THE SOARING ENGINE volume one
- Wind Over Ridges
- How To Soar On Ridges
- Thermal formation
- When thermals start to rise
- The size and shape of a thermal
- How to centre a thermal
- Reading clouds
- The basics
- Models of thermal lift
- Unusual situations
- Mountain thermals
- Wind and sun
- Reading clouds in the mountains
- Safe soaring in the mountains
- Flying cross-country in the mountains
- Difficult situations
THE SOARING ENGINE series explains how the sun, wind and terrain combine to produce rising air for the soaring pilot to exploit. In this volume you will see how the wind flows over and around hills, ridges and mountains, how thermals form and evolve, the patterns that ridge and thermal activity create in the air and how to use the lift produced both in flat terrain and in mountains. Illustrated with clear simple diagrams, this book is a primer for soaring pilots flying anything from a paraglider to high performance sailplanes.
From G. Dale:
This is a work in progress. My intention is this: to create a resource for all those pilots who care about how the air moves. Primarily for glider pilots, but, I hope, interesting for paraglider pilots, hang glider pilots, even light aircraft, mountain and bush pilots, the modelers and the sim guys - anyone who is interested in what the air is doing around them. And critically, what it is likely to do next!
There are many books on soaring, plenty on "how to fly gliders" and even some on flying across country or racing - but few on this specific subject. I want to engage those people who are passionately interested in the way sun, wind, terrain and the airmass combine to create all the varied patterns of air movement that we collectively call "lift". Ridge, thermal, wave and convergence lift are all familiar to soaring pilots, but to look ahead at the sky and predict what will happen as you fly through it has always been a hard skill to acquire.
Fear not, it isn't a black art and no talent is required - except for a hunger to know what is going on. There is a solid, well understood body of knowledge and a set of well proven techniques that you can employ to play the great game of soaring successfully and safely, in all kinds of terrain, and in all types of lift. Unfortunately although this knowledge exists, it isn't widely disseminated. Yes, there are books, videos and magazine articles, and plenty of stuff on the internet. But is difficult to dig out the information in any coherent way that hangs together as a set of lessons, any scheme that makes it easy to learn and to make progress with your flying.
I was always taught that you should teach (and learn) in a sensible fashion - from the easy to the more difficult, from the known to the unknown. Appropriate imagery and easily remembered, clear images help this rather abstract stuff stick in the mind, to be recalled when you need it. And when it comes to the science of how the air masses behave - it's important not to get too deeply involved in the maths and the physics. Leave that to the meteorologists: we can understand the basics with simple models.
So the first part of the project is to publish three simple text books. The first volume is a primer on the most common forms of soaring: ridge and thermal, flatland and mountain flying. The second volume gets a bit more technical, covering the less well understood areas of wave and convergence flying. The third volume is about "the inner game" - how to learn to make the right decisions to fly fast and reliably in all the circumstances you may experience.
Once the books are in circulation the next step is to create an online resource. I'm regularly coaching mountain flying in one of the most interesting soaring environments in the world - out of Omarama in the South Island of New Zealand - and this gives me great opportunities to explore almost all of the soaring phenomena that you are likely to come across anywhere. It's quite easy to construct lesson plans to show things like carpet winds triggering thermals and sea breezes sneaking up to wash you down the side of mountains. Even the hydraulic jump underneath a wave system can be explored, demonstrated, filmed.
With luck (if I'm spared, as my grandma used to say) I'll be able to illustrate the content from the books using short videos filmed at Omarama - and indeed, from all the other places I am lucky enough to work.
So it's quite a project, this will take some time! You can help me by taking an interest, buy the books, let me know what works for you and what doesn't, tell your soaring friends if you like the content, help me to create a "Soaring Engine" community and some momentum to move this thing forward.
From Doug Jacobs:
For those of you who may have missed the chance to participate in one of the US Team Cross Country courses given a few years ago, this from my write-up for Soaring Magazine of the original version, conducted at Sugarbush, Vermont in 2006, featuring George Moffat and I as instructors:
“However the star of the course was clearly Gerrard “G” Dale. G has been active as a British National Team Coach, a gliding instructor at Lasham, a course leader for Gavin Wills’ Mountain Experience in Omarama, New Zealand, and is an actively competing top-ten British national pilot. G’s morning presentations, delivered in that organized and precise way for which we Americans so envy the Brits, were succinct, informative, and comprehensive. Schooled in a variety of teaching techniques including both dual and lead and follow, G was also our leader in the air, coolly delivering flying tips, weather and course analysis while managing to win the Sports Class (of the Region 1 contest run in parallel) quite handily.”
