needs volunteers both locally, and remotely. (volunteers often get a chance to fly if in the area) remote or local:
fundraisers - identify and make contacts with potential donors, and/or organize fundraising events.
Grant writers - we already have a dedicated volunteer grant writer, who has volunteered for 10 years after taking only 1 single flight in the 10 years. but he only writes grants for events, not general funding.
local: field manager - part time/spare time should take the SSA wingrunners course and know the basics of glider ground handling and preflight safety. may also help disabled riders and pilots into the cockpit.
CFIG - certified flight instructor glider, we know this is a long shot since we are an all volunteer organization, but we currently have a real shortage of active instructors. In the past more then 1/2 of our cfig's were disabled, and we soon should have a new disabled cfig (next year) but we could use 4-6 more.
Chief safety officer.- we have always had an outstanding safety record. Even with multiple record breaking flights, we have only had 1 off field landing in 38 years! Our chief safety officer has decided to step down this year. This should be someone with strong aviation background, military or civilian. Only duty is to ensure we remain one of the safest soaring clubs in the country.
We fly out of PA NJ and NY in USA
It will be extremely hard to find volunteers for the CFIG and safety manager positions so please share this post widely. thanks www.freedomswings.org
A glider is limited in how far it can fly by its glide ratio. The glide ratio is determined by its lift, divided by its drag, or l/d.
But is a gliders ability to fly great distances limited by simple physics? Yes, and, no. But you have to now factor in:
Earth energy creates a dynamic atmosphere that can extend a gliders flight beyond the limits of glide slope. In simplistic terms, The physics of the gliders flight through dead still air, are altered by the physics of the airs motion around them.
Lift and Sink
What goes up, must come down. With a glider, once you reach release altitude your plane is always going down, in relationship to the air it is in. However, with modern gliders that have a low minimum sink, and a high l/d, the glider can climb when the air it is in rises faster then the gliders glide slope brings it down. As air heats over a large parking lot, the air rises. We may observe discarded trash bags lift off the ground and spiral upwards. This is the birth of a thermal, a narrow column of rising air. As the hot air rises, it cools, and descends. This makes the atmosphere dynamic, able to be harnessed and used.
Lift and sink are created by multiple sources, but follow the same rules, what goes up, must come down. Whenever there is lift, there is sink.
A glider pilot will fly slower, closer to minimum sink speed in strong lifting air, and fly faster then best l/d through strong sinking air. No matter the lift source, you climb faster at near minimum sink speed, and, to get through sink faster to reach next lift source, you fly faster. While flying locally, you will stay near best l/d only slightly above to get out of strong sink. When flying cross country however you use McCready theory. Your sailplane will be equipped with a McCready ring, or, a computerized MC setting in a more advanced variometer.
Variometer and McCready
A variometer is a very sensitive instrument that measures the change in air pressure. Altimeters also measure air pressure to determine altitude, but a variometer is a far more sensitive instrument that compares measures the change in pressure relative to the pressure in an isolated chamber over a short period of time. This is a basic variolmeter with NcCready ring, and to the right of it air speed indicator. The lift expected is set at a relatively weak 1 m/s.
McCready rings, or setting on variomters are used to set the lift you experience and expect to find again, and determine the best speed to fly though the sink to reach lift again and cover the most distance in the best time.
How A Variometer Works
A variometer is a very sensitive version of the vertical climb indicator found in other planes.
A variometer is a simple, yet sensitive instrument. There are other types of compensated variometers, but for understanding the basics, a variometer contains a diaphragm that receives a direct source of the static pressure. The surrounding chamber has a reference pressure that is allowed to leak back into the static system at a calibrated rate. As the pressure increases, or decreases in the diaphragm as compared to the surrounding pressure, the needle on the dial is moved to indicate the difference. Gliders may often have more then 1 variometer, some calibrated to indicate whether the air around them is rising or falling, regardless of if the glider is climbing or diving.
Causes Of Lift And Sink
The atmosphere is dynamic, it is rarely dead still. So lets look at what makes it rise and fall. What allows a glider to fly beyond best glide ratio, or climb as high as a jet might fly.
