Introduction to Soaring

June 23, 2018 by Addison Huddy

This post is an update to Pilot Edge Experiment. Its been over six months since I started that experiment and I’m happy to say that I did start my PPL training, but it’s on hold indefinitely (more on that below). I was able to get many of my questions answered by reaching out to YouTubers who promote General Aviation, the Reddit flying community, and the instructors and pilots KLHM. Of greater interest, I can say that completing the Pilot Edge CAT program made me much more prepared for my flight lessons, in particular, radio communications. Did flying with X-Plane help with stick and rudder skills, a bit, but its nothing like the real thing.

Enough of that, this post is about soaring.

I started flying and then I needed to stop. I was six hours into my power training and things were going well. I was on a high from my last flight. I was up in the school’s “new” 1969 Cessna 172K with my instructor, Eduardo. I had demonstrated power on and off stalls, steep banked turns to a headings, and we did some low altitude flying to practice forward slips. I also did my first unassisted landing. Check out my heart rate while in the pattern. My heart rate went from 75bpm to 110bpm on base, and then to 120bpm on final.

During debrief, Eduardo said, “ok how’s that medical coming because we need to start thinking about solo.” I had started the FAA’s medical process months prior, but just a few days after that flight, I got a letter in the mail. Without going into all the details of my 2016 heart alabation I needed after doing stuff like the Death Ride and Ironman, my flight training was on hold indefinitely.

At this point, I’m rather bummed. I want to fly, but without a medical, it is pointless to keep training with zero hope of flying solo. I happened to be watching Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Master Class and he menetioned how his flying career started out in gliders, also known as sailplanes. Not sure who said this to be, but a pilot once said, “if you want to becoming a much better pilot, go fly gliders.” Some have even attributed The Miricle on the Hudson, in part, to Captain Sullenberger’s glider experience.

Some quick googling and I learned that a medical is not required to fly gliders…and I learned a lot more. To put it mildly, these ships can do some amazing things. Wave soaring at FL270, cross-country flights of more than 1000km, all without an engine and for a fraction of the cost. To get a sense of what sailsplans can do, checkout Bruno Vassel’s flight from Nephi, UT to the Grand Canyon.

Quick aside, how do these things fly without an engine? First, the gliders get up in the air with the help of a tow plane, glider winch, or some even have their own small engines that can launch themselves. Once airborne, gliders use unstable air to climb, most often thermals. At night, the air on the surface cools more quickly than the air above causing a temperature inversion to form. When the sun heats the air at the surface, it rises, creating updrafts (thermals). Gliders ride this upward moving air to sometimes climb faster than many GA aircraft.

And to make things better, I found a world-renowned gliderport in my favorite place in the world, Truckee, CA. The Truckee Tahoe Soaring Assocition (TTSA) is right off of runway 20 at KTRK. To see if gliders scratched my flighting itch, I headed up with Truckee and got in the same trainer-livery Schweizer 2-33 in the Flight Chops video below.

After 5min, I was hooked. My instructor and I were towed up to 3000ft AGL just north of KTRK. I got a view of Lake Tahoe I’ve never seen before. We flew around looking for some afternoon thermals with only a little bit of luck. Thirty minutes later were were on the 45 to enter a left downwind for runway 20. Since that flight, I have had the opportunity to continue glider training. I’ve even had the opportunity to camp over the weekend at the private campground owned by TTSA right next to runway 20 and BBQ with pilots who were doing the same.

The community aspect of soaring wasn’t something I wasn’t actively seeking, but it is one of the best parts about the hobby. Unlike powered flights, it requires a team to lauch most gliders. For takeoff, at minimum, it’s a tow pilot, glider pilot, and a wing runner. For landing, it is really nice having a team come out on the runway with a golf card to help drag you back to the glider port. And then at the end of the day, everyone swaps stories, BBQ’s, and drinks beer. Pretty awesome.

I have a lot more training still to go and I want to get in a glass ship as soon as possible, but the daily learning is the best part.

If you have any interest in flying as a hobby or professionally, I highly recommend checking out soaring. Here is map of gliderports ports in the US. You can find more information by visting Soaring Society of America.

If you live in Northern California, check out the Pacific Soaing Council for a list of clubs and gliderports.

© 2018 | Addison Huddy