learning to glide in the UK
Gliding is the ultimate free
flying experience. It is a truly diverse sport that can be enjoyed at all
levels: from the thriving club scene, to aerobatics, to the international
racing competitions, currently dominated by British pilots (with five World
The gliders you can fly soar using the same air currents that birds use to
fly, but have also been designed with the kind of aerodynamic efficiency that
enables top speeds of up to 170 mph. Distances of over 600 miles have been
covered in one day in the UK and heights of almost 40,000 feet have been
achieved. Gliding gives you the freedom to explore the world from a unique
birds eye view and discover the many moods of the sky.
Gliding is also a sport for all ages - from those who go solo on their 16th
birthday through their club cadet schemes; there is no upper age limit.
Gliding is many different things to many different
people. For some, it is just a casual hobby, and a way to meet new
people. For others, it is an inexpensive way to get airborne. For many,
it is even the cutting edge sport of either racing or aerobatics.
For all, though, it is a silent and graceful way of flying without an
engine. Of course, without an engine, you may wonder how you get
airborne, and how you stay up.
In the UK, the sport of
gliding is administered by the
Gliders come in many shapes and sizes. They can also be cheap or
expensive! Fortunately, you don't need to buy your own glider - clubs
will generally all have two-seaters for instructional purposes, and most
also have single-seaters which you move onto once you are sent solo. If
you do buy your own glider, you can keep the cost down by joining a
In order to launch, you do need a little assistance. There are
several ways of doing this. The aerotow launch is very docile, and
involves being pulled up by a light aircraft with a strong rope in
between. When the glider gets to the required height, the glider
releases the cable, and the glider is free! Winch launching is probably
the most common. This involves being attached to a winch with a long
reel of wire. When the wire gets pulled in, the glider gets the speed to
fly into the air like a kite. When you are almost overhead the winch,
again you can release the cable. Bungy launching is not very common
these days. For this, you need a hill with a strong wind blowing against
it. The glider will be attached to the bungy, and held back by several
people. Some more people will pull on the other end of the bungy, and
walk down the hill to stretch the bungy. Once tight enough, the glider
is released, and quickly becomes airborne and you can stay aloft using
the "hill lift".
Once you are airborne, how do you stay up? Well, this depends on
finding air that is rising. There are three forms of this "lift" that
help us stay up - thermals, ridge (or hill) lift and wave. For more
information, have a look at the Soaring section.
Now you know you can stay up (given the right conditions!), you can
use this to go places or go "cross-country". Normally, this involves
using one, or even all three forms of lift to get height, and then using
this height to go forward to the next point on our task (or to the next
area of lift). A typical task may be a 300 kilometre triangle, with the
aim to get back to where you started. It is in this way that you can
race - very simply, a task is set and the fastest person round
it is the
We've all seen powered aircraft do aerobatics, but how does a glider
do them? Well, very simply, in very much the same way. Gliders are just
as strong and just as manoeuvrable as most powered aircraft, but with
one difference - no engine! This means that an aerobatic flight normally
involves taking a high aerotow and then using the height energy to
perform the moves. To get the speed to perform these aerial feats,
rather than using power, you turn your height into speed. Gliders may be
slightly limited in what they can perform without an engine, but the gap
is small, and they are silent and graceful in the execution.
Of course, if you take up gliding, you don't have to become a racing
or an aerobatic pilot. Many people just enjoy seeing the world from a
different viewpoint, or even enjoy the thrill of trying to perfect their
basic flying skills. A large number of glider pilots also carry on to
become instructors (most instructors are unpaid, but professional
nonetheless!) so that they can pass on the skills they have learned.
'A' Badge (BGA)
Must be over 16 years old.
20 flights with an instructor.
1 successful solo flight.
Show reasonable knowledge of the rules of the air.
20 flight minimum may be waived if a Private or Commercial Pilot's Licence
is held or if you are a qualified services pilot.
B Badge (BGA)
Completed 'A' Badge requirements.
Soaring flight of at least 5 minutes at or above previous low point after
Show knowledge of rules of the air, including rules appertaining to
Bronze C (BGA)
50 solo flights or 20 solo flights and 10 solo hours P1 (a 2000 foot
aerotow DOES NOT count as 3 winch flights anymore - The new bronze
endorsement application form does not have the old rule).
