Gliding is aviation sports, in which pilots make use of warm updraughts – thermals, lee waves and ridge lift – to fly unpowered aircraft known as gliders or sailplanes. Gliding as sports saw its start in 1920.
In the beginning, the goal of competing pilots was to stay in the air as long as possible, later competitions included cross-country flying. Fast progress of aerodynamics, composite materials and technologies allowed building better and better sailplanes, thus pilots became able to fly longer distances with greater average speeds.
Top-level glider pilots, given extremely favourable meteorological conditions, manage to cover huge distances at a high average speed. In 2005, during the championships in Finland participants had a task to fly a route of 1000 km. This was the first time in the history of gliding sports that such a long distance was offered for a contest. Finland is a favourable region for gliding due to long daylight hours and its soil which is very efficient in generating thermals.
Nowadays gliding competitions of various levels are held in many countries. The objective of flying is always to maintain optimum gliding speed in given meteorological conditions, so that the competition route would be covered as fast as possible. Pilots apply certain methods of achieving best possible speed, use GPS devices, fill the wings of sailplanes with water ballast. If weather conditions get worse and possibilities to fly all the pre-defined route dwindle, pilots might be forced to land in a field or a meadow. Some gliders are equiped with engines that help avoid landing in pastures in case of deteriorating meteorological situations and allow them to return to the aerodrome.
Every sailplane carries equipment that utilizes GPS signals to record the trajectory of the flight along with many other parameters. This system works as a self-recorder creating a file of a certain format which is submitted by pilots to the referees of a championship as a proof that the start line, fixed turning points and the finish line were overflown correctly. Each day fastest pilots are declared winners and awarded 1000 points. The one who achieves the highest total score during the two weeks of a championship is declared winner of a championship or a competition.