Ground Heating Thermals And Cumulus Clouds
Cumulus clouds are a great indication of thermal activity. When areas of the ground head faster then the surrounding areas, rising columns of lift are created. A glider pilot will circle in these rising columns to gain altitude. Exactly as a hawk or eagle would. In fact, if hawks are seen flying, there is usually lift. Look for them, circle with them, and you are likely to have a great flight.
Darker areas, rocky or paved areas, heat up much faster then moist forests or wetlands. Often thermals exist, in the absence of the telltale cumulus clouds. On these "blue lift" days, you need to look to the ground for areas that are likely to produce thermals. Many gliderports might have a "home thermal" an area that has slightly more dependable lift, like a quarry. Over the years soaring local glider pilots know where the most likely lift might be, and are worth consulting before attempting longer flights.
Cumulus clouds form, when and if moisture is carried to where the air has cooled to the dewpoint, and it condenses into a cloud. Cumulus clouds are born, they mature they die and they decay. At times they can even overbuild into the mighty cumulonimbus, the thunderstorm capable of spawning tornadoes.
Recognizing the stage of the cumulus will improve your chances of finding lift, sink, or just turbulence. What starts with a wisp ends with a wisp, at this point, unless your pretty attuned to watching the motion of the faintest mist, you'll likely have trouble telling birth from death. Over several minutes it will either begin to take shape or start to fade away.
This timelapse shows the birth, building, mature, and dissipating stages of the complete lifecycle
Cumulus Building Stage
The building stage is most recognizable for having good thermal energy feeding its growth. You can see a well developed top, and the underside has a slight concave appearance, you can almost visualize the energy pushing up into it, depositing moisture along the way. The 2 clouds in the center are most likely building the strongest, while the 1 to the right might still be working, but is mature headed towards decay. The cloud on the left has lost distinction, top and bottom, and is in decay.
It is important here to note that a thermal under the cumulus would be slanted by the wind, and some thermals are fed by bubbles of rising air rather then columns. In this case, a glider above, and even one below might be in lift, in rising bubbles, while a 3rd between them not have any lift at all.
Cumulus Dissipating Stage
Notice the contrast to the previous example. The cumulus front and center has a upper surface that's less distinct, almost appears to be collapsing on itself, and the lower surface is convex, the edges are falling apart. This cumulus will likely have nothing but sink. Instead of condensing the moisture is dissipating and he cloud will slowly fade from existence.
There will be nothing but cool sinking air under this cloud, all of it's energy lost.
Building and decay is a part of every thermal, and every cumulus's life cycle. A cumulus that keeps building without signs of decay can overbuild into the mighty cumulonimbus, and become dangerous indeed!
Mature Cumulus Stage
A Mature cumulus may still produce strong lift, it is characteristic often by being taller, and wider then an early building cumulus. The underside may still be concave or slightly more flat. The upper edges are still well defined, but not as much as he building stage.
As a mature thermal transitions to dissipating lift and sink can form turbulence under the cloud. Climbing at that point is difficult, but not impossible.
Mature cumulus clouds are at their peak of development, and soon will lead to decay and dissipation.
The cumulus can build beyond the cumulus stage, and become the great cumulonimbus.
Cumulonimbus Development Stage
When cumulus clouds are fed lots of energy, and moisture, they can become towering cumulonimbus clouds. A skilled glider pilot can often pint to a cloud and say that cloud has the potential to overdevelop into a thunderstorm long before the top reaches a height that causes the distinctive anvil shaped top. In the case of the cumulonimbus there is very strong energy feeding it, it starts to dissipate downwind in that high altitude anvil, with rain, strong downdrafts and often very strong turbulence. Gliders can soar under cumulonimbus clouds in thunderstorms, but it is risky, and often terrifying. Updrafts exist that are strong enough to suck you into the clouds where you get disorientated having lost sight of the ground, and you can be pulled up higher then your oxygen system allows for. There can be equally violent downdrafts, wind shifts, and in some cases even tornado activity. Many glider pilots can estimate how long it might take to overdevelop, and use the powerful lift prior to that point to climb quickly. For the novice to intermediate glider pilot, it is best to avoid the entire area where a cumulus might develop into a cumulonimbus. A cumulus that will develop into a cu-nim (for short) might be surrounded by other cumulus clouds that will become a more widespread overbuilding.
