North Florida Soaring Society
Soaring the skies of Jacksonville since 1966
NFSS Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How do sailplanes get off the ground?

Answer: Sailplanes depart planet earth through various methods of "launching". This implies that some form of power is used that will enable the sailplane to get off the ground and gain altitude up to a release point. Various launch methods include the following:

1) Aero Tow: Using aero tow, sailplanes are hooked-up to the back of a powered airplane, (towplane) with a long line (tow line), and pulled behind the plane up to a safe release altitude.

2) Auto Tow: With auto tow, sail-planes are hooked-up to the back of an automobile with a very long line. As the car and plane pick up speed along the ground, the sailplane achieves lift, departs earth and climbs to a safe release altitude. 

3) Winch Tow: With this method, the sailplane is hooked-up to a motorized winch spool with a very long line. When activated for launch, the winch pulls the glider along the ground until it gains enough forward speed to achieve lift, depart the earth, and climb to a safe release altitude. 

4) Self-Launch: Self-launching gliders are designed and built with their own power source on board (usually a small prop engine). This source propels the glider forward with enough speed to achieve lift, leave the ground under its own power, and climb without the need for a tow. 

NFSS relies strictly on aero tow for launching using our Piper PA-25 Pawnee.

Question: How do sailplanes stay aloft and gain altitude on their own?

Answer: After release from tow, soaring pilots use "lift" to stay airborne and gain more altitude. Three basic types of lift generally used by soaring pilots are Thermal, Ridge, and Mountain Wave lift.

Thermal lift is created as a result of solar heating of the earth's surface which causes warmer, less dense air to rise, and cooler, more dense air to sink. A "column" or "bubble" of rising air is known as a thermal. Soaring pilots seek out thermals to stay aloft and climb. "Thermalling" is probably the most common technique used to sustain soaring flight, and is what we rely on here for lift at NFSS (sorry, no mountains or ridges). 

Ridge lift is created as strong, low-level airflow moves perpendicular to, and up the side of a mountain ridge. The moving air deflects up the face of the ridge, creating lift along its windward side.

Mountain wave lift occurs as high-velocity, upper altitude air flows perpendicularly across and over a mountain peak. Air flowing up the windward side, then down the leeward side results in an oscillating "ripple" effect of air movement generally downwind of the mountain. The "ripples", or "waves", produce high altitude upward air displacement and powerful lift.

Question: How high and how far can sailplanes actually fly?

Answer: A world record absolute altitude of 50,722 feet was achieved in a sailplane in mountain wave lift over Argentina in 2006.  In addition, the free distance world record for a sailplane (using up to 3 turn points)  was set in 2003 in Argentina. The total distance achieved was 1625 nautical miles! 

Question: What does it cost to fly with North Florida Soaring Society?

Answer: The price of soaring with NFSS is considered very reasonable. A typical flight for a member would be a standard tow to 2000'. Costs typically include a fee for the tow, the sailplane, and an instructor if necessary.

Dual Instruction (example only):
Tow fee* $31.00
Glider fee* $10.00
Instructor* $25.00
Total $66.00


Solo Flight (example only):
Tow fee* $31.00
Glider fee* $10.00
Total $41.00


*Fees are subject to change

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