Warm air gives gliders a lift

FOR the average man on the street, what goes up must come down.

But when you've been soaring around the heavens in a glider from the age of four, different rules apply.

Those of us that know nothing about gliding assume wind must be the key to staying airborne but according to international competitor Nick Maddocks, that's a common misconception.

"Lots of people think it's about wind but really that has nothing to do with it," Maddocks said. "It's all about temperature and what sort of thermals are around."

The "thermals" Maddocks talks of are updrafts of warm air that pilots use to gain altitude.

Finding them, however, is the true skill of the glider pilot.

There's no fancy instrumentation or online information feeds here.

"On a cloudy day we can read the clouds and they can tell us what we're doing," he said.

"On a blue day, we look for ground features. It's sort of a mix between reading the sky and the ground and everything in between to find out where the best thermal is."

And how long can a glider stay in the air if the conditions are right?

"All day. We're not allowed to fly at night but some people will go up early in the morning and fly to dusk," Maddocks said.

Having recently returned from international competition in Europe, Maddocks said it's good to be home where the conditions are perfect for his beloved sport.

"We're lucky in Australia because it's very hot and dry," he said. "The lift we get is a lot stronger and goes a lot higher."

So if you have plans to try your hand at the graceful sport of gliding, it may pay to brush up on your meteorology skills first.

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