Gliding - The Ultimate High!

"It's flying for free,
with the atmosphere as your fuel,

and your intellect as the engine.
You can't beat it."




Mark Jackson's Fly Past

The FAQS about Gliding   Why not visit the BGA site for info on your local club?

So you want to learn more about gliding? Well you need to know the facts, and this is where you'll find them. Below are answers to newcomers' frequently asked questions , also known as FAQS. Just click on the appropriate question for an answer. You'll also find other information related to gliding on this website, so feel free to browse around via the navigation buttons on the left.
If there are no nav buttons like this one, click the cloud.

Do I need a license to fly a glider?

How old do I need to be to fly a glider?

How much does a glider cost? What do gliders look like?
How long does it take to learn to fly a glider? Can I try it out first without joining a club?
What does it cost after joining a club? So who gives trial lessons and teaches us?
How long do trial lessons last? And when I become good at gliding, how long, how high, how far could I go?
How fit do I have to be to fly? Do I need to have a medical check-up?
Are there any size or weight restrictions for pilots?
Can you show me something explaining how gliders are launched?
What happens when the wind stops blowing? Where do I find out about my nearest club, and about holiday courses?
Any web sites just on learning to fly? Has the BGA a Learning to Glide section?


Do I need a license to fly a glider?

In the UK, gliding does not require a government license. Control of gliding has been passed to the sport's national body, the BGA, by the Civil Aviation Authority. The BGA issue a Gliding Certificate instead of a license. In theory, anyone can start up their own gliding club, buy the equipment, and take a launch into the wild blue yonder. In practice, almost all the clubs in the UK are affiliated to the BGA, or work by their rules. This way the training is standardised, all instructors should be teaching the same things, having taken the same instructor's course, and should be assessing their students to the same standards. In other countries you do need a license.
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How old do I need to be to fly a glider?

In the UK, a 16 year old can go solo. In some countries, the lower age limit is 14, and in New Zealand, there is no lower age limit. There is currently some discussion by the BGA to lower the age limit for solo flying to 14. At present most gliding clubs in the UK have their own lower age limit for membership, and for training. It's not really fair to teach a 12 year old how to fly then say "And in another four years time you can go solo!" So many clubs set 15 as the lower age limit for proper training, but give occasional trial lessons to those who are younger. There is no upper limit - I know of someone who was sent on his first solo at 80. And Hans Werner Grosse, gliding's most prolific record breaker (48 world records) and born in 1922, was still trying to set new standards at 80 years of age.
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How much does a glider cost?

How much does a car cost? As much or as little as you can afford. It's the same with gliding, with the bonus that, unlike cars, gliders don't drop in price dramatically, and you can usually get back what you paid for it! The first glider I owned a share of cost £6500, 4 and a half years later we sold it for £10,600, nine years later it was for sale at £9000. (It was the Libelle shown below.) A reasonable glider can cost anywhere from £2,000 to £120,000. The average price is probably between £10 - 20,000. However in the UK, most pilots own a share of a glider. Usually 2, 3, or 4 friends will split the cost between themselves. This dramatically reduces the expense, and you can realistically look at paying between £1000 to £5000 for a share. At every club I've ever visited, shares are advertised for sale as someone moves on to a better (read that as "more expensive") glider. But most newcomers to gliding fly the Club's gliders until they are sure they want to buy one.
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What do gliders look like?

Click the images below for a larger view and more info on some typical gliders.

ASW 28 on its maiden flight

An ASW 28, Schleicher's latest Standard Class dream machine.

ASK 13, resting after a hard day's work.
The ASK 13, a wood and fabric glider, is one of the commonest two seat trainers. Although now superseded by the ASK 21, it is still widely used throughout the world.
The Libelle, my first glider.
The Libelle, one of the first glass fibre gliders, and one of the nicest to fly.


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How long does it take to learn to fly a glider?

