Glider – How It Works
Non-motor gliders, how do they fly?
Glider trades altitude for velocity. It trades the potential energy difference from a higher altitude to a lower altitude to produce kinetic energy, which means velocity. Gliders are always descending relative to the air in which they are flying.
If gliders constantly descend, how do they circle in air for hours?
Gliders are designed to be very efficient, to descend very slowly. If the pilot can locate a pocket of air that is rising faster than the glider is descending, the glider can actually gain altitude, increasing its potential energy. Pockets of rising air are called updrafts. Updrafts are found when a wind blowing at a hill or mountain has to rise to climb over it. Updrafts can also be found over dark land masses that absorb heat from the sun. The heat from the ground warms the surrounding air, which causes the air to rise. Rising pockets of hot air are called thermals. Large gliding birds, such as owls and hawks, are often seen circling inside a thermal to gain altitude without flapping their wings. Gliders do exactly the same thing.
Source: www.Howstuffworks.com, www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/glider.html