Frequently Asked Questions About Gliding
How old must I be?
You must be at least 15 years of age to fly a glider solo, but training can start before then. There is no upper age limit.
Is there a medical examination?
Not normally, although glider pilots who carry paying passengers must have a medical with their General Practitioner. You should be physically fit, and have good eyesight (wearing glasses is no problem!).
Some gliders have been modified for people with physical disabilities. If in doubt - ask!
What are sailplanes made of?
Various materials. The earlier designs, many of which are still in service, are made of fabric over timber or metal tube. Many all-metal gliders are used - usually constructed from aluminium, while the later models use high tech composite materials such as glass-reinforced plastic, carbon fibre and various plymer Aramids.
How does a sailplane stay up?
They use gravity and the flow of air over the wings to advantage, to overcome their own weight. The wings are designed to generate lift at very low speeds. When the lift equals the weight, the glider becomes airborne. It does this by moving through the air at various angles to the airflow, which allow it to climb or cruise.
Modern sailplanes have a top speed of up to 300km/h. When thermalling they will fly as slowly as possible, around 70 to 90km/h. When cruising between thermals they will fly between 100 and 200km/h.
On a day with very strong up-currents, gliders on cross-country tasks will carry perhaps 100 litres of water in tanks within the wings. This ballast improves performance in a glide, and will be jettisoned if conditions weaken, or prior to landing.
Is gliding safe?
Gliding is a very safe form of aviation and its members are extremely safety conscious. The Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA), the controlling body, has prescribed safety standards for operations, training and sailplane maintenance, which must be strictly adhered to.
How do you get a licence to fly a sailplane?
There are no licences in gliding. As you progress you will receive a rating for each major achievement you make, such as when you first fly solo. The ratings are recorded in your log book, which becomes proof of your gliding achievements no matter where you go.
What will it cost?
This can vary widely depending on the club you join, and the launch method used. As a rough guide, it would cost the average member who trains regularly, around $600 to $1,000 to the solo stage. Membership fees also vary, depending on the location of the club and the facilities it owns.
Are there any examinations?
No, but you will be tested by club instructors on the "Rules of the Air" before you fly by yourself.
What qualifications do I need?
None - the sport is for anyone from any walk of life. A good measure of common- sense is needed to apply the Rules of the Air to your flying.
How is training organised?
All your training will take place in a two-seater dual controlled sailplane, with an instructor registered with the GFA. The initial part of the training takes you to a stage where you can fly solo in a glider. Everyone follows a set training syllabus, which is common throughout Australia.
At most clubs training is done on the basis of 'learn at your own pace'. Some clubs or commercial operations conduct intensive full-time training courses. This can be a good way to get started.
Obviously you can tailor your training to your own preferences and your budget.
How often should I train?
To ensure progress, once a fortnights is a minimum; once a week is preferable, at least in the initial stages.
How long does it take to go solo?
This will vary, depending on ability and how regularly you train. An average time to solo would be 10 to 15 hours of flying time.
Who decides when I can fly solo?
Your instructor. After completion of training and check flights, you will be able to fly solo only when the instructor is satisfied that your flying is safe and competent.
Do you fly in winter?
Gliding is an all-year-round sport in Australia. Strong winds will hamper gliding because of ground-handling problems. Too much rain makes it difficult for the ground crews but occasional showers won't stop operations. Bad weather often means a chance to catch up on maintenance problems.
Will gliding count if I take up power flying?
Yes. Soaring pilots can have their power licence training hours reduced in line with their gliding experience. Each individual is assessed by the flying school.
Once I'm solo, what can I aim for?
Going solo is just the start! As you progress, you'll graduate to flying single-seater sailplanes and will be encouraged to undertake cross-country flying.
You will also aim for recognised gliding certificates - one of the first is the 'C' certificate. The main requirement for this is two soaring flights, each of one hour's duration. Then comes the Silver badge, which requires a five hour duration flight, a 50km cross-country, and a height gain of 1,000 metres.
The Gold badge calls for a cross-country flight of 300km, and a gain in height of 3,000m. 'Diamonds' are then added for a 300km flight to a nominated destination, for a 500km flight, and for a height gain of 5,000m. Certificates are issued for flights of 750km, 800km and 1,000km.
And what after that?
Gliding competitions are held at club, regional, national and international level. There are records to be aimed for, again at all these levels, in any number of categories.
Records are set in single or two-place sailplanes, and self-launchers, for men and women, and can be for distance achieved, or more commonly for speed around a triangular course of from 100km to over 1,000km.
And of course you can always race yourself around a course, against the clock, to improve your personal best time.
But if you prefer not to bother with competitions, there is a lot of pleasure to be had from soaring the local skies, watching the ever-changing scenery, free from the worries of earth-bound life!