Time spent watching clouds, in particular cumulus and storm system development can be a valuable pastime when not actively flying. The greater your understanding of the lifecycle of thermals and cumulus clouds, the more proficient you become at finding lift under them.
The Mighty Wind
While a variometer measures minute changes in air pressure within a thermal, large scale pressure zones can also form fueled by heating and cooling. High pressure air tries to flow into low pressure air to equalize he pressure causing wind. This is why the low pressure at the eye of a hurricane or tornado can determine the strength of the winds flowing around it. Wind speed is determined by the pressure gradient between 2 air masses.
Wind becomes lift when it encounters an obstruction that deflects it upwards.
Wind Over Mountains
When wind flows over a mountain range perpendicular to the ridge, it has nowhere to go but up. In the example to the left, 3 gliders should be pictured to best illustrate what happens.
The ridge that originally altered the motion of the air would provide strong ridge lift, a glider could fly somewhat low, but fast, and close to the ridge for very long distances.
On just the right day, with all the right conditions, downwind of the ridge standing waves may form, some theoretically into the stratosphere. In these mountain waves a glider can soar higher then a jet, without thousands of pounds of thrust to get you there.
Wen the wind passes over a mountain ridge, at a near perpendicular angle, it flows up and over the mountain, rising on the upwind side, and sinking on the downwind. The lift and sink near mountains can be very strong, allowing high speeds near the ridge tops. The sink downwind can be equally strong, so crossing over ridges takes planning and extra altitude.
When atmospheric conditions are just right, the rise and sink of the air over the ridge triggers a standing wave.
The wave that forms downwind of a mountain range can go higher then any plane can fly. In fact, The Perlan II space glider hopes to do just that. Soar a wave to 90,000 feet!
Waves are incredibly silky smooth lift that takes you straight up, as high as you dare go. High altitude flight in gliders takes skill and training. When you fly very high, your never exceed speed, as indicated on your air speed indicator, is significantly reduced. Therefore you may be near redline speeds, but think your flying much slower. Higher altitude flying also requires different oxygen systems.
Weak Lift Sources
There will be times when you only need 100 feet to get on a glide slope to home, where even the weakest lift will matter between getting home and landing in a field.
When the suns been heating a slope all day the morning hours might produce a weak lift on the east side, and on the west towards late afternoon. A glider might not be able to climb in such weak lift, but instead reduce its sink just enough to matter.
When two fronts collide, the cold front pushes under the warm front. the warm air rising above it causing a weak lift along the leading edge of the front. Moisture pushed up by the warm air causes an easy to spot frontal cloud. Because fronts tend to cover large areas, and move fairly slowly, you can use frontal lift to maintain altitude and extend your glide.
The location, speed and direction of frontal movements are perhaps the easiest to predict a weak, yet dependable lift. While the wind over a ridge might die enough to stop producing lift. A massive air mass on the move is not likely to stop unpredictably.
If a frontal line forms along your course to home, it's weak lift just might be enough to get you there, after all the thermals have died, and the ridges and waves have stopped working, you can look to weak lift sources to get you home safely.
Water and land heat, and cool at very different rates. Land will heat up faster, and cool down faster then water. Early in the morning the water maybe significantly warmer then the air, and rise just off shore, while later in the day the ,land maybe alot warmer then the water, and provide lift closer to the shore.The greater the temperature difference, the better the chances of lift being generated.
Harnessing Earth Energy
Normally when you think of harnessing earth energy, you think of solar panels converting sunlight into electricity, wind turbines converting wind into electricity, geothermal, tidal and wave generators. Harnessing the energy to generate electricity.
Gliders instead use the energy, as is. The earth converts solar energy into thermals we use as fuel to gain height, which we convert into distance and speed. Wind does not need to be converted to energy, just deflected by features of the earth upwards. Geothermal refers to heat coming from the earth being converted to steam then electricity. Gliders use the energy produced by a dark field being a few degrees warmer then a nearby forest.
Gliders are extremely efficient at using the energy produced by the sun and the earth without conversion. Except to altitude, and to speed.