How long does it take to learn to drive a car? It varies from person to person. If trained by winch launching, where usually you have a set of three flights as your lesson, anywhere from 60 to 100 flights is normal. And it doesn't matter if you take more - it could easily be that the weather is not suitable for a first solo when you are close to the required standard. If training by aerotow, where you have a set of one flight at time, from 20 to 40 flights would be typical. If you visit the airfield once a week, that's about 20 to 30 weeks. But the one week holiday training courses advertised at clubs can reduce the time dramatically if the weather is kind to you. You CAN learn to fly in a week - the RAFGSA have been running one week courses successfully for 40 years, but realistically, taking a two week course with good weather should have you solo. Learning to fly a glider isn't actually difficult at all. For many people their total airtime is around 5 to 10 hours before their first solo. Compare that with the number of hours spent taking driving lessons and practicing with a friend watching you! Also, you don't have to book a special test to go solo, your instructor is assessing you on every flight and can send you solo when s/he is happy with your flying.
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Can I try it out without joining a club?

Certainly, just phone up a club and book a trial lesson. These are about three times the price of a normal lesson as they include temporary membership of the club, sometimes for as long as three months. Clubs usually offer trial lessons as either a winch launch (£35) or as aerotow (£75). This often includes temporary membership for a few months, so you can return and have a few more flights at a much lower rate. For a one-off present to a friend or just to see what it's like, the more expensive aerotow is much better value for money, and should be your main choice. If you must book a winch launch, ask about the trial membership included in the price, and then book a second or third winch launch for the same time at normal club prices (about a third of the cost of the trial lesson). This is because the temporary membership, even if only for a short time, is a fair proportion of the cost of the trail lesson. The membership part of the cost also means the flights can't be split between two friends on the day.

Sometimes you will see trial lessons advertised in a catalogue company's catalogue or in pretty boxes in shops near Christmas time, or in some "Adventure Sports" brochures.. These are sometimes 30-50% more than the price of normal trial lessons (!!), and the difference (£30-50 extra) goes to the shop, catalogue company, or holiday company. You will get totally the wrong idea about the cost of gliding from these deals. Book directly with a club or through the BGA's trail lesson scheme (see their web site).
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What does it cost after joining a club?

The membership fee for a year varies a great deal from club to club, so it's hard to give an accurate cost. Contact several clubs to get a good idea of the clubs local to where you live. But winch launches usually cost between £4.50 to £6.50 each, and aerotows cost between £24 to £26 to 2000'. Gliders are then rented to you at anywhere from 10p a minute to 40p a minute, depending on the club and the type of glider. Two seat trainers are usually about 20 to 25p a minute. What about the instructor? Oh we get thrown in for free! That's right, free. Because we enjoy teaching gliding so much.
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So who gives trial lessons and teaches us to fly?

In the UK all lessons of any sort are given by qualified instructors. No one else. The BGA sets the standards and monitors all instructors. We are all taught the same course, to the same standard. We give the same lessons the same way, although there is of course some personalisation in the way we present them. We all get checked regularly, attend refresher courses every three years, and are definitely NOT allowed to show off doing silly things to scare students. Any instructor who did that would soon lose their rating and hence be unable to instruct at any BGA club. Gliding is a sport where self-discipline, common sense and good airmanship are of paramount importance. We do not want cowboys in our sport!
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How long do trial lessons last?

That's the tricky one that everyone asks, because it depends so much on the weather. A winch launch would typically be 5 to 10 minutes, while a 2000' aerotow should be 15 to 30 minutes. In summer the longer times apply, but in winter, unfortunately, the shorter times are very likely. In summer we can gain height in thermals to keep you up longer. Never think that the instructor would deliberately give you a short flight. We enjoy flying and want to stay up for as long as practical, and to give you such a good time that you'll come back for more and join the club. For a first flight, it's not a good idea to spend all the time going round in circles, climbing slowly in a thermal, as you might find it too repetitive. You want to handle the controls and do some of the general flying around, so it's not normal to keep you up using thermals for more than 30 minutes or so initially.
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And when I become good at gliding, how long, how high, how far could I go?

