Book Reviews

The British Gliding Association has many gliding books (or at least excerpts thereof) available for online viewing and/or download.  It’s a great way to check something out before you buy.  You can find their archive here.

G Dale, The Soaring Engine

Excellent (albeit somewhat expensive) series of booklets (Vol 1, 2, and 3 have been published, a 4th volume is in the works) that cover all essentials about performance soaring. G Dale is not only an experienced competition pilot (former UK champion and participant at multiple world championships) but also a great teacher (currently working at Omarama’s school of mountain soaring in New Zealand). In succinct, jargon-free language, accompanied by simple and effective illustrations, G explains all aspects of cross country soaring from flat lands to mountains, and utilizing all forms of lift (thermal, convergence, ridge, and wave). G also puts special emphasis on safety, particularly critical in mountainous terrain.

Leo and Ricky Brigliadori, Competing in Gliders – Winning With Your Mind, 2nd Edition

This book builds upon advanced soaring textbooks and focuses predominantly on competition soaring, a subject that only gets rudimentary coverage (if any) in most other soaring literature.  It starts off with some technical tips that are mainly meant as a refresher (e.g. quick thermal centering, following energy lines, adjusting pace and working band), and then moves on into contest strategy and tactics that are not typically covered by soaring textbooks.  A lot of the emphasis is on training the pilot as an athlete, ranging from a discussion of personality and mental preparation to decision making and physical preparation (incl. aspects such as physical exercise and nutrition).  There are also good tips about the role of a coach/trainer, organizing a support team, and the practical aspects of preparing for contests.  A lot of it is very useful for anyone who is seriously trying to improve their own XC performance, and not only those who are competing for national or world titles. The book was originally written in Italian and one of its main shortcomings is that the quality of the translation is somewhat mixed.  It is fairly obvious that the translator is not a soaring pilot herself; several times – especially when covering more technical aspects – I found myself having to read a sentence or paragraph multiple times to decipher the intended meaning.  But do not let this distract you.  This is an important book, overall fairly easy to read and comprehend, and one that fills a void in the usual soaring literature.  It will be interesting to see if others can build on it and take it to an even higher level.

Reichmann, Streckensegelflug (Cross Country Soaring)

Dating back to 1976, this book is still one of the best text books about advanced soaring ever written, and much of it is as valid and relevant today as it was almost 50 years ago.  It is organized into a practical part that is easy to read and conveys key insights that an ambitious cross-country pilots needs to know to fly further and faster.  The second part provides the theoretical underpinnings to deepen the reader’s understanding of key concepts such as Skew-Ts and McCready Theory.  Obviously some sections such as glider instrumentation are somewhat outdated but the reader gets a much deeper appreciation of the additional challenges that XC pilots had to deal with before the advent of GPS navigation and modern flight computers.  Reichman’s writing style is clear and succinct. While the book is clearly not for beginners it is accessible for anyone who wants to become a better cross-country pilot.

Sebastian Kawa, Sky Full of Heat

Sebastian Kawa is the most accomplished glider pilot of all times. This book chronicles his life story from growing up in rural Poland to first sailing and then gliding. The book is organized into two very different parts: the first part is basically a biography in the form of Sebastian’s answers to a series of interview questions; the second part is better organized and written more like a textbook with useful illustrations. In addition to Sebastian’s practical tips, any aspiring competition pilot can find useful insights into an outstanding competition pilot’s mindset. If you’re prepared to glance over a large number of grammatical/editorial errors and are willing to hunt for the many valuable tidbits, the book is not just entertaining but also very worthwhile to read. If you’re looking for a comprehensive and well organized textbook on advanced soaring techniques, that’s not what this book is.

George Moffat, Winning on the Wind

This classic about contest soaring from 1974 is organized in three parts.  The first part is an evaluation of sailplanes, which today is of course only relevant for aficionados of vintage gliders (Nimbus II and ASK 17 were the two hottest ships at that time).  The third part contains entertaining stories about Moffat’s records and championship flights and provides insights into the mind of one of the top competition pilots at the time.  The second part is still highly relevant for anyone wanting to compete in gliders themselves.  There are four chapters.  (1) The first illustrates why winning is mostly about not losing, i.e. avoiding little mistakes that quickly add up over the course of a contest (e.g. we must always start with maximum energy, fly fast through sink surrounding thermals, pull up in lift before banking, learn to judge gaggles from a distance, leave climbs at the right time and accelerate in lift, find the right inter-thermal lines and fly at the right speed. (2) The second deals with contest strategy such as picking the right start time, rounding turnpoints correctly, and focusing on consistency over day wins.  (3) The third explains how we should practice for competition by conditioning our competitive mind, analyzing and learning from our flights, and deliberate flying practice by creating race-like environments and flying on poor weather days. (4) In the fourth chapter, George Moffat provides tips for our first contest covering aspects such as our ship, our crew, setting appropriate goals, and tactical flying aspects.  Here’s my short summary of these four central chapters.  Moffat’s writing style is clear, succinct, and direct and the author freely shares his well-reasoned opinions.  I highly recommend it for anyone interested in contest flying. The book is long out of print but a used copy can easily be obtained online.

