Sailplane racers to compete in Nationals

Sailplane racers will gather in Minden, Nevada, this June 10-19 to compete in the 18 Meter Nationals.

“This contest will pit up to 60 pilots who will each day fly a weather-dependent course,” said Reba Coombs, contest manager.

Each pilot will be towed aloft by airplanes to a predetermined release height and then dive through the “start gate.” The pilot who completes the course with the fastest speed wins.

Speeds average between 60 to 90 mph and pilots use GPS-enabled flight recorders to document their flights. Flight logs are downloaded after each flight to verify the assigned course was completed and confirm speeds.

The contest is open to all qualified soaring pilots, as determined by the Soaring Society of America (SSA).

“Racing sailplanes are the most efficient flying machines ever designed by man,” touts the SSA website.

It is not unusual to have glide ratios in excess of 60:1, where in still air, a sailplane one mile high can glide more than 60 miles. A typical course in Minden for this type of contest is approximately 200 miles with a maximum of 450 miles.

The “start gate” is typically set by the contest director at 10,000 MSL and consists of a 5-mile cylinder where the pilots will climb up and then dive through to begin the task.

“We expect pilots from all over the country,” adds Coombs. “It has been a few years since we’ve hosted a contest, so we are thrilled to bring this back to Minden.”

Traditionally, soaring pilots fly in air that most power pilots avoid.

“We seek turbulent air,” noted Coombs. “The rising air or lift gives us needed altitude before heading in whatever direction we choose.”

A soaring pilot must understand the principles of flight, must have an in-depth knowledge of meteorology and an understanding of the terrain. Without engines, soaring pilots must always be aware of their surroundings and mindful of suitable landing areas if they are unable to fly back to their airport of origin, she noted.

The 18 Meter Nationals will happen as a result of efforts from the Minden Soaring Club, the Minden-Tahoe Airport and SoaringNV. Minden is renown as one of the finest soaring sites in the world.

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