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Saratoga Soaring Association

About Soaring

Modern sailplanes are not fabric hang gliders but are rigid wing, fully certified aircraft that can weigh 1,000 pounds or more. Sailplanes are towed aloft by a powered aircraft then released at approximately 2,000 feet above ground. A sailplane flight can be as short as 20 minutes, but flights as long as 5 hours or more are not unusual for experienced pilots. The sailplane pilot searches for rising currents of air called thermals, then circles in the thermal like a hawk to gain altitude. The New York State Standard Class Altitude record in a sailplane (15,700 feet) is held by one of our female members.

Thermals may also be used as “stepping stones in the sky”. A pilot can “hop” from one thermal to another and make long cross-country soaring flights. On a good day a pilot can easily make flights of 100 miles or more and return to the home airfield. Soaring flights of over 300 miles have been made from Saratoga County Airport!

The first step in obtaining a pilot’s license is to become proficient enough to fly the glider solo.. Once a student learns to fly solo, the next step is to hone his/her flying skills in preparation for a flight exam with an FAA examiner. During this time students also prepare for and take a written exam covering aspects of soaring flight such as regulations, weather, and navigation. In addition to the time and effort needed to obtain these skills and knowledge, flying in a club environment requires a commitment to assist with the flight line activities and routine maintenance of the gliders. Indeed, it’s not unusual to spend an entire day at the airfield helping with ground operations and “hanger flying” with friends while waiting for a turn to fly a club glider. Some people may not be able to make this time commitment and may prefer to trade money for time by going to a commercial glider flight school where they can schedule a precise time to fly.