is the art of using air currents to fly un-powered aircraft.
Technically, gliding involves the gradual loss of altitude;
gliders designed for soaring flight (utilizing air rising up a
cliff face or hill, warm air rising as a thermal above
sun-heated ground, and so on) are known as sailplanes.
There are three main methods of gaining height after launch; air
currents, thermals, and thunderstorms. Air currents follow the
contours of the land below them, and though in relation to the
air itself the sailplane is losing height, the wind blowing up
the side of a hill may enable it to gain more height than it is
losing. By circling in a thermal, the glider can soar upwards
for many hundreds of metres. By using the ascending currents in
or near thunderstorms even greater heights can be attained.
These are usually accomplished by the use of thermals. The
glider first gains height in a thermal, then glides, gradually
losing height, to the next thermal, where the process is
repeated. By this method, which requires great skill and
judgement of weather conditions, sailplanes may fly several
Sussex Gliding Club launch aircraft
A sailplane must be given an intitial impetus by an external
force in order for it to reach a speed sufficient to keep it in
the air. Launching may be by rubber catapult from a hilltop (in
the UK, the only remaining site for catapult launches is Long
Mynd in Shropshire), by aircraft tow (the towing cable is
released by the glider pilot when sufficient height has been
gained), or by winch launching where the glider is attached to a
winch with a reel of wire (when the wire is retracted the glider
is launched like a kite). Once in the air, speed is maintained
by depressing the nose and thus losing height in relation to the
Gliding played an important part in the development of flight.
Pioneers include George Cayley, Otto Lilienthal, Octave Chanute
(1832–1910), and the Wright
brothers, the last-named perfecting gliding technique in
1902. Modern aviation is a tribute to humanities ability
to dream. Early pioneers first dreamed of flight and then put
intelligence and perseverance to work to see these dreams become
reality. The jets we take for granted today use technology that
dates back to the beginnings of aviation history
when these daring inventors made the first glides down hills in
wood and fabric covered craft of every description.
Started It All
sleek high performance sailplanes of today have a heritage that
dates back to man’s first
at flight. History tends to
move from the simple to the complex and aviation follows this
elegantly. With no understanding of aerodynamics, few adequate
materials and no
engines avations enthusiasts had to be content with using crude
gliders that used the force of gravity and a slope to become
airborne. These flights were short and often ended in a less
than elegant arrival but it was flying none the less.
Sussex Gliding Club launch winch
of Motorless Flight
first all flight was gliding
flight as the internal combustion engine had not been invented
the likes of Leonardo da Vinci drew his first impressions of
what a flying machine
have looked like in 1490. The dream of human flight continued to
capture the imagination of many but it was not until 1799 when
Sir George Cayley, a baronet in Yorkshire England,
a craft with stationary wings to provide lift and
"flappers" to provide thrust. It also has a
tail to provide control.
the 1800’s several aviation pioneers emerged in different
countries around the world all
glider designs with varying degrees of success. Chief among
these were Otto Lilienthal in Berlin, Germany, Lawrence Hargrave
in Sydney, Australia, Percy Pilcher in the United Kingdom, John
J. Montgomery at Wheeler Hill near San Diego, Octave Chanute and
his team in Gary, Indiana in the USA., just to name a few.
the early 1900’s the famed Wright Brothers were experimenting
with gliders and gliding
the hills of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wrights developed a
series of gliders while
with aerodynamics which was crucial to developing a workable
historians and most importantly the Wrights themselves pointed
out that their game plan was to learn flight control and become
pilots specifically by soaring whereas all the other
experimenters rushed to add power without refining flight
control. By 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright had achieved powered
flight of just over a minute by putting an engine on their best
this point the development of aviation had been all about
developing more and more advanced
and perfecting the ability to control them in flight. Now
aviation branched off with powered flight becoming increasingly
dominant from the successful 1903 first sustained, controlled,
powered flight of the Wright Brothers.
