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EXPLORATIONS - March 6, 2002: Soaring - 2002-03-05


This is Steve Ember.


And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. Today, we tell about a dream that is as old as the human mind. The dream is flight. Today we tell about how that dream has led to the sport of soaring. Soaring is flying in an airplane without an engine.



Every sport has a history. But few sports have a history that goes back one-thousand years. It was then that a Roman Catholic monk built a device to fly.

History records say his name was Eilmer of Malmesbury England. He reportedly jumped from a building with wings he had built. He floated down for about two hundred meters before crashing. He broke both his legs. It was not a good flight, but it was a beginning.

One of the most famous inventors and artists designed a flying device in the fifteen-century. The Italian inventor-artist was Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo designed bird-like wings for a man to wear. His drawings survive to this day.


Real flight by humans developed very slowly because early inventors like Leonardo tried to make wings that moved. Leonardo and other inventors studied birds. They used the birds' method of flight for their designs. Their idea was that a person would wear wings on their arms and move them up and down just as a bird's wings move. The idea always failed. We now know that a human does not have enough power to move wings fast enough to fly.

The first real flights took place in Eighteen-Forty- Nine. British inventor George Cayley built a winged machine called a glider that carried a man. But it crashed after a short flight. In Eighteen-Eighty- Three, an American, John J. Montgomery, made the first, controlled flight in a glider. In fact, he made several. Then Otto Lilienthal of Germany made about two-thousand flights in simple gliders during the Eighteen-Nineties. He built a tall hill from which to launch his flights.

Americans Wilbur and Orville Wright flew several kinds of gliders. They also improved methods of controlling their glider flights. Their successful experiments with gliders led to the first aircraft powered by an engine.


The gliders of long ago could only stay in the air for limited amounts of time. Usually they were launched from a high place. They slowly floated or glided down. Modern technology has made the glider a high performance machine. It can stay up for many hours. It can reach many kilometers into the sky by riding on the hot air that rises from the ground. It can carry one, two or more people.

Modern gliders are built from space-age lightweight metals, or plastics. They can carry radios, oxygen needed for extreme heights, and many flight instruments.

Many modern gliders or sailplanes look more like insects than birds. They have narrow, rounded bodies, with long thin tails. Their wings are extremely long too.

There is very little room inside. The pilot does not sit straight. The seat permits the pilot to almost lie down in an area enclosed by a plastic top. The top is clear. This lets the pilot see very well in every direction.


A pilot controls a sailplane or glider much the same as other aircraft. Control instruments called ailerons are built into each wing. With one aileron raised and the other lowered, the plane will turn in the direction of the raised aileron.

Another control is on the tail. It is called the elevator. It swings up and down. The elevator makes the plane move up or down.

The tail also has a control that moves from side to side. It is called a rudder. It helps direct the plane. The pilot controls the rudder with foot pedals. The pilot uses a device called a stick to control the ailerons and elevators. Moving the stick from side to side moves the ailerons. Moving the stick forward points the glider down. Pulling back on the stick makes it go up.

In front of the pilot are several instruments. One shows how high the glider is. Another shows the air speed. Another is a compass that shows what direction the glider is flying. And another tells if the glider is going up, or down.


The modern glider is like those designed hundreds of years ago. It has no power. It can get into the air only with help. In the United States, a powered airplane usually pulls the glider into the air. The glider is usually pulled up to one thousand meters. Then the rope used to pull the glider is released. The glider is on its own.

Every school child knows that hot air rises. Glider pilots learn this fact. They learn how to use it. As hot air rises from the ground, it creates enough pressure to permit a modern glider to rise. It provides the power to keep the glider in the air. When the glider has risen as high as the pilot wants, he steers the glider away from the hot air. A glider pilot who has enough rising hot air can keep the aircraft in the air for several hours.



Howard Hoadley lives in the southern state of North Carolina. When Howard is not working, or sleeping, Howard thinks about flying. Howard loves to fly. When he is not flying gliders, he is talking about flying gliders. Or he is talking about glider equipment, good places to fly gliders and about his friends who fly gliders.

He has very little interest in flying airplanes that have engines. He thinks they make too much noise. Flying with Howard is safe. It is also fun.

Howard flies from a very small airport in beautiful North Carolina farm land. Crops grow next to the landing field. There are powered airplanes at the airport but Howard only cares about the ones that pull the gliders into the air. On weekends and holidays, gliders land and take off every few minutes.


If you have never been in a glider before, Howard always takes time to explain how it works. He shows how to use the safety belts. He explains each of the instruments and what they do. He shows how the controls work. He makes each passenger feel good about trying a new experience. And he tells his passengers that they will have a chance to fly the glider themselves once they are safely in the air.

The glider Howard usually flies can carry two people. One sits in the front and one behind. Howard, as the pilot, rides behind the passenger. Howard and the passenger both have a complete set of flight instruments and controls.

The glider is launched with safety as the first consideration. A person on the ground provides support for both the pilot of the glider and the pilot of the plane that will pull the gilder into the air. That person controls the launch and uses hand signs to communicate with both pilots.

When everything is ready the sign to go is given. The person on the ground runs along with the glider to keep its wings level for the first few feet.


The take-off area is covered with grass. So the ride is not very smooth. Howard tells his passengers to expect to feel many bumps in the first few moments. The glider moves faster and faster, as the airplane pulling it gathers speed. Within seconds both aircraft lift off the ground. The ride now is very smooth. You can hear the sound of the airplane engine in the plane that is pulling the glider.


It takes a few minutes to reach the height where the rope holding the glider to the airplane is released. When the rope is released, the glider turns to the right. The airplane goes left.

Now no loud sound is heard in the glider, only the sound of the air passing under the glider's wings. The clear plastic glass that covers the front of the glider provides a beautiful sight in all directions. The ground far below is green. There are dark green trees, green corn, and grass. A farm is seen in the distance. And, far below is the airport, with aircraft lined up in a row.


Howard looks to make sure there are no other aircraft in the area. Then he tells his passenger to place his right hand on the stick and his feet on the rudder pedals. Howard takes his hands and feet off the controls.

Howard tells the passenger, "Now, turn to the left. Move the stick to the left and press the left rudder pedal at the same time...stick and rudder together always. Now try pushing the stick forward a little. Now turn to the right."

Howard sounds happy. Then he says one of the most exciting things the passenger will ever hear: "Now you are really flying ... all by yourself."



This Special English program was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is Steve Ember.


And this is Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week at this time for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.