How it works
The sun only ever warms the ground, the air only to a very small extent. This heat is stored and slowly released. The layers of air above the heated part of the ground absorb the “radiant heat”, separate and rise. Glider pilots call this a thermal, or “a beard”.
The glider, on the other hand is subject to gravity. It MUST sink after being pulled to a certain height. Now every glider is a sculpture of aerodynamics, designed and built to sink as little as possible — depending on the respective forward speed. If the warm air masses rise faster than the descent speed of our airplane, we succeed in gliding. We stay up there. It is a “heavenly” play with potential and kinetic energy, with the exception of take-off, powered by solar energy.
How a whole flight looks like can be seen in this 3D reconstruction (click on the play symbol). The GPS and altitude data of a flight from Neuruppin to Kammermark and back are displayed here.
And here is another magical video, which our gliding comrades from Schwäbisch Gmünd allowed us to show on our site. It is really worth watching: