Since the dawn of time, man has dreamed of effortlessly soaring like a bird. Today it’s possible. Using nothing but the forces of nature and an understanding of weather principals, the modern sailplane pilot can now stay aloft for hours and reach altitudes only dreamed of just a few years ago.

What is Soaring?

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The sport of soaring is popular around the world and appeals to old and young alike. Some take up soaring as an inexpensive way to learn to fly. Other, sometimes experienced pilots, soar to experience flight in it’s purest form. All experience nature and flight in it’s purest form.

Soaring is an intellectual sport as much as a physical or kinetic one. It’s a pilot’s skill level at finding lift, understanding weather and making good decisions that determine whether a pilot stays aloft for hours or is back on the ground in minutes. Many sailplane pilots enjoy cross country flight traveling hundreds of miles in a single flight.

For many soaring is a way to unwind and leave our worries on the ground. Soaring effortlessly with the birds as the ground drops away has a meditative effect few sports offer. For others the mental challenges occupy the brain and provide a break from the day-to-day.

What are “good soaring conditions?”  Do you need a lot of wind? 

Nummela-43Wind is not the key ingredient — what a glider pilot needs is rising air.  If he finds rising air, then he does what he can to stay in it.  On most days, air rises as a result of the sun heating the ground, and therefore the air at ground level.  The heated air rises, until it is in air with the same density.  So we need sunny days, with unstable air.  Usually the heated air rises high enough for the moisture to condense and form a cloud, the ‘heap’ cloud (cumulus cloud) of good-weather summer days.  Cumulus clouds like the ones shown below promise a lot of “lift” and long glider flights.

How long does a glider flight last? 

Usually about 20 minutes, for instructional flights.  If soaring conditions are good, flights can last for several hours (a 5-hour flight is one of the requirements for the silver badge).

What’s involved in learning to fly a glider?

You fly with an instructor in a 2-seater, dual-control glider; you’re in the front seat, the instructor is in the back seat, and you each have a set of controls.  Flying a glider (or other aircraft) straight and level is pretty easy, it really flies itself.  More difficult are turns, flying on tow behind the towplane, takeoffs and landings.

Safety:

Safety is the number one training and operational priority for Nummela Gliding Center, and demands a personal commitment and involvement by all members. Safety is no accident, and we take it seriously!

A typical day at training:

Operations start about 9 a.m. with everyone pitching in to pre-flight and stage the gliders. During the morning and early afternoons, student pilots will be flying with instructors. Gliders are regularly taking off behind the tow planes and landing, with everyone helping retrieve and stage them for the next flight. On good soaring days, pilots who own their own gliders are typically off on a cross-country flight many miles from the airport.

Social Aspects of Soaring:

Nummela-55Club operations depend on mutual help – for launching, retrieving, towing, supervising operations, maintenance of aircraft and airport facilities, etc. Most members value the resulting camaraderie just as highly as the flying activities. This is well suited to people who have initiative and like to be active and helpful.

Gliding is also the oldest form of flying.

ottoOtto Lillienthal was the real pioneer of gliding, making over 2000 controlled flights during the 1890’s in his weight-shift glider from man-made hills. Lillienthal has a great claim to be the father of flight. It’s possible that if Lillienthal had continued, we’d all be happily flying advanced flex wing weight-shift gliders now.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How long is a soaring flight? Training flights are typically 15-45 minutes. Solo flights in club gliders average an hour, and experienced pilots in privately owned gliders fly for many hours on a good soaring day.

How do you stay up? You look for rising air (lift). Most commonly, it’s in the form of thermals, bubbles of hot air that rise from ground heated by the sun; they condense at altitude to form the common fair-weather summer clouds called cumulus. Other sources of rising air are wind blowing up a mountain slope, or vertical waves downwind from a mountain.

What happens if you don’t find lift? You come down in a gradual glide, like a paper glider. Safe and prudent glider pilots plan their flights and landings.

How do I advance my skills? You start by learning stick and rudder skills, and already feel satisfaction. You practice with an instructor until ready to solo – now you’re free, but you’ve developed a mental rubber band that keeps you close to the airport. You naturally strive to stay up as you circle in lift and climb as high as you can. You venture farther from the airport, but you make sure you’re close enough to glide back. Gradually, a keen awareness is developed for the forces of sun on the terrain, wind, and the signs of lift. You trust yourself more – you know you have the skills to select alternate landing fields and land safely – and you are going cross-country. Now you’re able to soar for hours, often in the company of birds helping you finding thermals. You discover that no two flights are ever the same, that the sky is always changing. It feels like you can “Reach out your hand and touch the sky.”