Gliding FAQ

What is gliding?

Broadly, what you want it to be.

The simple definition is that a glider is an aircraft that instead of using engine power to prevent it from descending gently to the ground, can be kept airborne by the pilot finding rising air. Staying up using only the lift available in the atmosphere is what we mean by 'soaring'.

Any pilot who has been sufficiently trained to fly on his own will have acquired the skills to stay airborne during a typical fine summer day. What you do after that depends on you.

Some pilots simply continue to enjoy the experience of being airborne. On a sunny weekend afternoon this may mean an hour or two flying comfortably within a few miles of the home airfield.

More adventurous pilots may want to fly cross-country away from their home site. A typical cross-country flight will consist of a series of climbs and glides heading away from the site, and then, when it's time to turn round the same thing coming back. Very occasionally the lift fails, and then a landing in a field follows, followed by a phone call and a retrieve with car and trailer.

Those who enjoy a real challenge and want to hone their skills can fly in competitions, racing other pilots round a fixed course.

And, if that's what floats your boat, we can provide aerobatics training.

So what keeps a glider airborne?

Two types of lift are commonly used in flights from Rufforth:

Thermals: these are bubbles of warm air which rise due to convection. Although they can occur at most times of the year, the best time for thermal soaring is in the spring and summer months, roughly April to September.

Wave: Picture a fast but smooth flowing stream with an obstruction just below the surface. See those ripples going downstream? Now picture a steady west wind blowing over the Pennines, with the ripples extending well downwind and going much higher than the hills themselves. Good wave lift is less common than thermals, but can give some really spectacular flying and can occur at any time of the year.

How do you get into the air?

There are two commonly used methods of launching. The most versatile of these is by aerotow- the glider is towed up usually to about 1500 or 2000 feet; on a good day this is enough to contact thermals and get away. Also, a good tug pilot will tow the glider to where the lift is best. This is particularly important for soaring in wave as it's often necessary to get to about 3000 ft and quite possibly 2-3 miles from the airfield to contact the lift.

A more economical way of getting into the air is behind a winch. Instead of expensive aviation fuel, winches run on diesel, and the cost of the launch is about a quarter of what it would be on aerotow. However winch launches only go to 900- 1400 feet (depending on how much headwind there is) so more skill (or luck) is needed to contact lift.

One advantage of the winch is that it can be very cost-effective at certain stages of training, for instance when the pupil is learning to take off and land.

How long can you stay up? How high? How far?

First question first because it's the one everyone asks. It depends on the weather on the day of course. The ground needs to heat up for thermals to form and cools again in the evening. In the summer flights of five hours or more in thermals aren't uncommon, and longer is possible. Wave when it forms is active day and night. So the answer is sometimes as long as you can, sometimes as long as you want to.
On thermal days maximum heights of 4000- 5000 feet are common. If you are using thermals for cross-country this gives plenty of height to get to the next thermal and keep going. Wave goes a lot higher, heights of 10,000- 12,000 feet are not unusual, and over 30,000 has been recorded in Yorkshire. How far a pilot can go on a cross-country flight will depend on his skill level, and of course the weather, and how long he wants to be flying for. Closed circuit flights of 200- 300 Km are frequently done from Rufforth and sometimes longer on the good days. The longest flight ever from our site was a simple straight line from Rufforth to Dijon in central France (followed by a long road journey back). We have also had a number of out and return flights to the Cambridge area.

Can I afford it?

At the initial training stage costs will depend on how fast a learner you are. A typical two-seater training flight on aerotow will cost around £35; a much shorter but sometimes equally valuable flight from the winch more like £8; how many of these you need before solo will depend on age, aptitude, and how lucky you are with the weather. A sharp youngster prepared to try hard could do it for £800, an average is more like £1500 or so.

Training doesn't stop once you are solo, if you want to progress, particularly to cross-country flying there's more to do. However a lot of this is classroom based, and in the meantime you will be flying locally on your own.

If you want to take the game seriously you can choose to spend a lot of money, but you don't have to; you can fit your flying to your budget.

A brand-new cutting edge glider with an auxiliary engine (so you don't have to land in a field, ever) will set you back around £150,000. But you don't need one of those any more than you need a Lamborghini to drive to the club.

Unlike cars, properly maintained gliders don't wear out, and depreciate in value very slowly. Designs and manufacturing techniques have improved only slowly over the last forty years, so there's a flourishing second hand market. About £10,000 will get you something that for anything short of top national level competition will give you perfectly adequate performance. On top of that you will probably be paying out around £600- £1000 a year on insurance and maintenance, and perhaps £28 to get an aerotow (or £6.50 if you want to take your chance of getting away from the winch) every time you fly. Capital depreciation is negligible.

Still too much? You don't have to own a glider outright. Most gliders on the British register are owned by syndicates of three or four, who share the flying between them. Alternatively, if your ambitions don't include long cross-country flights and competitions, you can pick iup a 1960s vintage wooden glider for about £3000.

And you don't even have to own anything- club gliders are available to hire for (currently) £22 an hour, much less if your are a student or under 18.

Where can I learn more?

There's lots of information out there.

There's some detailed information, including stories from some real pilots at the British Gliding Association website.

For a real in-depth look we recommend Wikipedia.

And if you want to try it for yourself- buy one of our vouchers.

About Motor Gliders

Motor Gliders can be divided into two categories: powered sailplanes and touring motor gliders.

Powered Sailplanes

A powered sailplane is a (typically high performance) glider fitted with an auxiliary engine, usually on a pylon which the pilot can extend or retract. With the engine retracted it is flown just like an ordinary glider and can soar in lift and fly cross country in the normal way. However if the lift fails instead of landing in a field the pilot can extend and start the engine and use it to remain airborne and maybe even to get home.

Most powered sailplanes are classed as "self-sustainers" or "turbos"- that is, they have sufficient engine power to remain airborne, but need to be launched like any other glider. Some, however are "self-launchers" and able to take off also. For pilot licensing purposes, no additional qualification is required to fly a self-sustainer, while under recent European legislation self launchers are simply treated as gliders with an alternative way of getting launched.

Touring Motor Gliders

Touring Motor Gliders (or "TMGs") are essentially small light aircraft designed to have a reasonable performance without the engine running. They can be flown "power-off" and even soared on good days. As such they are subject to rather less regulation than larger, heavier aircraft, and can be a relatively inexpensive way to enjoy power flying.

More to the point here, they are widely used in gliding clubs to supplement training, both as a means to extend flights while learning basic exercises, and for advanced training that would be difficult to arrange in pure gliders, such as cross-country navigation exercises.

Motor Gliding at Rufforth

The club owns an ex-RAF Venture touring motor glider which is used both for ancillary and advanced training for glider pilots, and also to provide training for members looking to qualify for the National Private Pilot's licence.

We also offer trial lessons in the motor glider.