Cross Country Flying

As the performance of gliders improved in the 1960s, the concept of flying as far away as possible became unpopular with the crews who had to retrieve the gliders. Pilots now usually plan to fly around a course (called a task) via turn-points, returning to the starting point. 

In addition to just trying to fly further, glider pilots also race each other in competitions. The winner is the fastest, or, if the weather conditions are poor, the furthest round the course. Tasks of up to 1,000 km have been set and average speeds of 120 km/h are not unusual. 

Initially, ground observers confirmed that pilots had rounded the turn-points. Later, the glider pilots photographed these places and submitted the film for verification. Today, gliders carry secure GNSS Flight Recorders that record the position every few seconds from GPS satellites. These recording devices now provide the proof that the turn-points have been reached. 

An impressive 600 km flight performed by Phil Jeffery in June 2011 flying a Ventus 2CX, flying at a average speed of 97 kph the task took just over six hours to complete.

National competitions generally last one week, with international championships running over two. The winner is the pilot who has amassed the greatest number of points over all the contest days. However, these competitions have as yet failed to draw much interest outside the gliding community for several reasons. Because it would be unsafe for many gliders to cross a start line at the same time, pilots can choose their own start time. Furthermore, gliders are not visible to the spectators for long periods during each day's contest and the scoring is complex, so traditional gliding competitions are difficult to televise. In an attempt to widen the sport's appeal, a new format, the Grand Prix, has been introduced. Innovations introduced in the Grand Prix format include simultaneous starts for a small number of gliders, cockpit mounted cameras, telemetry giving the positions of the gliders, tasks consisting of multiple circuits, and simplified scoring.

There is a decentralized Internet-based competition called the Online Contest, in which pilots upload their GPS data files and are automatically scored based on distance flown. Worldwide, 6,703 pilots registered for this contest in 2010.

This video is of a 750 km cross country flight.


This video shows the density of glider flights in the UK. (Higher peaks are more flights)