Henry Blum, Meteorologie für Segelflieger (in German)

You have been taught and are convinced – no, more than convinced, you positively know – that hot air rises as long as it is warmer than the surrounding air. Not so! asserts Henry Blum.  Scientific studies have proven that only 600-1000 feet above the ground, the temperature differences have all but disappeared.  How can this be?  We know the air continues to rise.  We use it all the time to climb to 5000, 10000, 15000 feet above the ground, sometimes even more.  And often the lift gets stronger the higher we climb.  How is this possible if the temperature differences have long been gone?  The answer: it’s all got to do with humidity!  You’re skeptical?  I’m not surprised.  So was I.  But then I never really understood why I often find the best lift next to lakes.  Humid air is lighter than dry air and the relative humidity of rising air increases as its temperature drops, thereby increasing the air’s tendency to rise faster and faster even though there are no longer any measurable temperature differences between the rising air and the adjacent airmass. If you’re intrigued – and I was – this book is a must read.  You’ll better understand why thermals tend to be weaker on blue days than on days with nice cus.  And the enhanced understanding of thermals will even help you find (better) lift in places that you might not have even considered before.  There’s obviously a lot more to this book than this, but this one revelation is central to a lot of what you will learn.  I’m not sure if there’s an English version of the book (unfortunately I could not find one).

Rolf Hertenstein, Riding On Air – Ridge, Wave, & Convergence Lift

Rolf Hertenstein brings 40 years of soaring experience and a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science to this book. However, unlike some other works written by scientists, this one is easy to read and stays very practical throughout. You certainly don’t need a Ph.D. yourself in order to follow. Rolf does a great job explaining complex phenomena such as wave lift with the aid of simulated models and translating them into practical tips for the (more complex) real world. He also has a lot of flying experience in the Colorado Rockies, so his examples and illustrations are especially pertinent for anyone flying there. Strongly recommended!

Bernard Eckey, Advanced Soaring Made Easy

This book is written primarily for glider pilots who are just about to make the step towards cross country soaring.  It bridges the gap between introductory soaring textbooks that focus primarily on the basic principles and safety of powerless flight, and the more dedicated, often jargon filled, literature about cross country flying targeted at already advanced soaring pilots.  I have found a lot of excellent practical tips in Eckey’s work especially with respect to thermaling techniques (e.g. where to look for thermals, how to center them quickly, what bank angle and air speed to use, etc.).  The book is a bit light on mountain flying, so make sure to not use this as your only reference before you head into challenging terrain.  Also, I found that sometimes the book makes statements or specific recommendations without fully explaining their theoretical underpinnings, leaving me wanting for more, or, at times, even making me question the validity of a statement or recommendation.

Jean-Marie Clément, Danse avec de vent (French original) or Dancing with the Wind (English translation)

This is probably the most advanced and most comprehensive text book on ridge and wave soaring ever written. I’ll also admit that it is a real challenge to read.  Jean-Marie Clément is a French engineer whose writing style is complex and technical. Unfortunately, the English translation is very literal, further adding to the complexity.  My level of French may have never been sufficient to read this book in its original.  Nevertheless, I often found myself re-reading one of the many paragraph-long sentences three or four times, and translating them back into French in my head, in order to grasp the essence of its meaning.  But if you want to fully understand how and why waves form and how the hydraulic jump works, you must find the time to work through this book.  Just remember that your p/t ratio (pages read per time) will be dramatically lower than usual.  One reviewer on put it this way: “Pour bien saisir ce livre, il faut au minimum un niveau de mathématiques spéciales ou d’élève ingénieur dans une Grande École.” How true!

Joe Karam, One Glider Pilot’s First Hundred Hours, from Flight School to Rescue Mission

Joe Karam is a fascinating, multi-talented character. Born in Beirut, brought up in France, Joe moved to the United States, obtained three college degrees from Stanford, became a serial inventor at Google, and then decided to pursue a career in theater and drama in Los Angeles.  All before he was 28.  On the side, he also became a triathlete and a soaring pilot and wrote this book about his experiences.  Joe is not only exceptionally smart but also a very gifted writer and a bit of a romantic. This book is a very personal account that will be of interest to any aspiring soaring pilot who is looking for a literal “buddy” to compare experiences with, and someone from whom they can obtain additional inspiration for their own story.

Richard A. Wolters, Once Upon a Thermal

Witten in 1974, this is a “story book” that complements Dick Walter’s previous work about “The Art and Technique of Soaring”.  “Once Upon a Thermal” starts with Dick, a professional writer, stumbling into soaring at the age of 48 when he got tired of authoring books about dogs and was looking for a new subject.  He joined a soaring club that was home to some of the world’s best soaring pilots at the time, and it may not be all too surprising that he soon found himself competing in various contests.  He didn’t perform all too well: most of his flights ended with hilarious and sometimes bizarre land-out experiences.  However, it is these tales that make the book a very entertaining read. Fans of the classic soaring movie “The Sunship Game” will also fondly recall several scenes from the motion picture.  The book was written at the hay-day of soaring. At 45+ years old some of the humor may not feel appropriate, but it’s still a lot of fun to get taken back to a by-gone era when navigation was one of the top challenges and when soaring pilots almost necessarily had to be colorful and eccentric characters.

  • Robert F. Wheelan, Exploring the Monster
  • Jochen von Kalkreuth, Segeln über den Alpen
  • Tom Bradbury, Meteorology and Flight