What is Soaring?

Two modern sailplanes soaring over a mountain landscape

- The Glider:

Gliders have no engines and rely on either a power airplane or a winch to give them forward speed so they can lift themselves up into the air. Once aloft the glider will slowly glide to the ground as it loses energy to friction with the air. Typical gliders can fly about 20 to 30 meters for every meter that it falls. This means that if a glider drops 500 metres in height it will travel 10-15 km horizontally. Since gliders fly at about 75 km/hr, the flight will last about 8-12 minutes.

- The Sailplane:

The atmosphere is always in motion and the glider takes advantage of this environment. Not only are there horizontal winds that occur due to weather systems, there are the vertical currents from heating by the Sun and upward 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 then called a sailplane and the challenge is to stay longer in the rising air than in the sinking air. In ideal conditions there are cumulus clouds that help mark vertical currents and provide beauty and interest. A soaring pilot is alway learning about the behaviour of the atmosphere and the capabilities of the sailplane. The pilot uses this knowledge to soar better the next time aloft.

- The Rewards:

Sailplanes fly reasonable silently and rise to quite high altitudes. On a good soaring day, heights of 5000 feet (1500 m) are usually achieved on thermal currents and the private gliders usually stay aloft for 2-3 hours. The flight is quiet with only the swish of the air past the aircraft. The vistas are grand from 5000 feet (The highest point in Nova Scotia is only 1700 feet). You can stretch your talents and try to better the best flights of some pilots who have flown 300 km circuits, rose to over 12,000 feet in height, and stayed in the air for over 7 hours.

- The Challenges:

Online Soaring Contest:

Most enjoyment of Soaring occurs when the pilot challenges their selves to go higher and farther on each successive flight. An excellent way to measure a soaring flight is to compare it with not only your last flight but also the flights of others. This is available worldwide with the OnLine Contest (OLC). A Global Positioning System (GPS) is carried by most soaring pilots and can record a 3 dimensional trace of the flight. This trace is given a score by the OLC according the distances flown and ranked according with other flights. You can see all the flights on the OLC site and learn from the many flights as shown against the background of Google Earth.


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).

  • Bronze Badge
    Fly solo for 2 hours and have a height gain of 1000 metres (Bronze Badge)
  • Silver Badge
    Gain of height of 1000 m, fly for 5 hours and travel 50 km in a straight line.
  • Gold Badge
    Fly a circuit of more than 300 km and a height gain of 3000 m (9,840 ft).
  • Diamond Badge
    Fly a circuit of more than 500 km and a height gain of more than 5000 m (16,400 ft).

- Safety:

Safety is alway paramount in every sailplane pilots mind and takes first place in any decision. The pilot learns to judge exactly how far away they can be at a given height and return safely to the home field or other safe landing field. Occasionally the lift disappears when the sailplane is far from the home airport, but the pilot is trained to seek landing fields and know how to land safely in them. Part of every glider pilot's training is the ability to disassemble a glider and put it in its trailer for transportation 'home'.

More Pages on Soaring:

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