Soaring is the art of flying a glider (an aircraft with no motor, also called a sailplane) and staying aloft using only rising air currents, called “lift.” There are three basic kinds of lift: thermals, local rising air caused by solar heating of the ground; ridge lift, where wind is deflected upward by rising terrain; and wave, where winds at high altitude are deflected by terrain and form waves of rising areas downwind of a mountain.
Flying a glider is a challenging sport that requires the pilot to constantly evaluate what is going on in the atmosphere and find and utilize sources of lift to stay aloft. The best gliders can travel 70 miles or more for every mile of altitude. A pilot will find lift in one area, use that lift to climb to higher altitude, then glide on to another area to find more lift. Under the right conditions, gliders can stay aloft for many hours and travel hundreds of miles. Wave lift can extend to very high altitudes; gliders have reached more than 40,000 feet over the Carson Valley, and the Perlan Project, with a high altitude, experimental, glider has reached a world record altitude of over 76,000 feet in the South American Andes.
Because some gliders have no engine at all, they are usually towed by a power plane to a couple of thousand feet over the valley. Then, the glider disconnects from the tow plane and begins the gliding part of the flight. Some gliders have small engines that are used for self-launching, and fold back into the fuselage after the glider or sailplane has climbed to a sufficient altitude and found appropriate lift to stay airborne or climb. In this situation the engine may later be deployed again if needed until a safe landing site is available.
In the next few months I propose expand on the art of soaring in Minden with several short articles including soaring history in Minden, why Minden is so famous, and more.
This series will help to explain why this area has developed and become a premier international location for the Soaring Experience.
Linda Mae Hivert is a glider pilot and flight instructor who founded Soar Minden in the late 1970s. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to contact her.