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Soaring Thoughts


Some thoughts and observations mainly for non - pilots !!

Iím often asked, 'Which is best, skydiving or soaring?' My answer is, 'Neither, they are simply different.' I loved the adrenalin rush from skydiving, especially the moment of exit, and donít regret jumping for one moment. I now feel the same about soaring.

Soaring is done in vehicles which are basically light aircraft devoid of an engine and inflammable fuel. While all flying has an element of danger, sailplanes are built for strength and can be flown accurately and safely. They have long slender wings designed to fly forward between 20 to 50 times more than they descend, ie. a sailplane having a glide angle of 1:30 will fly forward thirty feet for every foot it descends. The normal rate of descent for a modern sailplane is about 200 feet/minute so. When we are descending we are 'gliding'. When one encounters air rising at greater than this, it can be used to gain thousands of feet by circling in the Ďbubbleí of rising air. This is called 'soaring' and I liken it to surfing in the air.
In ideal conditions one can soar almost to cloud base then glide for miles to the next cloud and repeat the process. At this height, watching the clouds forming, the only sound being the soughing as the sailplane slices through the air, is one of lifes greater pleasures. It's flying at its most fundamental - flying with the eagles. A mile, maybe two or more, in the air; alone with just a sailplane and the sky, circling endlessly in a cold, cramped, cockpit. What is the attraction one wonders? To me, remaining airborne using lift provided by nature is indeed enthralling. It as also demanding, exciting, rewarding and, for me, itís a great personal challenge to literally fly with the birds in an element well beyond the mundane daily life.

It provides relaxation while at the same time having its moments of dramatically increased adrenalin levels. Almost all pilots I've spoken to have a feeling of anxiety or anticipation as they climb into the cockpit. This vanishes as the cable begins to move and ground roll begins.
I'ts now time to forget anxiety and fly!!

One can remain aloft for several minutes or hours, depending on weather conditions and ones flying skill. The flight can be local soaring, always in reach of a familiar airfield, or it can extend for hundreds if not thousands of kilometres, hopefully landing back at the airfield of departure, but, if not, then landing safely in a paddock. The choice depends entirely on the pilot and their experience/ability.
But, local soaring or cross country, when looking down at the traffic below, sluggishly travelling along the freeway, the question of what the attraction is, is easily answered.

I first started flying in the 1960ís because that was where the girls were. As the girls now play a less important part in my life, I find I have returned to a peaceful yet exhilarating and rewarding sport, and itís a lot more exciting than being where the girls are.
So ends my thoughts on soaring and Iíve tried to cover all the questions that Iím usually asked. Try any of the FAQ pages of the gliding clubs for more detailed answers.

Better still, if you're in Victoria, Australia, visit MANGALORE GLIDING CLUB and try soaring for yourself !!

Blue skies, fluffy clouds, fly safe.


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Last update March 2000.