Looking at the Sky - A Glider Pilot's Perspective

  • Sep 20, 2013 12:10am GMT

From the perspective of a power pilot this sky looks great for flying around IFR. The higher clouds look like they are nearly completely overcast, the lower clouds filling into the valley. From the perspective of a glider pilot the sky looks great! Now I understand that this doesn’t fit with what you think we are looking for, it is not miserably hot on the ground, the sun is not out, horribly dry, and not the High Desert. I will agree this is partially true, especially if we are looking for thermal. Thermals are rising bubbles of warm air, which works best when the sun can heat the ground. I did fly a Junior World Gliding Championships, in England, mostly in thermals. It was not hot, not dry, no mountains and completely surrounded by water. The picture was not a thermal day. The picture was actually a really good soaring day, in wave. Later I will write more on wave, but the basic concept is: imagine a stream and in that stream is a log or rock, downstream of that object is a little ripple or standing wave. Now when we think of mountains and wind, it can get a little higher than our little ripple. The current altitude record is 50721ft and this was done in wave. This picture was taken from Sky Sailing’s Stemme S10vt, climbing with the engine off at about 400fpm. We ran out of time, but we headed home after climbing through 8000ft. Lets re-examine the picture through the eyes of a glider pilot.

First you will notice that wing keeps going for what seems like forever.

Just ahead of the wingtip and above the horizon you will notice a darker round looking cloud. It resembles a UFO, that is a lenticular cloud (Altocumulus lenticularis) and a sure sign of wave. Not always possible to climb under, but that motion is going on in the air.

Ahead of the wingtip and below is a very distinct dry line. Those clouds are hiding mountain goats so we give them a lot more respect than the basic FAA VFR cloud clearances. That dry line is marking where the air is sliding down the mountain then jumps back up again and the oscillation starts.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of what it is like to look at the sky from the perspective of a glider pilot.