U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Air Force Academy cadets soared to their eighth straight national sailplane racing championship and their 14th in 18 years, the Soaring Society of America announced Dec. 5.
This year's team posted more miles than any other in Academy history with more than 30,700 miles, nearly twice as many miles as they flew in 2011, said Lt. Col. Richard Roller, the 94th Flying Training Squadron commander.
"This is the best sailplane racing team in the history of (Air Force Academy) soaring," Roller said.
Cadets flew some of the longest such flights in the team's 43-year history, with four flights of 320 miles or more, Roller said. The overall distance places the team among the top 12 percent of all soaring clubs worldwide.
Cadets 1st Class Chris Olson and Ryan Moran posted the longest TG-10 flight in Academy history, flying southwest of Cañon City, Colo., and returning to the Academy. Cadet 1st Class Dave Dunkel flew to Gunnison, Colo., and back -- a round trip of nearly 340 miles.
The team also broke its record for the longest-duration flight, with one flight that lasted more than seven hours, Roller said.
"Cross-country flying is a difficult task to perform well," Roller said. "It takes years of experience, but our cadets learn quickly and exceed expectations. These young officer candidates fly hundreds of miles after only a 2,000-foot aerotow above the ground and fly for several hours on thermals and wave activity."
The team earned six SSA collegiate scholarship awards and 17 youth distance records across four states, also the most in Academy history, Roller said.
In another first for the Academy, all six cadets on the sailplane racing team earned gold badges through the International Air Sports Federation, or FAI, Roller said. To earn a gold badge from the FAI, a pilot must soar at least 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, and must gain 3,000 meters of altitude from tow cable release.
The sailplane racing team also boasts two cross-country instructor pilots who are among the youngest instructor pilots in the Air Force, Roller said. The cadet instructors accounted for 85 percent of the 94th FTS' upgrade training, Roller said.
The sailplane racing team competes primarily in the TG-15A and TG-15B gliders. TG-15As measure 28 feet long with a 65-foot wingspan, while TG-15Bs are somewhat smaller, measuring 22 feet with a 49-foot wingspan. Gen. Mike Hostage, the commander of Air Combat Command, flew in a TG-15A during a visit to the Academy in August.
"This is world-class," Hostage said during his visit. "I've been flying gliders for 34 years, and I've been privileged to fly in maybe a dozen different glider operations around the country ... but nothing close to this. This is fantastic."