The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Education > People



The Aviation Club—winning the All Japan Student Gliding Championship
“Rising air” is the key to victory

Takuto Adachi
Norie Hirai

Gliding is a competitive sport; pilots compete against time while maneuvering unpowered aircraft, flying freely through the sky. Waseda University’s Aviation Club is a strong team nationally. But, what is an unpowered aircraft like? That is where the excitement of races lies. Adachi, who won an individual championship in the 2012 All Japan Student Gliding Rookie Championships, a first in the history of the club, described it as follows, “An aircraft 15 meters wide to which wire taxis are attached; the craft soars by rewinding the wire rapidly with a machine. I can fly very close to birds, as the cockpit is small, and I feel the power of the wind more directly because the aircraft does not have an engine. That is the moment I enjoy myself.”

Photo provided by Masatoshi Kameo
Adachi received a trophy when the club won the first championship of the team competition since 2009 at the 2014 All Japan Student Gliding Championships.

Once airborne, the aircraft is unable to climb by itself. Thus, rising air plays an important role. For example, if there is a large factory on the ground, the reflected heat warms the air, producing a thermal in the atmosphere. A pilot moves the aircraft into the thermal to gain altitude up to around 2,000 meters while flying around in tight circles, then glides along the course using soaring power. As the aircraft’s altitude decreases, the pilot tries to catch another current of rising air. By repeating this process, the pilot can finish a 40-kilometer course in about 30 minutes.

“Thermals are encountered where black kites are flying or under cumulus clouds. Another important thing is to find a better air current by sensing how the aircraft sways or drifts.” Adachi, who explained the key to victory thus, used to be too afraid to ride a roller coaster. “I was in the rugby club in high school, but I could not play an active part as I was small. So, I wanted to join a club that could become the best in Japan.” Just as he imagined, the club won the first championship in the team competition since 2009 at the 2014 All Japan Student Gliding Championships, splendidly realizing his dream.

Meanwhile, Hirai, one of the few female members, reflected on the test flight, which was her first flight, thus: “Before I knew it, I was amazingly high up in the sky, and I was just frightened [laughs]. I recalled that I wanted to become a pilot someday when I was enjoying journeys by airplane in my childhood. So, I wanted to see if I could fly in the sky.” Flying aircraft requires one to acquire a Private Pilot Certificate and a radio operator license. Although doing so was a challenge for Hirai, who has a background in the arts, she managed to earn both after studying hard between classes. She is also a reliable aircraft radio chief who supports the team. “Gliding is a competitive sport, where we join together with crew as a team just like a Formula 1 race. I couldn’t be happier when we achieve good results in a race in perfect harmony.”

Currently, club members are training every weekend by staying at a training camp, aiming to win their second consecutive All Japan Student Gliding Championship. The Tokyo 6 University League Glider Championships is scheduled for September. At the same time, Hirai is making job hunting efforts. Although she is participating in recruiting fairs in a wide range of industries, her first choice is, of course, the airline business. Adachi plans to go on to graduate school to conduct research on space. After that, his new dream is to gain a qualification that allows him to be a leader in order to bring up junior members of the aviation club. “I am totally hooked on the excitement of gliding. So, I hope more people will come to know this joy.”

Up in the air, he flies at a speed of around 90 kilometers per hour. “I’m not scared at all, as I’m used to it now,” said Adachi.

There are many instruments in place in the cockpit; its structure differs little from that of ordinary aircraft, save that gliders are unpowered.

Friends who watch and wait on the ground are also valued teammates.


Takuto Adachi
Fourth Year, School of Advanced Science and Engineering

Originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, Takuto Adachi graduated from Prefectural Shonan High School. He loves gliding so much he says, “my hobby is the club.” He studies to find something useful for competitions even on days when he does not practice to prepare for races.

Norie Hirai
Fourth Year, School of Law

Originally from Hyogo Prefecture, Norie Hirai graduated from Prefectual Seiryo Senior High School. Her hobby is reading, and she likes Koutaro Isaka and other novelists. She recommends A Cheerful Gang Turns the Earth and OH! FATHER, etc.