Article written by Lloyd Borrett
for "Grapevine", the BHP House magazine, June
the gliders ready at
Waikerie Gliding Club
During the southern summer the sun beats down to make
inland Australia a paradise for glider pilots. In fact,
pilots the world over are increasingly considering this
country one of the finest gliding Meccas. The flatness of
our outback, combined with higher summer temperatures,
draws pilots from everywhere.
It is an exhilarating sport. Whether soaring around
billowing cumulus clouds at 8000 feet, or rocketing across
country, landing in Farmer Brown's paddock when the lift
runs out (it sometimes does), or scratching around at low
level looking for lift, it is a thoroughly rewarding
However, in all the time spent soaring, nothing compares
with the thrill of thermalling with an eagle. To look out
on the other side of the same thermal (a rising current of
heated air) and find an eagle circling upward, looking
curiously at the big white bird with the 15 metre wingspan
silently circling in the rising air that his ancestors have
been using for thousands of years.
It is not, according to my own 100 hours of gliding
time, a dangerous sport. Gliders fly slowly on approach;
there is no fuel to catch fire; and glider pilots are well
Modern gliders are made from glass-fibre, metal and
aluminium. They are strong, light and flexible. The two
seater "Twin Astir" in which I learnt to fly weighs about
400 kg empty.
However, when the lift is strong and flying fast is the
order of the day, the wings are filled with 100 kg of water
to improve the glider's 'penetration'.
Solar generated lift can be very strong indeed. Quite
often I have been able to achieve climb rates of over 1000
feet a minute.
In these circumstances, it is easy to appreciate that
gliders can climb to astonishing heights. The Australian
height record for a glider is 31,700 feet and the world
height record is 46,250 feet. Sailplanes regularly fly over
Mount Kosciusko in the Australian Alps.
How is it done? The answer lies not in the wind, as with
the comparable sport of sailing, but in the thermal lift,
the rising air caused by the sun's heating action on the
Sailplanes circle in this rising air and although they
must fly 'downwards' at a shallow angle, the net effect of
flying in rising air is a height gain.
Certainly there is a sound of silence — not
complete silence, but a sort of hush power. The wind sighs
past the sleek fuselage and perspex cockpit, and the world
revolves below you as you 'thermal' in the lift.
All this makes gliding one of the most thrilling
adventure sports, an activity enjoyed across Australia by
some 6000 pilots.
Monday, 01 April 2013