In the summer, we would hope to do flights of at least 20 minutes from the winch, and as a solo pilot you'd be aiming at 60 minutes as a nice flight, especially from an aerotow. In the UK we typically climb to 3000 - 5000' on a good day. Expert pilots expect to fly around 200 - 300 km when the weather is good, taking from 3 to 5 hours for the flight. (The UK distance record is 1020 km, while the World distance record is 3008 km!) The five hour flight is a qualifying step for one of the standard awards. Yes, five hours without an engine. It's quite common for a pilot to manage 10 or more flights of about 3 hours every year. As we say, the sky's the limit.
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What happens when the wind stops blowing?

It stops feeling windy. Gliders do not need the wind to fly. They can get extra benefits in the form of lift when it blows against a hillside or over a hill or mountain, known as ridge lift and lee wave respectively, but this is a bonus, not a necessity. Still on weather, we don't fly when the wind is very strong or gusting a lot, so contact the club before you turn up for your lesson if you are new to the sport. The wind in towns can be gustier or calmer than on the airfield, but eventually you'll learn to judge things for yourself. We don't fly in the rain or snow, or when it's misty or foggy. It's often less misty in towns than at the airfield, so if in doubt, phone up.
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Where do I find out about my nearest club?

You can try looking in Yellow Pages or local papers, or asking friends. But in the UK the best way is to contact the British Gliding Association for details. The BGA web site lists all the clubs in the UK. Many have web sites and will have details about courses they run. As mentioned earlier, deal directly with the club, not via a catalogue company or Travel Agent. In America, contact the SSA, whose web site serves a similar purpose.
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How fit do I need to be?

You have to be fit enough to drive a car. You need average eyesight, (wear glasses if you need them), and can read a car number plate at 20 m. You don't need to be strong or have unusually fast reflexes. If there is anything that stops you driving, you can't fly solo, only as a passenger. Medication can stop you flying temporarily, as can illness, including a cold (your eardrums would hurt at altitude). Gliders can be fitted with mechanical aids for disabled people. A friend in a wheelchair instructed for several years, and another friend with a withered arm also instructs. Diabetes doesn't necessarily stop you going solo, but you MUST contact your doctor in this case, and check with the BGA. If you have any doubts that you are fit enough to fly due to some medical condition, contact the BGA who will get advice from their own medical advisors.
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Do I need a medical checkup?

Only if there is any doubt as to your fitness. No medical is required to fly as a student in the UK, and until recently you had to sign a declaration of fitness before you were allowed to fly solo, and if you thought there might be a problem, you simply asked your doctor and had them sign the form if you are fit enough. Guidelines are included on the form to help the doctor. It is compulsory for instructors to have this form signed by a doctor. (This is not a CAA medical for power pilots, which costs lots of money.)

But the rules on medicals have changed recently. Basically you have to be fit enough to drive and now must have a doctor's certificate for a DVLA Group 1 (private drivers) medical to go solo, while for instructors they need a DVLA Group 2 (professional drivers) certificate. This was previously known as an HGV medical. Solo pilots have to renew this certificate every year. This is merely to satisfy the government that gliding takes a responsible attitude to pilot medicals

Full details about the medical are available on this part of the BGA's web site.
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Are there any size or weight restrictions for pilots?

Being small is not usually a problem, although we do not like pilots using soft cushions to pad out the seat - firm cushions are much better. If you are under 5 foot tall, you may have problems reaching the controls. Tall people have more of a problem and if you are over 6 foot 4 inches it may be difficult to fit you into some gliders. There is a minimum and maximum pilot weight for each glider, and if you are over 242 lbs (17 stone) you will have problems with many gliders. Generally 228 lbs (16 stone) is acceptable, but do check with your club in advance. The streamlined shape of gliders makes it difficult for large people to fit in. For light pilots, we can fit ballast weights to take them up to the minimum required.
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