What is Gliding? Part 1: Takeoff

May, 12, 2021 by Suhas J.

Gliding, also referred to as Soaring, is the recreational activity and competitive air sport in which pilots fly unpowered aircraft using natural occurrences in the atmosphere, such as thermals.

First of all, what is a glider? A glider is a typically unpowered lightweight aircraft built from composite materials with one or more seats and a glass canopy. They normally have a wingspan of 40-100 feet.

If they don’t have an engine, how do they fly? Gliders are most commonly towed into the air by a powered aircraft with a ~200 foot tow rope. The nose of the glider has a hook which can be released from the cockpit. The tow rope is hooked to this link on the nose of the glider and the fuselage of the tow plane. The glider pilot uses the stick and rudder and exercises precise movements to stay directly behind the tow pilot, either above or below the propeller wake. Communication via headset is essential for events such as banking and release points.

Once the glider has reached the predetermined release altitude, the glider pilot announces release, and pulls the tow release knob in the cockpit. After a headset confirmation that the glider is free from the tow aircraft, the glider pilot will break right, and the tow plane will break left and return to the field for landing. Now the glider is soaring freely. How does it stay airborne? That’s where Mother Nature comes in.

Want to try this step for yourself in Infinite Flight? Try simulating an aircraft tow in an uncontrolled airspace. Stay close behind the imaginary towplane, but try and stay above or below the propeller wake. After you reach a certain altitude, practice breaking separate ways. Because your speed will have to be manually controlled, it’ll be an extra challenge!

Suhas is a writer for the IFATC Education Group. He is a long time Infinite Flight user, IFATC Officer and Tester. In the real world, he’s a student pilot on both glider and powered aircraft. He's also an IFVARB Board Member.