Moriarty’s skies will feature some high-flying pilots in a race for gliders, with participants vying for the title of national champion.

The Moriarty Airport will host the Club Class National Sailplane Championships, said airport manager Bob Hudson.

Club Class means that all of the aircraft are basically the same, Hudson said, akin to stock car racing. Pilots compete for time in the air and distance.

The week-long event will host 30 of the country’s best glider pilots and support crew, who will descend on Moriarty Saturday, he said. Pilots have two practice days, weather permitting.

The gliders are standard, with a wingspan of 15 meters, or 49 feet. “They’re all matched evenly, so it’s not the airplane that’s going to win the course, it’s going to be the pilot,” Hudson said, adding, “We’re not going to have any of the big cosmic gliders that cost $200,000.”

The public is welcome to observe mass launches and recovery of the racers as well, Hudson said.

Mass launches will take place around 12:30 p.m. daily, and racers return to the field around 4 p.m., he said. To view the racers, follow the “glider rides” signs to Sundance Aviation.

All of the gliders must be airborne before the race starts, so the sky will be filled with dozens of sailplanes, he said.

Sailplanes, or gliders, are aircraft that fly without an engine, using thermals to gain altitude. Glider pilots in Florida “are happy if they get to 4,000 feet,” Hudson said, while pilots in Moriarty’s conditions regularly fly above 15,000 feet—high enough to need oxygen—and sometimes staying aloft for many hours and traveling hundreds of miles.

“When you get that high, you can go a long distance,” Hudson said. “Your only restriction is how big your bladder is, and how long you can stand cold feet.”

Moriarty’s soaring conditions are known worldwide among glider pilots. Mountains surrounding flatlands mean “we get what’s known as a wave, … which helps lift gliders into the air” from the mountains, Hudson said. “Mostly we get thermals. A dust devil is a thermal.”

At a certain temperature, the air starts to circulate, and rise, he said. “You try to find that thermal and get into it—it lifts you higher and higher.”

In flight, gliders are “very relaxing, very quiet, and very comfortable,” said Hudson, who is a pilot. His sailplane will be in the competition with someone else in the pilot’s seat as he manages the airport from the ground.

Children are especially welcome, and Hudson hopes events like these will attract future pilots.

“We’re very close to a national emergency and shortage in pilots,” Hudson said, adding that industry projections are that “in a couple of years we’ll be 6,000 pilots short if we don’t get some young folks going.”

Race results are tracked by a GPS within the glider, and each day a course is set. Pilots must circle certain points along the route and get points for various things, he said. At the end of the competition, the pilot with the most points wins the championship.

“Because this is a national contest, we won’t have less experienced pilots [competing],” Hudson said. “They’re all very accomplished pilots wanting to be known as the national champion.” Competitors are from around the United States.

Those interested in soaring or learning to pilot a glider can give it a try at the Moriarty Airport, which has both a soaring club and a commercial operation offering flights and flying lessons.

To learn more, contact the Moriarty Airport at 505-832-5072.

He said the community of glider pilots is friendly and helpful.

“It is a niche sport, but we do find that when people get an orientation flight they get an interest,” Hudson said. “New Mexico from the air is a very beautiful state.”

To see results and data about flights by pilots in the competition, visit this link.