Gliding uses unpowered aircraft and naturally occurring thermals and other air currents to stay airborne, sometimes for hours. This sport combines the thrill of flying with the skill necessary to keep an engine-less craft in the sky.

Thermals, warm pockets of rising air, are among the most helpful updrafts to gliders. The pilot can either circle the updraft to continuously gain more altitude, a maneuver known as thermaling, or can engage in dolphining, slowing the craft through the thermal and speeding up in the space in between, thus rising and falling in a pattern like a dolphin swimming. However, thermals are o­nly present where there is warm air, making this type of gliding all but impossible in the winter months. During this time, gliders can make use of ridge lift, air rushing upward as wind hits a cliff or steep hill, and wave lift, air near mountainous regions that rises and falls in a wave pattern.

sight out of a glider
There are multiple ways of launching a glider. Aerotowing involves an engined craft towing the glider up to a certain height and then releasing it. Some gliders are outfitted with motors themselves, which the pilot will turn off o­nce enough altitude is achieved. Winch launching and auto-towing use speed to get the craft in the air, much like launching a kite. Some gliders will take their craft directly off a high cliff and rely o­n the ridge lift to keep them in the air.

Gliding functions as both a solo sport and group competition. Cross country glider races can last for weeks and involve many participants. For the more thrill seeking, aerobatic competitions test a pilots ability to roll, loop, and perform other challenging manuvers.

Gliding is a challenging and rewarding sport. It can be expensive, as o­ne need a glider, a method of getting into the air, and a home landing field, but if you can afford it, this sport has enormous potential.