1906 the sport of gliding was
progressing rapidly. An American glider meet was sponsored by
Aero Club of America on Long Island, NY. By 1911 Orville Wright
had set a world duration
of flying his motorless craft for 9:45 minutes.
Sussex Gliding Club launch winch controls
1920 the sport of soaring was coming into its own. Glider design
was spurred on by developments in Germany were the World War I
treaty of Versailles banned flying power aircraft.
forms of lift were discovered that made it possible to gain
altitude and travel distances using
previously unknown atmospheric resources. In 1921 Dr. Wolfgang
Klemperer broke the
Brothers 1911 soaring duration record with a flight of 13
minutes using ridge lift. In 1928
Robert Kronfeld proved that thermal lift could be used by a
sailplane to gain altitude by
a short out and return flight. In 1929 the National Glider
Association was founded in
Michigan and by 1930 the first USA National Glider Contest was
held in Elmira, New
In 1937 the first World Championships were held at the
Wasserkuppe in Germany.
the 1950 soaring was developing rapidly with the first American,
Dr. Paul MacCready, Jr.
part in a World Soaring Championships held in Sweden.
Subsequently Dr. MacCready went on to become the first American
to win a World Soaring Championships in 1956 in France.
period of the 1960’s and 80’s found soaring growing rapidly
with the Soaring Society of
growing from 1,000 members to over 16,000. During this period
there was a revival in
gliders and ultralight aircraft as new materials and a better
understanding of low speed
made new designs possible.
U.S. Soaring pilots captured the title of World Soaring Champion
including Doug Jacobs
1985. As the sport enters 2000 there is a growing sophistication
of instrumentation with global
technology, electronic glide computers and new composite
materials combined highly
aerodynamics creating high performance sailplanes. New pilot
and better training have made the sport of soaring a compelling
and safe endeavor.
Development of Soaring Flight
discovery of the three main sources of lift freed gliders to
become soaring machines and the sport of soaring was off and
running. Ridge lift occurs when the wind is deflected upwards
along the face of a windward slope. Sailplanes use the upward
movement of the air by flying close to the slope and can stay
aloft for hours and travel hundreds of miles utilizing slope
lift. Ridge lift was the first to be discovered in the 1890 but
perfected between 1920 and 1928. At that time, this
meteorological phenomenon was discussed extensively by engineers
Sussex Gliding Club launch winch controls
is believed that Chanute’s team was the first to utilize the
updrafts from the wind, coming from Lake Michigan along the sand
dunes along the southern lake shore. Thermals are raising
columns of warm air that allow sailplanes to gain altitude by
turning in tight circles to keep the sailplane inside the
columnof raising air. Thermals are the most common form of lift.
Thermal lift was first used by Robert Kronfeld in the late 1920s
in Germany, followed closely by Wolf Hirth a few months later.
soaring became widely known between of 1928 to 1935. Thermals
are frequently toped by cumulus clouds although they can occur
when the sky is completely blue. The first “blue” thermal
was flown by Wolf Hirth during the first US National Glider
Meet, flying from Elmira to Appalachian, NY.
lift occurs when winds blow over a mountain range the air takes
on the characteristics of water in a stream forming a wave
behind the mountain range. Unlike water the wave can develop
many times higher than the top of the mountains allowing
sailplanes to reach altitudes of over
feet. Wave lift was discovered by Wolf Hirth and one of his
students in 1933 in Germany and became well known between the
years of 1935 and 1941. The phenomenon was researched
extensively in several parts of the world, culminating in the
Sierra Wave and Jet Stream Projects
the Owens Valley in eastern California in the early/mid 1950s.
Saudek was Project Supervisor for both of these research
projects. By the late 1900’s aviation has become common place
with jet travel becoming providing critical to the world
economy. Soaring had grown into a diverse and interesting sport.