I often thought during subsequent versions of the course (there were six) how fabulous it would’ve been had G been along for each one – in fact, his duties as British National Team coach, 25 years of rambling from glider site to glider site towing a Duo, teaching cross country at each stop, prepared him fabulously for the task. His lucid presentation style, clear explanations, low key delivery, and obvious expertise had the student body riveted to their seats. No follow-up question was left without a full answer that satisfied the questioner, nor was G at a loss to address any aspect of flying a glider in expert fashion.
Well, you’re in luck. G has decided to write it all down, and has just published the first in a series of soaring guides, called The Soaring Engine, now available through several US soaring suppliers. In this first volume, he focuses on the basics – sun, wind, terrain, and how they produce the soaring engine of lift via ridge, mountain and thermal. Aimed primarily at the pilot who has mastered (or is at least competent) at the basics of flying a glider – attitude, airspeed control, safety – he begins where the sport itself first began: ridges. Ah, but far from a simple tune of a well-behaved wind flow deflecting upward by a smooth idealized ridge, we are treated to a symphony of complexity: wind flowing up, around, over and down a great variety of vertical landscapes, each annotated with straightforward explanation of the associated lift and sink areas, techniques for maximizing climb, zones to avoid, and unsafe habits to shun like the plague.
Next up is an examination of thermal construction and behavior – how they begin, how they evolve, how they sometimes group together or street, and how they die. Wind shear, size and shape change with altitude, blue thermals, it’s all here. Appropriate to each situation are tips and techniques for searching, finding the middle, utilizing them effectively to get somewhere, and generally getting the most out of them. From simple centering tips to more advanced energy line optimization, G lays out a syllabus for the novice to absorb in toto and the expert to refresh him or herself.
On we go to flatland flying and then on to my favorite, mountain flying, which are both covered in equally thorough and expert fashion. At each stage, the simple and clear text is illustrated by equally simple and clear line drawings, almost one on every page, each of which bear the hallmark of having been drawn by somebody who has seen lots of similar scenarios and knows how to isolate the key elements a pilot must recognize to be effective.
While there are many soaring tomes in circulation which cover the basics, none to my mind do it as well or as thoroughly as G’s. In each section he starts simply, builds in real world complexity gradually, and tops off with a look at how the really good pilots do it. For those of a more scientific bent, an excellent appendix is also included which explores in more quantitative ways the mechanics of thermal generation and gliding performance.
G has a quite ambitious agenda here, in that this is “merely” the first volume of a planned three. Number two will cover wave and convergence flying while the third, most ambitious of all, is to put all together to fly fast, efficiently, far, and maybe come in first! Glider performance and enhancement, pilot psychology, practice techniques, you name it, it will all be covered by one of the best. I can’t wait for the next two to become part of my collection.
We are lucky to have one so dedicated to a high standard of soaring instruction in our community. I’ll let G’s words speak for themselves:
“So I’ve been calling it a project and not just saying I’m writing a book. The other point worth making is that I don’t want to be too slick about this - I want to engage the enthusiasm of the soaring pilot, the one that is just as excited as hell when he (she) realizes that - for instance - “damn, the sea breeze is coming over the hill, that’s why it isn’t working, I can see the wind on that crop field…”. Those moments engage us all, that’s what I am trying to talk about in the books, models, solutions, observation and so on. I suspect there is a potential online community here, but again, that’s for the future”
My bet is that he’ll make that future happen. You can check in with his progress at www.thesoaringengine.co.uk
From Geoff Martin:
G’s book is aimed simply at ‘glider pilots’ but that’s a pretty broad range. Still, I’m one. Sort of… I’m in an ‘Intermediate’ category… for many years soaking up all the soaring gen I could get my hands on. From books, the bar, harassed instructors, or, if all else fails, my own experience. So I reckon I stand to appreciate this the most!
Give this book to someone of vast cross country experience and they’ll
probably tell you they already knew most of the stuff explained in the first half of this book. And someone of huge alpine experience will probably tell you that they already knew most of the contents of the second half. But I bet you that, even in these hardened cases, G will still have some fresh angles and one or two useful thoughts even for them. Give this book to a young keen post-solo pilot and they’ll be stunned by the mass of detail and possibly have little to compare it with.
