There's nothing quite like the exhilaration of bumping into a
strong source of thermal lift and circling up to cloudbase! It is a
feeling of freedom to soar as the eagles do with your long wings silently
slicing through the skies. It is also a real sense of accomplishment
to seemingly defy gravity and stay up for hours in a graceful aircraft that
has no need for an engine.
Not only is Minnesota beautiful from the air, but it is also a wonderful
location for soaring. The meteorological conditions that cause
thermals (upward air currents that lift a sailplane to greater altitudes)
are more than plentiful. A typical good flying day will find cloud
bases (marking the tops of thermals) at 5,000 to 8,000 feet and will allow
flights lasting several hours. There have been flights in Minnesota of
over 400 miles and to heights of 16,000 feet. Our soaring season runs
from early April well into November.
How do they do it?
Sailplanes fly in rising columns of air (usually topped with cotton
boll-like cumulus clouds) that are fueled by the energy of the sun heating
the ground. So soaring is in fact a direct way of harnessing solar
energy. Sailplanes (gliders) keep their speed by always gliding down
at a slight angle. On a day without any thermals a sailplane would
glide gently down from 3,000 feet in about 20 minutes. However,
gliders can extend their glide by circling in air that is rising faster than
the glider is descending. Sailplanes usually get to altitude in the
first place by being towed behind a small power plane like a Super Cub.
Quote from Helmut Reichmann's book
"Surely, man's age-old dream of flying has found its purest and most
beautiful expression in soaring. Nature opens up to the soaring pilot
a world that would have been thought unreachable only a few years ago - a
world of mighty forces, gentle or wild, majestic and mysterious. The
pilot enters this realm, flies in it, makes use of its dynamics, and tries
to explore and fathom its mysteries. The burden of everyday life is
left on the ground and becomes inconsequential compared to the freedom that
the wings of a sailplane can provide."