Modern high performance sailplanes are made from composite
materials and take advantage of highly refined aerodynamics and
control systems . Soaring pilots use sophisticated
instrumentation including global positioning technology and
electronic glide computers to go further, faster and higher than
Sussex Gliding Club launch winch drum close up
of GLIDING and SOARING
brief history of gliding
and soaring covers the most important aspects of the development
sport and is not a full rendition of history.
See the resources at the end of this background for a more on
the history of flight.
da Vinci drew his first impressions of what a flying machine
might have looked like based on the wing of a bat.
George Cayley, a baronet in Yorkshire, England, conceives a
craft with fixed wings to provide lift and "flappers"
to provide thrust. It also has a movable tail to provide
George Cayley builds a man-sized version of his glider with a
wing surface of 300 feet. An assistant makes a few tentative
hops in the air, holding onto the fuselage.
flight by John J. Montgomery at Wheeler Hill near San Diego,
and possibly some soaring flight by Otto Lilienthal in Berlin,
and soaring (“quartering” as early pioneers called ridge
soaring”) flight by Octave Chanute and his team in Miller
Beach, Gary, Indiana, USA
Brothers learn control by flying in ground effect from the
shallow dunes amidst wind and sand at Kitty Hawk North Carolina,
Chanute reports “that these glides provide the most
original and most enticing of sports… Some of our dauntless
automobile sportsmen will happen to make themselves similar
machines and seek out somewhere a favorable spot for competing
in these glides.”
Wright’s first powered flight of just over 1:00 min was
achieved by adding a motor their “Flyer” design. This 1902
glider design becomes the basis for their “Flying Machine”
glider meet sponsored by the Aero Club of America on Long
Island, NY. This event was a gathering of about 10-12 members of
the club, sharing to fly three biplane gliders.
meets were held in many areas of our globe, here in the United
States, in Europe, but also in Australia. The sport started to
find its supporters.
world soaring duration record: 9:45 min by Orville Wright, Kitty
Hawk NC. Accomplished using ridge lift created by the sand dunes
near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.
becomes organized sport at Wasserkuppe, Germany as the World War
I Versailles treaty outlaws flying power aircraft in Germany.
1 – Discovery: Sources of life and soaring flight
discovered, better glider designs, pilot training and USA Glider
clubs proliferate with air-minded youth.
Wolfgang Klemperer breaks the Wright Brothers 1911 soaring
record with a 13 minute flight in Germany. Both flights used
Robert Kronfeld proved that thermal lift could be used by a
sailplane to gain altitude by making a short out and return
Glider Association founded in Detroit, MI
2 – Development: Aero towing becomes popular, sailplanes
develop better performance, the three forms of lift are becoming
well known, and soaring distances reach over 300 miles.
USA National Glider Contest, Elmira NY, 1930. All pre-WWII
to 1941) Nationals were held at Elmira.
Society of America incorporated in May, 1932: “To provide an
body with the authority to conduct a contest (the 3
it was deemed advisable to organize an association.”
lift was discovered by Wolf Hirth and one of his students in 1933
Duration Record in a single place sailplane, THE “NIGHTHAWK,”
in the USA 22 HOURS, flown by Lt WILLIAM Cocke
near Honolulu, Hawaii in December, 1931.
Dittmar wins the first recognized World Soaring Championships flying
the Sao Paulo at the Wasserkuppe in Germany. Wave flights to high
altitudes are accomplished.
Distance Record flown in the USA was 263 miles, flown by
Brown in Jun 1939 with a flight from Wichita Falls, TX to Wichita
KS. The World Distance Record was 465 miles flown by Ms.
in July 1939 in the USSR.
Altitude Record in a single place sailplane reached 17,265 ft by
Stanley in July 1939.
American competes in World Soaring Championships Paul
Jr flying to second place in Orebro, Sweden flying a
Soaring Championships in Madrid, Spain: Paul MacCready, Jr,
flying a Schweizer 1-23, Paul A. Schweizer to 18
Dick Johnson to 24th
and Stan Smith to 31
American, Paul MacCready, Jr, wins World Soaring Championships
in Saint Yan, France.
standard class was introduced at World Soaring Championships
3 - Expansion: Soaring Society of America goes from 1,000 to
members and from 1 to 5 National soaring competitions.
prototype of the first composite sailplane PHOENIX had its first
in 1957 in Germany.
