What is the world’s fastest model aircraft? No it’s not a jet… it’s a glider, and the record stands at a mind bending 545 mph. And the duration record? Answer: over 39 hours!
Astonishing though these records may be, they were achieved using a simple energy source: the wind blowing over a hill. Of all the model glider disciplines, slope soaring is the one which will bring you closest to nature.
How it works
Slope soaring depends on a simple observation: wind blowing onto a hill must follow its contours, and it’s the vertical component keeps our gliders aloft. The slope may be anything from a 15 feet sand dune, to a lofty mountainside. The angle of the slope too determines the amount of lift. The only other requirement is for the slope to be clear of trees and provide a safe landing area.
Slope lift is reliable, however the fun really starts when it combines with heat from the sun to create thermal lift. The two together make for an intense flying experience, allowing you to convert height into speed, perform aerobatics, then climb and repeat the cycle.
Slope gliders come in all shapes and sizes, from 800 mm deltas made out of ceiling tiles, to 4 meter scale sailplanes, to carbon/glass racing models. Each will differ in terms of wind speed requirements (5 – 50 mph), agility (sport/ aerobatic) and ability to make use of thermals. Most pilots will keep a collection of two or three models for different conditions.
There are a couple of low-costs paths for the beginner. The first is with a semi-rigid foam model of around 2 meters span, with rudder, elevator and aileron controls. Alternatively, many pilots start with a simple 2-channel flying wing. Both types are very durable and a quick Google search will reveal suitable sources.
An inexpensive radio with four channels is all that’s needed to get going. As you progress with larger and more sophisticated models, you may want to add spoilers or brakes for more precise landings.
Join a club
We’re blessed in the UK with a great variety of sites, often with stunning views, so if you like to combine hill walking with your favourite hobby, slope soaring is for you! Do consider joining a club - apart from the social aspects, a club will provide training and advice, allowing you to progress rapidly.
F3F is the FAI-recognised world competition class for slope racing. It is a mature class with a history going back to the 1970s, and is well supported both in the UK and abroad. The UK league is administered by the Great Britain Slope Racing Association (GBSRA), and there’s a full calendar of league and non-league events throughout the year.