The engine of the Cessna L-19 Bird-Dog runs up in preparation. "All Out!" you hear over your onboard radio as you feel a jolt back into your small, but cozy seat. You move along the runway, constantly keeping your stick slightly forward, you watch the towplane, the rope, your instruments; if something goes wrong, now's the time for it. Your airspeed indicator hits 65 knots, you ease the stick into neutral and watch as your glider eases off the ground. As you ascend, you see the buildings and cars in the parking lots getting smaller and smaller as you get higher and higher. You fly eerily close to the mountain, ascending, compliments of the forward thrust lent to you by your trusty towplane. You're halfway along the mountain's edge and you hit 2000 feet. You pull the red knob on your dash and watch as your towrope, your lifeline, your only source of thrust, fall away into the distance, the towplane attached to the front. The sound disappears, everything's quiet now. You fly along the mountain's edge, the tip of your 25 foot wing only several feet from the tips of the trees. You feel a slight pulling into your seat and notice your instruments telling you you're in lift. You're going up! In an aircraft without an engine, you are going up! Two thousand five hundred! Three thousand! Three thousand five hundred! Four thousand! And you keep going up! You fly back and forth, back and forth along the mountains edge, turning when your lift starts to die off. You glance out of your bubble canopy and see the most beautiful sight you've ever seen. An eagle, wings fully spread, is blazing the path you're about to take. This is something you will remember your whole life.

This, is soaring

Soaring is the art of flying without an engine. It is one of the most peaceful sports in existence. Gliders stay aloft by using lift. Lift comes in many forms. Wind rises when it hits a ridge, rises when it is heated, and oscillates when going over a mountain range. Gliders use this to stay aloft for as much as 10 hours at a time.


One Otto Lilienthal made flights in the hills of Germany in 1891. His bird-like cloth and softwood hang-gliders were flown by running down a steep hill until takeoff velocity was reached. He flew about 100 meters in his more successful flights. Otto discovered many of the aircraft design fundamentals still in use today. One must also mention the Wright brother's efforts. They used some interesting design techniques, but are pretty much considered hobbyists among glider pioneers. Their real contribution was combining gliders and engines. Soaring as a sport started in the 1920's with planes made of wood in Germany.

The materials used in gliders has changed quite a bit in the last 75 years. Sail planes were first made of wood frames with cloth covering the wings and fuselage. Designers then used metal framing as metalurgy became advanced enough to support light tubular steel. Planes like the SGS 2-33 and the SGS 1-35 used tubular steel construction. The steel was still covered with cloth. All metal sailplanes, like the Ross RJ-5, were briefly experimented with. Next, in the late 1970s, fiberglass came into use. This led to a whole new breed of sailplanes. The majority of sailplanes flying today are fiberglass birds. Fiberglass allowed for larger aspect ratios, lighter designs, and more aerodynamic shapes. Fiberglass resin is badly degraded by ultraviolet rays. Gel coats help, but not enough to stop the problem completely.

Current carbon fiber marked an improvment over fiberglass. Ultraviolet light does not affect carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is allowing extremely high performance planes such as the eta glider and entirely new designs, such as the SparrowHawk.

Gliders have also changed aerodynamically, mainly due to the fiber revolution. Wings experienced longation. 50:1 aspect ratios became common. This is because near the edge of the wing, air curls over and causes downward forces on the wing. These improvements led to 60:1 glide ratios. Gliders have forever been drifting in and out of similarity with power planes.

Modern planes, such as the Nimbus II have made 1000 Km flights possible, which is quite a stretch from Otto's 100 meter flight 80 years ago.




Glider Design Concepts

Glider Parts


  • Open Class
    • SB 10
    • Nimbus I
    • Nimbus II
    • eta
    • DG-1000
  • FIA 15 meter racing class/Standard Class/World Class
  • 18 meter class
    • Cirrus B
    • Phoenix T
  • Self launching/auto recovery
    • ASW-22 BLE
    • DG-600
    • DG-800
  • Multi place gliders
  • Companies

The Soaring World

History and Random Stuff

This is intended to be a clearing house for glider and soaring information. I have used many sources for this, such as the 3rd edition of Fundamentals of Sailplane Design and Cross Country Soaring. I would appreciate any help in filling out the many nodes linked here and anything else having to do with gliders. For the noding format of gliders, please see Eta or SparrowHawk. Links to sort:March 8, 2001.

Soar"ing, a. & n.

from Soar.

-- Soar"ing*ly, adv.


© Webster 1913.

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