Andrew J. “AJ” Smith wins World Soaring Championships in
George Moffat, Jr. wins World Soaring Championships in Marfa
George Moffat. Jr wins World Soaring Championships in Waikerie,
15-meter class was introduced at World Soaring
4 – Refinement: Growing sophistication of instrumentation with
global positioning technology, electronic glide computers and
composite materials combined highly refined aerodynamics create
performance sailplanes. New pilot techniques and the
of better training. Expansion in the number of FAI competitive
classes to eight.
Doug Jacobs wins World Soaring Championships in Rieti,
World Class was introduced at World Soaring Championships
Junior class was introduced at World Soring Championships.
less than three new classes were introduced at World Soaring
Championships including the 18-Meter, Club and Feminine classes.
in technology and a better understanding of nature’s
atmospheric forces has made
a safe and enjoyable activity for estimated 150,000 glider
pilots worldwide with a majority
these in Europe where the sport has national attention in many
the United States there are over 180 soaring clubs in the
country with a club located nearalmost every large city in the
country. Soaring clubs have between 20 and 200+ members and
access to the sport. Clubs normally own several gliders and
towplanes for use by their
offer rides and instruction often at very reasonable cost. Clubs
provide a relaxed way to
gliding for the nearly 40,000
licensed glider pilots in the United States. Over 5,000
airplanes are registered nationally.
are over 80 commercial soaring operations in the United States
offering rides, flight training
rental services. While there are many ways to enjoy soaring from
a lazy summer afternoon of relaxing club flying around the home
field to more energetic cross country flying, it is competitive
soaring that provides the ultimate test of pilot grit and skill.
Competitive soaring is organized by this countries national
soaring organization, the Soaring Society of America (SSA).
There are regional and national contests held each year with top
pilots flying several events each season.
Current World Soaring Records
soaring records are a good measure of how far the sport of
soaring has come from its modest beginnings. (Valid 08/2004)
Distance (1350 miles) 2174 km Pilot: Klaus Ohlmann, Germany.
and Return Distance (1395 miles) 2245 km Pilot: Klaus
Ohlmann, Germany. Place
& Soaring History Links :
Wright Brothers online museum which includes a very detailed history
very worthwhile site when interested in the history
and the invention of the airplane.
online aviation history site
Soaring Museum in the USA
Soaring Hall of Fame - Persons who achieve in a noteworthy
manner in soaring or who have made significant contributions to
the sport of soaring.
Landmarks of Soaring - Sponsored by the National Soaring Museum,
an affiliate of the Soaring Society of America. Soaring Related
Background Web Sites
Society of America (SSA) home page. The SSA is the national
organization responsible for soaring in the United States. Lots
of good information on the sport and the organization here.
Soaring Teams. Organized and funded as part of the SSA the US
Soaring Teams Web site features team members,
pilot’s biographies and much more about the US Soaring Teams.
one stop media press room on soaring brought to you by U.S.
site has a host of soaring related information including the
turnpoint exchange, flight recordings from contests and all the
details of US team selection.
excellent soaring link page by Paul Remde who has collected a
huge variety of soaring related links. A must visit and four
site gives a very good step by step idea and many references
about learning to fly sailplanes.
is a soaring web ring that allows you to randomly browse many of
the best soaring related web sites
site is an online magazine sponsored by the Soaring Society of
Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the world's air sports
federation, was founded in 1905. It is a non-governmental and
non-profit making international organization with the basic aim
of furthering aeronautical and astronautical activities
worldwide. Ever growing, FAI is now an organization of some 90 member
Commission (IGC) of the FAI is the Air Sports Commission which
is responsible for all
air sports activities involving gliders and motor gliders with
the exception of glider aerobatics.
SUSSEX GLIDING CLUB
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