A PPL or similar Service or Foreign equivalent requires 25 solo flights or
10 solo flights and 5 hours P1.
Two soaring flight of 30 minutes each (if launched by winch, car or bungy)
or 60 minutes each (if from an aerotow not exceeding 2000 feet).
At least 3 check flights in a dual-control glider with a Full rated
Field Landings: Two field landings into a field, or if a suitable field is
not available adjacent to the club site, into a marked areas of the
airfield; the altimeter should be covered or the millibar scale offset for
this practice. If a marked area of the airfield is used it must be so
chosen that there is little or no undershoot and that the circuit and
approach does not coincide with the normal circuit and approach to the
airfield. Where a suitable two-seater is not available, the field landings
may be flown solo.
Pass multiple choice written Air Law and General papers (on airmanship,
meteorology, principles of flight, radiotelephony, navigation).
Flying and ground tests must be completed within the 12 months before the
UK Cross-Country Endorsement (BGA)
Soaring: Two soaring flights one of at least an hour duration and one of
at least two hours duration after release under the supervision and
certification of a BGA instructor or Official Observer.
Field Selection: The ability to select and reject fields for their
suitability for landing. This exercise must be undertaken from the air,
but can be flown in a glider, motor glider or light aircraft.
Field Landings: A minimum of two successful approaches into fields,
selected by him/herself in a motor glider, with the altimeter covered or
the millibar scale offset. The landings/approaches must be flown without
any assistance or prompting from the instructor and must show adequate
judgement and skill.
Navigation: Plan a triangular task of at least 100Km giving due
consideration to any airspace requirements and aspects of airmanship.
Demonstrate the ability to understand an aeronautical chart, correlating
features on the map as they appear from the air, and orientation of the
map with respect to ground features. Can be flown in a glider, motor
glider or light aircraft. All must be completed within 12 months of the
second soaring flight.
With the Bronze Badge, allows you to fly cross-country, and also allows
you to apply for the Glider pilot's licence (not essential).
All must be completed within 12 months of the second soaring flight.
Glider Pilot's License
The requirements of the A/B/C/Bronze badges vary in each country and are
set by local governing bodies.In the U.K. the CAA delegated the management
of gliding to the BGA. However, the requirements for the Silver badge (and
above) are set by the FIA and apply worldwide. To bridge this gap and seek
worldwide standardisation of pilot certification, the ICAO defined a
minimum set of requirements for a Glider Pilot's License. In the U.K. the
Bronze C plus Cross-Country Endorsement exceed the ICAO requirements and
entitle the holder to a U.K. Glider Pilot's License. The license is valid
for life provided the holder achieves at least 5 hours solo per year or
has a revalidation by an instructor.
Silver C (FAI)
Height - a gain of height of 1000 metres (3281 feet) or more.
Distance - a flight on a straight course of 50km or more.
Duration - a flight of 5 hours or more
Bronze Badge and Cross-Country Endorsement are needed before attempting
the distance component.
Minimum requirement to fly in a competition (for which an FAI sporting
licence is needed).
UK 100km Diploma (BGA or FAI)
Part 1: A pre-declared 100km triangle or out-and-return flight.
Part 2: Same as part 1, but with a handicapped speed of 65kph.
Bronze Badge and Cross-Country Endorsement are needed first.
Gold C (FAI)
Height - a gain of height of 3000 metres (9843 feet) or more.
Distance - a flight of 300km or more.
Duration - a flight of 5 hours or more.
Bronze Badge is needed for the distance component
The flight for Silver duration can count for Gold.
Height - a gain of height of 5000 metres (16,405 feet)
Goal - a goal flight of 300km (186 miles) or more over an out-and-return
or triangular course
Distance - a flight of at least 500km (311 miles)
Bronze Badge is needed for the distance component.
It is considered a big achievement to gain "All Three Diamonds"
U.K. 750Km and 750Km 2-Seater Diplomas (BGA)
A distance of at least 750Km starting in the U.K. flown either solo or
with two pilots.
Requirements as for Gold distance.
1,000Km and 2,000Km Badges (FAI)
The FAI awards these badges.
Requirements as for Gold distance.