Soaring, "the sport of kings" is a unique, challenging and incredibly rewarding way to fly, especially for disabled and physically challenged individuals. Especially because in the glider disabled pilots have no disadvantage nor advantage over other pilots. Except one. the advantage of looking down on your wheelchair below, and leaving it far behind.
Soaring is the art of staying aloft, in a glider. Gliders are very high performance planes, also called sailplanes, with a thrust-less glide slope as high as 65-1, while most modern sailplanes would fall between 30-1 and 45-1, and most power planes dropping out of the sky at a 5-1 ratio.
Primary Glider Humble Beginnings of Soaring
In the beginning there was the primary glider. And it was good. Man separated himself from the earth below and began his journey into the sky. A dumb wise man once said, flying is simply forgetting how to fall. Well, it wasn't exactly that simple, first we had to control our fall.
Capable of being lunched off a mountain and landing in a field in the valley. You can almost envision the steepness of the glide slope from the photo. Gliding flight began as little more then controlled fall from the sky.
But with this humble beginning began our passion for flight. The passion for gliding, and soaring flight has never faded since man first controlled a fall from the sky.
To this day, primary gliders are useful experience to have (if your ever able to have the chance) the very basic forces of flight with minimal performance almost, gives you a crash course in flight dynamics. If you have lots of altitude when you start you can maneuver, doing turns, even practicing stalls, but your always headed quickly towards the ground. Your log book would show flight times recorded in seconds.
Today's sailplanes are pushing the limits of design refinement.
Capable of glide slopes as great as 65-1 they can fly a long way from less altitude. and can take advantage of "earth energy" to gain and maintain altitude, to extend flights to great distances.
"Earth energy' come in many forms, solar energy being the most widespread and available energy source. Wind over terrain is another form of earth energy a sailplane pilot will use.
The ability to predict, identify, and utilize the various forms of energy available is what turns a gliding pilot, into a soaring pilot. To excel at the sport of soaring, requires you to become masters of the atmosphere, and in tune with the movement of the air around you, to the point of being able to feel, or sense where your chances to climb may be.
Soaring, is the art of understanding both the physics of flight, and the forces of the atmosphere itself and using them to sustain flight beyond the "dead air" glide ratio.
turning gliding into soaring
What turns a good day to fly into a flight you will never forget? A warm fall day with all the fall foliage changing colors is a good day to fly. Twenty minutes smooth as silk sight seeing in the peace and (relative) quite with no engine.
While taking a tow to a mile high and being able to fly up to 65 miles seems pretty good.. and it is.. turning that day into a 650 mile day, that is the difference between gliding and soaring. Taking a tow to 2,000 feet, then riding a wave to 20,000 to a new high. Breaking records, personal, regional or world. Blazing across the finish line at the Grand Prix and becoming world champion. Granted, not every flight to remember a lifetime will be a competition. I have seen glider pilots break down in tears flying over the grand canyon.
Entire 5 hour adventure:
If you are like me, the most magical flight might not be the longest, you might not fly the farthest, it might just be a shared moment of eye contact with a hawk or an eagle.
thermals and thermalling
in most cases this will be the 1st, and most common source of lift you will encounter.
Solar powered soaring: as the sun heats the ground, it heats some areas faster then others. hotter air will rise over warmer areas, and sink over cooler areas. the areas of rising air are much stronger, but very much narrower then the surrounding sinking air. a skilled glider pilot will circle in tight circles in the core, or strongest part of the lift, and faster through the sinking air. this technique can achieve distances, and course speeds significantly higher then "gliding" allows. this ability to turn a 45-1 best glide ratio at a speed of 57 knots, into a 600 mile day, at 110 knots, is what the sport of soaring is all about.
Cumulus clouds and thermals
cumulus clouds, often called fair weather clouds form from thermal activity, they are a good indication of where thermals will be, but not the only 1
cumulus clouds have a life cycle, i am sure we all have observed it while lying on the ground watching clouds change shapes, and imagining things we see in them. but might not have observed them from the 1st whisps start to form, then build into a big towering mature cloud only to fade away and decay. the stage of the cumulus will tell you if there will be lift, or not. the tops of decaying clouds have less distinction, the undersides lost its concave look and might appear to be falling apart. while this might be the perfect cloud for picturing dragons in, its not 1 good for looking for lift under.
the life cycle of the thermal begins before, and, in the absence of any clouds. this is important to note, as there might be lift over a dark colored field, or rock quarry or large paved area, long before that thermal carried enough moisture to cloud base (see future posting on soaring weather for more detail on what determines the heights of cloud formations). prior to decay stage, the thermal will detach from its ground source prior to decay lift may only be found closer to the cloud.
