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 gliding. 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 49,000 feet. For experienced pilots in good weather conditions, distance flights of more than 1000 kilometers (620 miles) are normal. The world distance record currently stands at slightly more than 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 usually sit behind you and have 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.

The great thing about gliding is that it has so many levels. The competitive pilot has various goals from badge flights to records and keenly held contests peaking in the world championships. The best fiberglass and carbon-fiber sailplanes are expensive and the more serious the pilot the more he/she will want to spend on instruments. Others prefer to form a partnership and share a glider, sometimes opting for an older, and much cheaper, machine. Another method is to hire a glider direct from a club or commercial operation. Whichever route you choose, gliding is still far cheaper than power flying and offers many more opportunities for enjoyment.