Soaring - the name of the game.

Okay, so now we're keeping it up, what's next?  Soaring is probably best described as an air or aeronautical sport.  After learning to fly safely, soaring pilots spend their time aloft in a form of competition, from personal proficiency to world records or championships.  At the very least, the glider pilot wants to be able to stay aloft for an hour or two if only showing a friend what it's like to be able to fly around without a motor.  That requires personal proficiency developed from practice and the desire to improve one's skills.  Others will compete against standards in accomplishing badge legs of distance, duration, and altitude to achieving the internationally recognized Silver, Gold, and Diamond awards and soaring diplomas.  Some want to rise to the top of the heap by setting local, state, national, and world records for speed, distance, and altitude.  Finally, there are those that want direct competition and will race speed tasks, or fly with aerobatic precision, for days on end to win a local, regional, national, or world competitions.  Learning to soar will make you a pilot in every sense of the word.  And as many sage fliers have observed, a pilot adding 'glider' to his ratings will make a good pilot a much better pilot.  Oh yes, all things Federal Aviation Administration related contain the word 'glider'.

Local soaring

All pilots do this sometimes.  Of course, their definition of 'local' varies with experience and equipment, but generally it means staying within gliding range of the airport or gliderport.  

Local Soaring, 3 Fingers - In the Bowl.  Brad Hill soaring his kit built Apis 13 sailplane in Washington State.

Local Flight, Soaring in Utah 2007.  Bruno Vassell videos a local flight in spectacular country.  This is really extended local soaring but has some good commentary on the flight and the glider's performance.

Cross country

Generally, this means getting out of gliding range and includes occasionally landing elsewhere, be it at an airport or in a pasture or even a sports field.

Bruno Vassel IV of Utah has created wonderful web site, Bruno's Soaring Pages, describing several of his cross country soaring flights, including photo albums and videos.  I think he captures the cross country experience very well.  Take some time to visit his albums and log book.  This is representative of soaring in the US western mountain states.

July 1-2, Parowan 600K.  Interesting mixed media with video, stills, and computer replay, shows how much the glider climbs compared to glides.

Bebedouro-Braganca, 300km. Sergio from Brazil in one of the newest self-launching two seat sailplanes, the Taurus.


A system of nationally and internationally recognized benchmarks of distance, height gain, and/or duration.  Badges are awarded based on achievement of these benchmarks.  Additional badges and diplomas are awarded for flights of 750km and longer.

SSA badges

FAI badges


Soaring pilots chasing records can be thought of as racing the sun.  The rules limit records to legal aviation daylight.  Soaring flight also uses atmospheric instability resulting from solar energy and topography.  There are classes and categories of records at the local through world levels.  Some are modest, others may require extreme physical and mental conditioning, endurance, and planning.  Records include distance and/or speed efforts and altitude marks.  Duration records were abandoned many years ago after some pilots crashed after falling asleep.  Records are recorded by state, nationally, and by world marks.

World records

US and state records


Task competition racing tends to optimize the best period of the day, combined with the logistics of getting up to 120 gliders into the sky for the start.  There exist a diversity of glider designs, so competition flying is divided into classes so that racing is more a matter of pilot skill than equipment advantage.  Some classes handicap gliders to even the playing field even more.

Time lapse competition launch Forty gliders are gridded and launched in a time lapsed format.

A Fine Week of Soaring is a video about competition flying and is available for purchase.

Aerobatic competition in gliders is less common than other forms of competition, but is a lot of fun.  Many gliders are capable of limited aerobatics and a few are rated for full aerobatics.  While many of us concentrate on staying up, these pilots concentrate on a routine of precision timing and maneuvers while descending.

Glider aerobatics at its best A competition routine filmed from the wing tip.

EGAC 2004 competition flight

Grand Prix style racing is the newest form of sailplane racing.  Flying starts, fixed courses, qualifying matches, and video and radio telemetry tracking are allowing a new, more public, dynamic, view of soaring competition.

Gliding GP 2005 - Saint Auban Video snippets.

Extreme glideing Grand Prix 2005 Fly with Sebastian Kawa, GP Champion and World Number one.

The world of soaring is best shown on the Online Contest.  This is a web site that allows pilots around the world to document their flights for all else to see.  A number of awards are now based on these flights.  As soaring is seasonal, a slowing of activity in the northern hemisphere in our winter just portends a leap in soaring in Africa, South America, and Australia.  Evaluation copies of software may be downloaded to replay and study flights.

On Top The best of Switzerland 2009.  Some of the compelling reasons why we soar, to put ourselves there. 


While it's difficult to demonstrate soaring at an air show, a few pilots have attached smoke and flares to their aerobatic gliders and perform spectacular routines for crowds, including night routines.  At least one performer has added a jet engine glider to his routine.

Jet Sailplane Trailer Silent Wings Airshow Snippets from Bob Carlton's day and night routines.

Jet Sailplane Airshow Flight Ride along with Bob

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