Blue skies and thermals
just cause theres no cumulus doesn't mean there are no thermals. clouds need moisture to form. with lower humidity no clouds will form, so you will be looking to the ground for signs of lift. (really you are always looking to both, but cumulus clouds are more obvious) areas of forest won't heat up as fast as freshly plowed fields, rocky areas, or sand. roofs of buildings, parking lots, all heat up rather quickly. hotter areas surrounded by cooler areas are most likely to cause thermals. while crossing water like a lake is sure to have nothing but sink, an island in the middle is highly likely to spawn thermal after thermal. its the cycle of heating and cooling air that creates updrafts and downdrafts. finding the most likely sources of heating can result in phenomenal flights.
most cumulus thermalling days, your altitude is limited by the clod base height, even if the thermal continues to rise higher. on blue thermal days you can often get alot higher.
once you graduate from thermalling, and sustained soaring flight, maybe your ready to conquer the majesty of mountain soaring. Mountain soaring uses a completely different lift source. the deflection of wind over the mountains. this comes in 2 main forms with very different conditions.
Ridge soaring and ridge lift
as wind hits a mountain it gets deflected, if that angle it hits the ridge at, is within about 15 degrees of perpendicular, and over about 15 knots, good lift can be expected within the blue shaded area.
taking advantage of ridge lift, offers some of the most beautiful and exhilarating soaring opportunities.
because your flying with a strong cross wind, the speed to fly, is whatever speed will keep you upwind of the ridge, in the lift. you can float along with hundreds of feet below you, or race along closer in. when soaring the ridge you will crab into the wind (the direction your nose points will be to the left, into the wind in this image. the number of degrees needed to fly parallel to the ridge depends on wind speed, and your forward speed. in thermals flying slow will mean faster climbing, but on the ridge, speed is your friend. (we will get into control effectiveness and speed soon) on the ridge, the speed to fly is never below best l/d , this gives you enough speed to turn into the wind, if you start to drift over the ridge (note that heavy sink on the other side) but can on the high end be breathtakingly fast. flying hundreds of miles at or above maneuvering speed is definitely possible.
Wave Lift and Wave Soaring
Soaring Mountain Waves to Record Altitudes
downwind of mountain ranges standing waves can form when the right atmospheric conditions exist. mountain waves extend upwards far higher then the ridge lift that initiated the wave motion. waves are theorized to extend high into the stratosphere, the perlan 2 space glider project hopes to reach an altitude of 90,000 feet soon. that will be higher then any sustained flight.
mountain waves allow for a glider to climb to unbelievable altitudes, riding a rising wave that stays stationary over the ground. the wind speed increases as you climb higher so you can be pretty stationary over the ground when high, and just floating straight up.
wave soaring like ridge soaring takes a completely different set of tactics and skills from thermal soaring. at high altitudes the indicated airspeed is significantly reduced from the true airspeed. without specially designed wings for high altitude flight, you might be ready to cross the vne and rip off the wings, while thinking your flying too slow. (instrumentation covered in a separate discussion). additionally, with high altitude flights, there is always a risk of the clouds closing in below you, and gliders are never able to fly within the clouds.
furthermore, the rotor turbulence can be heavy to severe. there have even been times where the rotor sat right atop the landing strip. sudden abrupt and very strong updrafts and downdrafts on final, near the ground require quick reflexes to compensate.
Thermals Ridge and Wave Invisible Friends to Help You on Your Way
Although the air is invisible, there are many clues that tell you where to look. A glider pilot learns to understand the atmosphere as a fluid, dynamic mass with currents that obey rules. While the atmosphere maybe unpredictable, certain probabilities are to be expected. Gliding becomes soaring when your skill, allows you to read the probability of lift correctly, and extend a good flight into a great flight.
