Modern sailplanes are sleek, efficient flying machines that can fly at high speeds, over great distances in the right conditions. Numerous 200 to 300 km flights are recorded in the UK on any summer’s day when conditions are reasonable and flights of up to 1,000 km can be attained.
A lot of what you’ll study when learning to fly a glider is about how to find different kinds of lift and how to maximise the height you can get from them. The natural use for all this height is of course to turn it into distance. 1,000 feet of height can carry you along for 5 or 6 miles in even a modest glider, so by seeking out lift along your route, it’s possible to travel great distances over the course of a day’s flying.
Typically, when cross-country flying, a pilot will pre-declare a course. Starting from his home airfield, he’ll declare perhaps two “turnpoints” to fly round en route before returning to base. In this way he’ll fly a “triangle”, some of which will inevitably have to be flown into wind. Cross country flying is challenging and involves many skills, from “reading the sky,” accurate flying and navigation to calculating optimum flying speeds to match local conditions.
Of course, it’s not always possible for a cross-country pilot to complete his declared task and as the day’s weather conditions change, he may find himself trying to cope with poor flying conditions far from the home airfield. For this reason, cross-country pilots are well-trained in the skills of selecting and landing in appropriate fields if the need arises. A “retrieve crew” will then be sent out from the airfield, towing the glider’s trailer, so that the glider can be de-rigged in the field and returned home.
For many pilots, competitive cross country flying becomes the main attraction of the sport of soaring and regional, national and international competitions take place every year, with pilots attempting to fly set tasks against the clock and other competitors.