Gliders have no engines and rely on either a power airplane or a winch to lift them up into the air. Once there the glider will slowly fall to the ground as it loses energy to friction with the air. Typical gliders can fly about 20 to 30 metres for every metre that it falls. This means that if a glider drops 500 metres in height it could travel 10-15 km. Since gliders fly at about 75 km/hr, the flight will last about 8-12 minutes.
The atmosphere is always in motion and the glider flies in this environment. Not only are there the horizontal winds that occur due to weather systems, there are the vertical currents from heating by the Sun and flow over hills and mountains. The sport of soaring uses these vertical currents to keep the glider aloft for hours and travel hundreds of kilometres. The glider is now a sailplane and the challenge is to stay longer in the rising air than in the sinking air. In this environment there are clouds that help mark the vertical currents and provide beauty and interest. A soaring pilot is always learning about the behaviour of the atmosphere and the capabilities of the sailplane.
Sailplanes fly reasonably silently and rise to quite high altitudes. On a good soaring day, heights of 5-8000 feet (16-2400 m) are usually achieved and the gliders can stay aloft on one flight for 2-5 hours or more. The flight is quiet with only the whistle of the air past the plane. The vistas are grand from 5000 feet. You can stretch your talents and try to better the best flights of some of our members who have flown 100 km circuits, rose to over 12,000 feet in height, and stayed in the air for over 4 hours.
If pure enjoyment of soaring is not enough, the worldwide fraternity of soaring pilots recognize various levels of accomplishment. There are Badges to be earned from the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale).
- Fly solo for 2 hours and have a height gain of 1000 metres (Bronze Badge)
- Gain of height of 1000 m plus fly for 5 hours and travel 50 km in a straight line (Silver Badge)
- Fly a circuit of more than 300 km and a height gain of 3000m (Gold Badge)