Cross Country and Competition Soaring
Think soaring around your local airfield won't be enough for you? Some pilots wait years before leaving home, others, are off exploring new areas, setting tasks and reaching for goals soon as they are competent
Cross Country Soaring "Leaving Home"
During your training, and your early times flying a glider, you will stay in familiar territory, near your home airfield, and generally upwind. On good days when you are up for hours, you'd stay within glide ratio of the airport. If you got low you head back, if your high you might fly a little further out. Your constantly aware of where home is.
Your first cross country flight will likely be for 1 of the S.S.A (Soaring Society of America) (or your countries equiv) badges and achievements.
When you are ready to leave the nest, and the safety it provides, and set out on your own to new horizons, you will know all you need to know to soar long distances safely.
At every moment of your cross country flight, you are aware of what you will do, in case you can't make it home.
When you get low, and you will get low, you will have several fields picked out as possible landing locations, and will be narrowing down your options to the best one. At the very same time you are looking for even the weakest lift, to keep you from having to land. Your first flight away from home, you may turn back towards home several times if you start to get low. You may even be over the home field, about to enter the landing pattern, when you find a strong thermal that sends you on your way again.
Scully pulled off the miracle on the Hudson, only because of his cross country glider experience. Soaring cross country will be your first real challenge as a mature master of the atmosphere, ready to fly off and away from the tether binding you to home by glide ratio.
When your starting to soar cross country, you might set a personal task, like trying to fly to a certain peak and back, or fly a triangle between 3 airports. If you always make the right decisions, you'll always reach each airport at, or above landing pattern height. If you don't, you end up landing in a field. You must always be planning for both potentialities.
As you are likely now aware, cross country soaring takes soaring to the next level, but requires much more skill then soaring around home. However, cross country soaring is still just a stepping stone to whole other levels of soaring bliss!
I feel the need. The need for speed! And, well, altitude, and distance, and, yea, ya know, speed! Soaring competition involves a delicate balance of all these things. As was mentioned a glider can fly a maximum distance, at a specific speed. The best glide ratio drops off in a curve as speed is added. To fly the course in the fastest time possible requires a delicate balance between spending the least time climbing, using whatever lift is available to get the greatest speed over the course. One pilot might take the high road, diving from thermal to thermal, While another stays low racing along the ridge line. The route you take, the decisions you make, and the chances you take, all mater as much, if not more then the speed you fly.
Soaring competitions are a world class sport. Called "The Sport of Kings" because of the level of skill required, as well as the pure majesty of racing through the most remote and forbidding and beautiful areas of the earth. Harnessing only the energy of the atmosphere they push their sleek ships to the limit, along with their skills.
The contest day begins with weather safety and procedure briefings, then the gliders line up on the grid, based on pre-selected positions, awaiting launch, grouped by competition classes.
When it is determined conditions are safe for the selected tasks of the day the contest gate is opened, and off they go. Some contests allow you to start and restart, till you feel you have your best chances at a long fast flight. Higher level competitions use a rally start, with every glider crossing the start line together within an altitude window.
Welcome to the gaggle, the place where the masters of the atmosphere dance, circling one another in an upward spiral, reaching for the clouds. Dozens of gliders in close proximity circling tightly in a narrow column of rising air. Centering in a column you can't see will raise you to the top of the pack. The higher you are to start, the farther you can fly without needing to climb again.
And, the race is off.
Glider competitions range from regional competitions, with multiple classes of gliders, each class flying a different task, to one class competitions, where every glider is equal, only the pilots skills matter, and to the sailplane grand prix and world championship.
And now, you are on your own, competing against yourself, nature, fellow glider pilots, and, maybe even the most elite competitors in the world. Sailplane racing is the ultimate test of skill, understanding of atmospheric energy, and of course making all the right decisions.
Want more excitement and challenge? Soaring has it all. Most modern gliders are capable of basic aerobatics, loops, chandelles, lazy 8's cloverleafs and some, inverted flight. Special aerobatic gliders however are capable of a whole lot more!
Hold on tight for the ride of your life, puling over 5 G's and inverted flat spins. Gliders are capable of breathtaking, elegant, graceful, and eerily silent high G force aerobatics that are sure to drop a few jaws.
