What is a Glider?

What is a Glider? Hero Image

What is a Glider

Gliders, also known as sailplanes, are engine-less aircraft. Glider pilots participate in a recreational type of flying known as soaring.

Unable to fly like traditional powered aircraft, gliders achieve flight with the aid of a small airplane that tows the glider aloft using a rope called a towline. Once the glider reaches the desired altitude, the glider pilot releases the towline. Once the towline is released, the glider pilot takes complete control of the sailplane.

After releasing the towline, skilled glider pilots take advantage of columns of rising warm air in the atmosphere to maintain and gain altitude. These rising columns of warm air, known as thermals, allow gliders to take advantage of the same phenomena that eagles, vultures, and hawks leverage to gain altitude without flapping their wings.

Sailplanes have a wide wingspan with thin wings, allowing them to both climb efficiently in thermals and soar back towards earth.

Glider Flights

Pilots or pilots-to-be can find glider flights through commercial soaring operators and specialty glider clubs. Flying gliders with a club is often the most cost effective way to learn how to fly gliders, as glider clubs don't operate for profit. Aspiring aviators without access to a glider club may be able to find a commercial soaring operator.

Both glider clubs and commercial glider operators provide introductory glider flights. These generally involve a tow up to 2,000 - 3,000 feet above ground level, allowing for a soaring time of around 20 minutes.

After taking an introductory glider flight, those that wish to earn their soaring wings can anticipate tows to higher altitudes, with some tows as high as 5,000 - 6,000 feet above ground level.

Why Learn to Fly Gliders?

Flying gliders is a ton of fun. But, if fun isn't enough of an excuse, glide pilots often make for more well rounded aviation professionals.

Experienced aviators agree those with glider flight experience often have an easier time developing refined stick & rudder skills. Flying a glider forces pilots to maintain high levels of situational awareness while managing the available power and enhances knowledge of atmospheric dynamics. Unlike a power aircraft, gliders can't chance a missed approach!

Unlike a noisy Cessna 172, gliders are profoundly quiet. Whether you're flying to build flight time or for leisure, there is nothing quite like the solitude and quiet of unpowered glider flight.

How much does it cost to fly gliders?

In short, it depends. Glider tows can range in price from $10 to $100. Flying glider can be a great way to build total time for pilots with a reasonably priced club nearby. Those limited to commercial operators may find powered flight more worthwhile, unless they're eager to pick up the additional glider rating for personal satisfaction.

What are the requirements to be a glider pilot?

For new glider pilots, those without a power private pilot rating, the following steps are required to independently operate gliders while soaring.

How old do you need to be to fly gliders?

Student pilots can being glider flight training at any age. However, student pilots can not operate a glider solo until 14. Pilots must be at least 16 years of age before obtaining a private pilot glider rating.

Do glider pilots need a medical certificate?

While a medical certificate is not required to pilot a glider, glider pilots can not have any medical conditions preventing safe operation of glider flight.

How many flights do you need to become a glider pilot?

To obtain a private pilot certificate with a glider rating, pilots must complete a minimum of 20 glider flights.

How much flight time do you need to be glider pilot?

Glider pilots must have at least 2 hours of solo glider flight time. In addition, those pursuing a glider rating need a least 10 hours of flight instruction and a minimum of 10 solo glider flights.

Glider pilots must also pass a FAA knowledge test before an oral and flight test with an FAA examiner.

Glider Rating Add-on Requirements

Pilots with a valid FAA private pilot license and 40 hours of pilot-in-command flight time can obtain a glider rating add-on after the following minimum requirements are met:

  • • 3 hours of flight with a glider instructor
  • • 10 glider training flights
  • • 10 solo glider flights in preparation for the glider flight exam
  • • 3 glider training flights in preparation for the glider practical exam

Most powered-pilots require between 10 and 20 glider flights to obtain the rating.