Be honest. Whatever your level of skill or experience, wouldn’t you love to fly with at least a bit more finesse? Don’t you wish there were some eclectic disciplines to sharpen technique, extend your limits and augment control? Well there are! And you don’t need to go out of your way or spring for any specialized equipment to take advantage. Say you’re fiddling around locally and there’s more lift than you know what to do with, or maybe you can’t handle any more ecstasy and just wanna get down. Any time you have nothing more ‘important’ to do is the right time for some glider calisthenics.

First of course, find a quiet corner of airspace clear of traffic, runways and airways, because some of these drills can be considered aerobatic. An established practice area might be perfect, especially if it comes with convenient lift. Also, don’t forget to announce your intentions on the appropriate frequency, then go have fun.

  • A good way to start is by turning continuously from side to side like a skier on a slalom run. The moment you enter each turn, begin rolling the other way, and make a point of keeping the yaw string centered and airspeed constant!
  • Leading right into the venerable dutch roll, where you bank from 45 to 45 and back as snappy as possible without yawing while also keeping the string straight. This exposes the languid response of that long wing, where trying to roll any quicker results only in more drag and less control. (Shh: the trick is to lead with aileron ahead of rudder by about half a cycle. Don’t tell anybody.)
  • Now see how absolutely slow you can fly while rolling into and out of coordinated turns, ickier the better. This can amount to a continuous stall recovery never quite begun. Hint: bring your feet!
  • Next, level up and stay in the incipient stall, then see how efficiently you can execute a sharp 180 from there. Caveat: turning too far before recovery doesn’t count (it’s a spin recovery, stupid)!
  • Or practice slipping at extreme angles and various speeds while holding a straight ground track — both directions naturally. And always try to roll out on a precise heading! (BTW, for power pilots new to gliders, there’s no need to slip with a nose low attitude. Keep pitch about level to limit lateral stress on your precious tail.)
  • Ready for a real challenge? Try working a thermal with stick only – hee hee hee – and then with rudder only. It can be terribly awkward, but usually possible, and like all these drills, more fun and more truly elevating than so many of the standard procedures we wade through every flight.

That last one give you the willies? If not, these next two might, but folks I’ve shared them with over the years have enjoyed them plenty. See what you think.

  • Dive to about the yellow arc, then smoothly and firmly pull up and up — and UP until you’re very nearly out of gas. Object being to go forward stick at just the right time and follow your nose over the top in zero-G. Well timed, you can get airspeed down to ten knots or less without ever stalling! (The first few tries you’ll likely get some kind of half-arsed hammerhead complete with gravel in the eyes as inertia swaps ends, but that’s okay so long as you and all the gear were quite secure beforehand…) Speed builds very quickly when you’re pointed down again, so recovery can bring you back to the yellow arc in a blink, but no further — if you do it right.
  • Any left? Add one more dimension. Let the bird adopt whichever attitude she wishes, with your input or without. Three-G, negative-G, thirty-degree pitch, eighty-degree bank, whatever she likes, with two restraints familiar by now: keep the yaw string straight and respect that yellow arc. What you’ll learn from this ride is that even more rudder is needed at extreemely slow speeds, and changes in pitch profoundly influence coordination.

And on it goes.
Done properly, such exercises are quite safe and tons of fun. They promote mastery of your craft at the edges of its envelope — where mastery is most important. Imagine a world of ways to loosen your bounds and up your game, with many yet undiscovered. See if you can develop some of your own, and if they work great, pass ‘em on! What better way to spend all that excess energy?