To fly as the hawk and eagle has been mankind’s dream for centuries. Modern sailplanes make soaring flight possible, and with them humans can fly higher, faster, and farther than the greatest of birds, using only an invisible force of nature to stay aloft.
The sport is called “soaring” and to pilot as well as spectator, it has universal appeal. The terms gliding and soaring are used interchangeably, and are governed in the US by the SSA (Soaring Society of America) and internationally by the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale). Pilots require at least a private pilot’s license with a glider rating.
Soaring pilots use three kinds of natural sources of lift to fly without an engine.
- Thermal lift is the most common in soaring and is formed when solar radiation heats the ground which then heats the surrounding air. Rising like a hot air balloon, the warm air forms thermals, a source of surprisingly strong lift. Just how strong? An average day will loft a 1,000 pound sailplane up to cloud base at 300-600 feet per minute. A really good day provides over a 1,000 feet per minute lift.
- Ridge lift is completely different. Formed when the wind is at right angles to a ridge line, ridge lift can extend for hundreds of miles along a mountain range. Sailplane pilots have flown over a thousand miles in ridge lift.
- Soaring in mountain waves, is for many soaring pilots, the epitome of the soaring experience. Under certain atmospheric conditions, huge standing waves of rising and falling air can form on the leeward side of a mountain, just as the water ripples downstream of a rock.
My flying club, Aero Club Albatross, based out of Blairstown airport in western NJ, is one of the oldest flying clubs in the US. It is one of the premier ridge soaring sites in the world, with an, as yet, unratified world record in distance and several 1000km flights. When we fly, we record our flights with GPS loggers, that we then upload to the “online contest, (OLC)” where we can compete on a global basis against other clubs and individuals. Here is a link to a 1000+ km flight (720 miles) flown recently.
Soaring as a sport is fascinating. We have some old gliders in our club that are nearly 50 years old, and back then flying these great distances was thought to be impossible. What makes these achievements possible today is data. By analyzing the weather, and the tracks of other pilots we have been able to fly further and faster than ever before.
I built a QlikSense dashboard that extracts data from OLC using the REST connector, and then combined it with other flight logs for FAA compliance and presented that in a user friendly dashboard.
Initially, I thought the interest would only be with club members, but several clients have expressed an interest in the dashboard, so I decided to post it on the Bardess demo site.
Here are some interesting facts about our club activity:
- In the 2015 flying season, 29 pilots flew 86 000Km (54000 miles) without a drop of gas! That’s twice around the world.
- Our best flying season is April and May, although we fly all year round. Spring is when NW winds blow against the Appalachian mountain range.
- One glider, ACA, seems to have much fewer hours this year compared to last year. That is because we recently did a full upgrade on it. ACA is now our club pride and joy.
We all have something that interests us, perhaps your passion or hobby would benefit from some visual analytics? Reach out to us at Bardess and we’ll get you a free version of QlikSense desktop software that you can use to tell your data story.
Philip Duplisey is Senior Director – Consulting Services of Bardess, Ltd.