What is Thermal Soaring?
If you’ve ever watched a gull or a buzzard ascending in lazy circles without flapping its wings then you’ve seen thermal soaring already. The bird is an expert at finding and riding thermals: invisible currents of rising warm air. You can learn to do this too, with a radio-controlled glider. It’s a great experience.
The easiest way to start is with a cheap and cheerful foam glider, about 1.8m-3m, with an electric motor in the nose. (The motor is just for the initial launch, then you switch it off). Even beginners’ gliders look sleek on the ground and graceful in flight. Your model will not be too difficult to fly since it will be stable and slow enough to give you plenty of time to react. But do join a club to get experienced help. You’ll soon have the model trimmed out and gliding nicely. Now you’re ready to progress from just gliding to thermal soaring. At first, probably the only thermals you will be aware of are the big ones (‘Wow, look, my model’s going up like a train’) and they will feel like pretty rare pieces of good luck. They are not. There is usually some thermal activity around and you will learn how to find it, to recognise weak lift as well as strong and to read the air from the behaviour of the model, from the birds and the trees, from subtle changes in wind speed and direction.
The planes – construction
Many experienced fliers are perfectly happy sticking with their first electric foamies and that’s fine. But you can do better if you want to. More advanced models come (with or without motors) in a variety of different shapes, weights and sizes to suit the different types of thermal soaring outlined below. They have in common that most high-performance gliders today are of moulded composite construction – beautiful bits of kit but not cheap. Small mouldies, though, are much cheaper than large; second-hand models are often available; good builders can still give the mouldies a run for their money at a fraction of the cost using traditional balsa and ply construction or vacuum-bagged glassed foam.
The planes – DLG
DLG - Discus Launch Glider - No electric motors – hand launched, the pilot rotating like a discuss-thrower. The smallest and cheapest specialist models,. They are great for sport flying and there is thriving competition scene with a variety of different tasks.
The planes – Towline
Before modern electric motors, most launching was done by a runner towing up the model on a line (or variants: elastic bungie / electric winch). Still an option for sports flying. Competitions are also a possibility though 100S no longer has the popularity it once had and the R.E.S 2m class popular in continental Europe has yet to gain much traction in the UK.
The planes – Electric thermal soaring
Like the beginners model, but with much higher performance. Most models are 3.5m-4m but 2m models are also available, can soar nearly as well, are far more affordable and have their own competition classes.
The planes – Electric multi-task
The F1 of thermal soaring, for those with a need for speed: competition planes can accelerate 0-200mph in 2 secs on launch but still thermal excellently once the motor is off. Less formidable ‘hotliners’ are great for sports car-performance sport flying or new competition classes.
The planes – GPS Triangle
The absolute pinnacle of models and of technology – just awesome: 1/3 scale models aero-towed to 500m and racing a triangular course using sophisticated telemetry and GPS. Additional newer classes are more affordable and include electric launch and somewhat smaller non-scale models.
Read more at https://silent-flight-tech.bmfa.uk/specialisms/gps
Many pilots are happy just sport-flying their glider at their local field. But do think about having a go at competitions too. Footballers compete five-a-side in the gym as well as in the Premier League. Golfers compete against their friends on a Sunday morning as well as in the Open. Glider competitions are great fun for pilots who just want to give some focus to their flying, improve a bit and enjoy the occasion as well as for aspiring GBR team members – national as well as local competitions are very inclusive, with newcomers freely helped and warmly welcomed. Keep an eye out too for try-it-out / training days designed to encourage beginners and improvers.
Read more at https://silent-flight-tech.bmfa.uk/specialisms