You have to bear in mind though, that G’s phenomenal experience has been
gained in many parts of the world, notably New Zealand’s Southern Alps,
and although The Soaring Engine has been written with British pilots in mind, we cannot be his only readership. So you might find the odd observation that seems more relevant elsewhere. I might be wrong, but it’s hard to believe that any boggy Scottish slope I’ve ever trudged up is ever going to act as much of a storage heater… even if it has been facing the sun half the day. Maybe more with Alpine limestone, though! But this is a small point.
What grabs me first about this book is the style; brief and tersely straight to the point… so much so you can almost hear G’s voice in your head. The difference between this and nearly all the other books on soaring soon becomes obvious. Gone are the ubiquitous, long-winded ‘Janet and John’ simplifications and, instead, a whole set of structured detail that actually ties up with realities I’ve noticed in the air myself.
For instance; the way thermals get easier to soar the higher you go until at a certain point they tend to spread out and form vague connected patches of very mild lift. I’d often wondered how to measure my transit across a thermal at different heights and lo and behold G spells it out on page 42. It’s helpful, punchy, to the point, and usefully answers a question I used to ask myself repeatedly. I don’t need accurate physics… just sensible rules-of-thumb... and much of this book is stuffed with them.
As for ridge-flying I used to whizz along the South Downs in ignorance and
joy… now I shall hesitate to even go there two-up without a re-run through
G’s sobering opening chapter on ridges again. Imperiling yourself is
effortless! G’s summaries are easy to remember: You always need to know
where the wind is coming from and what it’s doing where you’re heading…
or at least visualise what it’s likely to be doing… and have an es cape route!
The Soaring Engine’s points are wellillustrated. The diagrams are simple…
crude in places… but quite clear and effective. G is not interested in fine points of graphic art… or in photographs for that matter, for there are none. He simply wants to clarify a point and move on. A lot of the book is really all about how to read the ground. Especially interesting
are pages on ‘cold triggers’ and the ways thermal lift is triggered by and interacts with various hill slopes. And it’s this kind of sustained comprehendible detail that sells the book, in my opinion.
In short, the best thing about The Soaring Engine Volume One is the way it
turns highly detailed explanation into bone-practical advice, putting actual numbers on things wherever relevant.
I can’t wait for Volume Two to discuss wave and convergence lift… and after that it’s ‘High Performance Soaring’ with Volume Three. So even our LGS whizz-kids should then be able to find things in it with which to argue over the bar!
More than well-worth the money… I’d say it was essential reading. And you
can probably get it autographed too. As long as it’s summer…
From Jez Hood:
If you have any aspiration of one day becoming a master of soaring, then the first of 3 Volumes of G Dale’s ‘The Soaring Engine’ should be on your reading list. G has begun in Volume 1 by covering the main formats that we all use to soar: ridge and thermal, being used in both flatland and mountain soaring environments.
Many of you will know G well, but for those unfamiliar with him, he is a seasoned professional soaring instructor and coach, GB team member and wearer of disgustingly bright trousers. He has an almost unrivalled knowledge base and experience of most soaring environments on the planet, and this he manages – very effectively, to impart within the main sections of this book, using clear simple diagrams and thought provoking questions and answers.
From his own experiences, G sets out and builds effective models of a subject, always starting with the basics, then fills and grows the model with further theory. In the book’s easy, conversational style, G discusses the practical application of that knowledge, putting it into a context most of us will clearly understand. It helpfully explained a few phenomena that I knew happened, but didn’t know why!
The book also provides useful and memorable rule sets on what to do, and more importantly, what not to do to keep you soaring effectively, efficiently - and safely when close to the ground.
However, the real gem of The Soaring Engine is the feeling that the subject matter covered is not a theoretical idea of what should be covered in the perfect soaring book, but rather a collated set of lesson plans and white board illustrations. Plans that have been used and honed over many years of soaring and cross country instruction for soaring pilots of all abilities to digest and discuss- it isn’t glossy, or filled with beautiful photos, it’s a work book - practical, essential, and real.
Volume 1 of The Soaring Engine is an extremely worthwhile read aimed towards the student (aren’t we all?) but useful to the teacher, and I look forward to reading the next 2 instalments.