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Solar powered aviation soars at Waterloo

Monday, August 13, 2018

glider aircraft“Learning to fly gliders enables our students to understand the simplicity of flight principles, the complexity of GPS computer systems and the beautiful dynamics of the environment around us.”   Paul Parker, Professor at the Faculty of Environment

In 2016, Aviation students Jeff Dixon and Robert Zachemski placed among the top 10 pilots in the club class of the National Gliding Championship. This year, Paul Parker, a volunteer gliding instructor and Chair of the Department of Geography when the Geography and Aviation program was created, came in first place. The contest was held over 10 days (Aug 1-10) at the Rockton airfield south of Cambridge with gliders taking to the skies on six of those days. The Rockton airfield is home to SOSA (Southern Ontario Soaring Association) where Dixon, Parker and Zachemski are members.

Gliding is an excellent way for students to learn the fundament principles of flight and to focus on local details of atmospheric science. The life cycle of clouds can change through the day and pilots need to learn to read their sky environment to maximize their rate of climb. They also need to understand potential sources of lift on the ground. Since the glider has no engine, pilots focus on their surrounding environment to think about where the sun has headed the ground that will in turn heat the air that rises up to form a cloud. It is - solar powered aviation.

To get started, the gliders are towed up to 2000 feet altitude by tow planes, but after that pilots have to find currents of rising air to gain height and race across the countryside. The fastest speed over the designated course (a series of turn points set by the Contest Director) wins the day. If pilots are unable to complete the course, they still get points for the distance that they covered (details are monitored with GPS units). Daily scores are accumulated for the competition total. Distances covered by the club class contestants were up to 280 kilometers in three hours. The final day of the contest had the strongest lift with gliders reaching heights of 5-6000 feet above the ground.

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