How do gliders stay in the air without an engine? It's all about science

July 07, 2017 03:41 PM

SARATOGA COUNTY -- High in the sky above Saratoga County Airport, we quickly reached 4,000 feet, flying like a bird using mother nature as our engine. It’s called soaring – a small aircraft, called a glider, with no engine.

“It’s basically a sports car with wings,” said John Mahoney, president of the Adirondack Soaring Club and an aviation maintenance teacher.

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Science is what keeps the plane in the air.

“STEM is all part of soaring,” he said.

Mahoney explains soaring is all about using thermal lift.

“The ability to understand I can fly to that cloud and then I can go to another one and then I can fly up to Lake Placid and back again to Saratoga,” he said.

The small aircraft is attached by a 150-foot rope to a tow plane. They both take off, the tow plane pulling the glider behind it. The glider pilot stays in formation with the tow plane. Once a safe altitude is reached, the rope is detached and that's when the soaring part of the journey begins. Gliders can remain in the air using thermal lift for over 1,000 miles.

“It was intimidating at first, but once you get over that initial fear, it's really a gorgeous sport,” said soaring student Thia Fowler.

Fowler is 16 years old and about to start her senior year at Albany High School. She's been up in a glider more than 20 times and is working toward her first solo flight. She hopes to do that by the end of this summer. Soaring has even helped her in school.

“A lot of time, I could connect the drag and the lift with physics problems,” she said. “There's a lot to do with angles, what angle you come at the airport, and with calculating how far away you are from the airport.”

The glider pretty much lands just like a plane with an engine would.

Jim Morzillo is a soaring instructor. He's been up in a glider about 1,500 times. He knows what it's like to deal with some nervous first-timers. He also hopes more young people like Thia will take up the sport.

“Most could probably afford it flipping burgers,” he said.

In an age where people are always looking to advance technology, soaring is a way to remind ourselves there are more impressive things out there that don't require gadgets and gizmos.

If you would like to find out more about the Adirondack Soaring Club, visit their website.


Subrina Dhammi

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