Gravity, that weak force that once bound us to the ground, has become the engine behind a high tech, high skill, high adrenaline sport like no other.
Notice I only mentioned disabilities in the 1st couple sentences. There is a reason for that. In none of the above examples, does your disability matter! When you soar, you are able to compete on a level playing field. It isn't "he became a top notch competition pilot despite having a disability. No, disability has no affect on performance whatsoever! Only thing disabilities affect is how you manipulate the controls.
We use a rudder handle, attached to the left rudder pedal. push forward for left rudder, pull back for right.
Because the left hand is normally used for spoilers, dive brakes or air brakes while landing, that handle has a locking plate, to hold the handle in desired position.
The disabled pilot can easily switch from rudder to spoiler, to control the decent rate on final approach to landing.
Gliders generally are gentle to control, do not require much strength. They are also statically, and dynamically stable. This means when you take your hands off the stick, they tend to revert to straight and level flight.
In the course of controlling the aircraft, much of the control movements are just millimeters of movement, just gentle stick pressures. My own 1st instructor was a quadriplegic with limited use of both hands. He was also the best pilot I ever got to fly with.
Medical issues that may determine eligibility to fly:
Acting as Pilot In Command (PIC) It is up to you to determine if your healthy enough to fly safely. Some disabilities come with spasticity, when severe the spasms may cause limbs to interfere in control movements. Severe motion sickness can interfere with the ability to safely fly the plane. Seizures obviously would result in an inability to control the craft, and, cause another pilot flying with you unable to control the plane. While O2 use is necessary at high altitudes, O2 systems might not be suitable for people on respirators.
Weight however is 1 limiting factor that is not up to you to decide whats safe, and what isn't! all gliders have a max weight limit, including all instruments gear, pilot, and any water ballast (used to fly fast) In addition they have a specific range the center of gravity must be within. So there is a minimum, and maximum weight. In a 2 seat trainer, the combined weigh of both pilots cannot exceed the max weight of plane + cargo. Even if the weights of both pilots falls within the proper limits, if the front pilot i too heavy, or too light, moving the center of gravity outside the proper limits, the stability of the aircraft is compromised, and a dive, or stall that cannot be recovered from maybe the result.
Welcome to the pure majesty, the excitement the thrill and the skill that is soaring. Ready to give it a try?
Soaring is that rare sport, that even after decades soaring some flights leave you grinning or giggling or exclaiming "it's just so beautiful" every 2 minutes. Unlike commuter flights, no 2 soaring flights are ever the same. The most experienced glider pilots are known to blurt out a "yeeehaw" "or "whooooaaaaahhh" now and then.
Glider pilots often meet and are known to recount their most memorable flights for years after the fact. Every flight has it's moments to remember.
Although much of the knowledge required to become a top notch glider pilot is extremely technical, requiring a knowledge of physics, and meteorology, there is also a very zen like quality, of being one with the movements of the air around you. Your mind is always active, seeking lift, reevaluating every decision, revising every plan, planning for every contingency, and change in conditions. However, with enough practice, this becomes automatic, your mind becomes quiet, and your actions and reactions more automatic.
When Capt. Scully lost both engines over New York City, there was no panic. Having flown so much in a glider (and in the Airbus A320-214 so he knew the flight dynamics well) his reactions were automatic, performing the proper emergency procedures over a dozen steps before being listed in the emergency procedure manual. More importantly he used the "that's looks about right" technique to determine his glide slope would not allow him to safely land at any nearby airports. Attempting to reach an airport would only result in "landing' in a residential neighborhood. (Usually known as a catastrophic crash) Instead relying on his glider training he performed the "out landing" in the only available option the hudson river.
Gliders need a much shorter landing field, so farmers fields, even golf courses or parks are an option. Glider pilots are always aware of alternative landing options at every altitude, and everywhere along the flight route. A skilled glider pilot is therefore a safer pilot, flying in any plane, in any role, as a result of their glider experience. Recognizing this fact, military pilots are now receiving glider training more often, as part of their general flight training.
Someday, this may be a requirement for commercial airlines as well.
Commercial and military pilots alike often prefer to fly gliders in their off time, or after retirement. you can fly the fastest pine in the world, or the largest, but it will not inspire the passion of soaring flight.