What is Soaring?

Gliding, often called soaring, is motorless flight. Gliders use naturally occurring atmospheric phenomena, called "lift", to gain altitude, stay aloft for hours, and thereby travel tens to hundreds of miles.

You may already have an interest in aviation but perhaps you have not yet discovered the joy and excitement of soaring. If this is the case let us share with you our enthusiasm for what we regard as the ultimate sport.

Methods of Launch
There are three methods of launch:

  • AEROTOW: In an aerotow launch, the glider is pulled aloft by a rope secured by a special hook to a "normal" aircraft -- the "towplane." The glider pilot can release the towrope once at a proper altitude.

  • WINCH: Winch launching is achieved by attaching a long wire to a powerful engine and then pulling the glider rapidly down the runway. The glider can achieve up to 2000ft in altitude using this method.

  • MOTORGLIDER: A newer alternative is the self-launching motorglider which has a fold-away propeller that can be used for launch and then folded back into or alongside the glider once in the air.

Regardless of the method of launch, once completed the actual soaring flight is about to begin.

The towplane just after the glider has released from the towrope.

The towplane just after the glider has released from the towrope.

Sources of Lift
Once aloft the glider pilot begins looking for energy in the air. There are three main types of energy that glider pilots utilize. Thermals are columns of warm, rising air. Ridge lift is created by wind flowing up the windward side of a hill or mountain. Wave lift can occur downwind of a mountain or mountain ridge and result in flights in excess of 30,000 feet. Because we lack mountains in southeast Texas, we only experience thermals here at the Greater Houston Soaring Association.

Once in a thermal the sailplane circles to stay in the lift until high enough to strike out cross-country in search of the next thermal.

Gliding flights can be simple, local affairs or achieve great altitudes and distances. For instance, the world altitude record in a glider is more than 50,000 feet. For experienced pilots in good weather conditions, distance flights of more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) are normal. The world distance record exceeds 2000 kilometers (1240 miles).


Learning to Fly
Your first step is to take an introductory flight in a glider. Our organization offers introductory flights with licensed instructors and commercial pilots.

Lessons can be booked to suit your weekend schedule. The closer together they are, the easier it is to build on the knowledge gained from previous lessons and the faster you will learn. In the glider used for your training, the instructor will sit behind you with a full set of duplicate controls. How long it will take you to solo depends on a number of factors. These might include any previous pilot experience, how open you are to your instructor’s guidance and how relaxed you are. Once you are able to fly the glider solo, yet another new world will open for you.

Enjoyment can be found at many levels in soaring. New students look forward to their first landing without the instructor touching the controls. Intermediate students work towards their first solo flight, where the instructor observes from the ground and the student is alone in the cockpit. Advanced students work toward refining their skills and completing their check ride with an FAA examiner. Newly minted pilots work on thermalling and cross-country skills, earning basic badges for time aloft, accuracy landings, and more advanced soaring knowledge. They also continue instruction, learning to fly from the back seat of a two-place glider and then take their friends and family for a glider ride. The competitive pilot works towards advanced badges for time, distance and altitude. The competitive pilot also often participates in local, regional, national, and international contests. Whatever the level, all pilots enjoy sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with other association members and members of the public who come in to take a ride or simply watch the operations at the field.